Karen J. Sangren
Upon opening my university emails, I read the chilling words, “Ben Martinez* is missing. He has not been heard from in four days. His disappearance has been reported to the San Diego Police Department.” My heart sank. I confirmed his name on my recent class rosters and then began to pray for Ben and his family. He had been the student who struggled the most in my general education art class that semester, unable to afford his art materials and books. Falling further and further behind on his assignments, he began to miss class.
There was something about Ben that had caught my attention. It was a semester with a number of over-privileged students in the class who’d made it tough on most of us. I emailed Ben about his attendance along with advice on how to catch up, and he began attending class again. I allowed Ben the use of art materials left behind from earlier semesters and applauded his second-language writing skills. And Ben began to smile. He began to make art that captured his imagination. At the end of the semester I overheard him telling another student, “[Your project] is never so bad that you can’t fix it!” He had found joy in making art and learning to conquer some of its challenges.
Gratefully, Ben was found safe. But in the aftermath of the crisis, his experiences in my class kept coming to mind. Making art had given fuel to his self-esteem and sense of belonging.
This further prompted me to consider all the ways we use the word “making” in our daily lives. The pragmatist in me finds uses like…
Making it home
Making our way
Making it to class
Making it real
Making time for…
Making it to church
Making it interesting
Making it original
Making it work
Making it up
Making a copy
Making it across the finish line
Making is such a common word in our vernacular that we rarely even notice its use, as it quickly slips in and out of our daily conversations about repairing relationships, acknowledging meetings, reaching deadlines, or simply completing chores. However, in the arts, the concept of making can lead to the profound, the original, or the inspired. Making art can transform. Feed the soul. Humble us. Enable us to experience the pulse of our Creator.
As an art educator, I think inclusively about what making means. What began when I was in kindergarten—and my teacher sent home my report card with the note, “Karen needs to develop interests in other things besides art during work times”—extended to junior high, high school, college, graduate school, and beyond. I’ve always loved making art.
But I also discovered something else along the way. It was not just making art that mattered to me, but also providing and supporting opportunities for the next generation to make art that was equally critical. A career which has included many opportunities for arts advocacy has made it possible for other children to be artists and designers, to learn about famous artists and styles, and to see art in the world around them.
Over the years this has required tenacity at the local school, university, and state levels. Progress has sometimes only been made by baby steps, but always marched forward.
When we gather as a community of artists next summer at the 2017 CIVA Biennial Conference in Azusa, California, to explore the theme of Making, I will remember the joy on Ben’s face as he made art, and I will thank God that he is okay. I will also remember the “liberating” 100 pounds of clay I went through in making the artwork for my final faculty show. And I will remember the 9,000 children along the Mexican border that my art education students have taught over the years. Seeing the pure joy on the children’s faces as they create art in their classrooms reminds me with each visit that those of us who love making art can find our most lasting joy in paying it forward. Making it possible for others, young and old, to make art, or love it, or both—there is something holy and sacred about this. Making is a good word.
Karen J. Sangren chairs the Point Loma Nazarene University Department of Art and Design. She completed her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon and is a long-standing member of CIVA’s Board of Directors.