It was certainly the case, at any rate, for my seven-year-old son, Avry, who went in confident: "Oh, I'm good at art," he told me on the drive over. "This one time, I painted a light-saber in my art class, and my teacher crumpled it up and threw it away. He said, 'That's too good for this class.' Then he uncrumpled it and put it up on the wall.
"Why would you even do that?" he wondered.
I didn't know, but sometimes in art there aren't any clear explanations. There weren't any on Saturday -- nor was there much of anything in the way of constraint. There were no rules, no restrictions, no specific lesson that had to be learned -- just a bunch of art supplies and the impetus to do something with them. That, plus the able guidance of Davison-Tracy, who gave the kids free rein and some ideas to chew on throughout; at one point, for example, he painted on the back of a canvas and then cut a hole in it. "See?" he said, "You can destroy your canvas, and that can be art, too.
"You don't have to do that," he added. "You can do whatever you want."
Before the construction and destruction got started, though, Davison-Tracy took the kids across the street to provoke the imagination a little. There, at Niza Knoll Gallery, we took in an exhibit of paintings and sculptures of dogs. "Pay attention to how different they all are," he urged his waist-high audience, which was quickly becoming distracted. "So there's a lot of ways you can paint a dog." Throughout Davison-Tracy's talk, one precocious little girl, who turned out to be his daughter, interrupted at roughly ten-second intervals ("'Scuse me" was her preferred opener) to ask questions that quickly turned into stories -- a habit she herself seemed aware of. At one point, she announced before asking her question: "This is not a real question."
For the next hour after that, it was art time. The kids all got canvases -- as many as they wanted; Davison-Tracy's pediatric practice provided them -- and all sorts of paints, while out back, Davison-Tracy had set up a larger canvas the kids could splatter-paint with, Jackson Pollock style. The accoutrement was pretty awesome: an array of paints, beakers and squirt-gun-type large syringes from the doctor's office. I'm not gonna lie: I left with paint on my hands.
The kids, for their part, were somewhat reserved until about the last fifteen minutes, when it basically turned into a free-for-all; the splatter painting out back got mixed with bare hands and a large stick one kid found to a nice greenish-brown, while one kid entertained himself smearing paint onto the table.
"Man, even that table is a work of art," Davison-Tracy observed, looking on. He indicated the canvas, which will be mounted in the gallery as part of the exhibition. "People will talk about this more than anything, like, 'Man, I wish I could still splatter-paint.' We all did it at one point, and then we stopped," he said. "I don't know why we suppress it. I talk to the kids at my practice, and you'll talk about what baseball team are they on, what sports do you play. But then you'll say, oh, you play an instrument? Oh, you paint? It's amazing how they just light up about the things they create. And that's life-long."
And the kids created some surprisingly inspired stuff. One kid went a minimalist route, painting her canvas a solid green. Another kid taped paintbrushes to his. Avry experimented with gloss-coating leaves to one piece, while another turned into a more traditional depiction of a dog and a sheep. When Davison-Tracy suggested he name it, he went -- and I swear I have no idea where this came from -- with "Valley of Hopes."
Whatever his naming inspiration, it would seem that Avry's creative process fit well within the spirit of the workshop; when I asked him what his concept was for one piece he was working on, his answer was simple. "Well," he said. "I'm just trying to mix stuff together and see what happens."