Tag Archives | art education

The Value of an Art Education

Detail of Monarch Butterfly painting © Jen Norton

There was a point mid-way through my university art education when my mom kindly suggested, “Why don’t you study business instead so you can get a job?” Ahhh… the lament of so many well-meaning parents. So I added in a business minor. I suffered through every econ, finance and accounting class, but I made it. Thank God I had art to fall back on. Truth is, without art nothing else made sense. Art is my language. I am forever grateful my parents let me declare it my major, even with their misgivings. I am thankful they trusted in my character above their own fears. It all worked out.

Over the years I have been approached many times by worried parents of college-aged kids who want to study art. We all seem to agree that having art in grade schools is a good idea. But study it in college? That’s a whole different jar of paint all together! How will they get a job? What will our friends think? How can we justify the cost? Talent and creativity are great, but you should study what will get you a top job, they argue. I disagree. Unless you are on a specific vocational track, I believe the purpose of college is to prepare young people to live independently with the ability to adapt and LEARN. The arts are uniquely positioned to help with that goal because they encourage creativity in problem-solving. There is no one right answer, but many possibilities.

Art is the language of the soul. In a healthy society, some of us need to speak it fluently so others can experience it. It is the “human” part of our humanity; the proof of God. Art is creating something out of nothing; expressing an emotion in a concrete way. We all need that, whether we know it or not. If you want more than a choice of a burlap sack for clothing, food in tin cans (with no pretty labels), or a plain white card for your birthday, you might need art. What if you could only paint your home white, white or white? What if your only weekend movie choices were military propaganda, there were no books to read or music to listen to? Can you imagine the state of our economy if there were no emotion involved in a purchase? Art touches everything. Someone needs to make all that art. Someone gets that job.

It’s true that it often takes years of passionate dedication to make it as a working artist. I believe this is largely due to the “self discovery” aspect of art. When I look at artists who have made it big or who I admire, they have done so because they figured out their message and their purpose. They know their audience. This discovery can take years, even a lifetime. Sometimes you do need a day job or an understanding life partner. But there are so many lucrative fields one can explore above and beyond the solitary artist stereotype, from graphic design, to movie or video game production, to in-house illustration. If art is your child’s passion, they just might make money, empower others and create a joyful life while they are figuring it out. Or, they might take on a different career, but be an art supporter. Perhaps a music promoter, a designer beautiful office environments or they might discover more creative ways to flow traffic. A life will unfold the way it’s supposed to, but taking time to study art just might open their eyes to some unconventional options.

Here’s the thing: we all have a soul purpose, and the thing that most naturally uses our talents, personality and abilities to manifest that purpose are exactly what the world needs. The world doesn’t need more miserable people spending lifetimes doing something they think they should do. That creates dis-ease. The world needs inspired people inspiring others. So go ahead and let your kids study art if that’s what drives them. They just might become the productive citizens you dreamed of.



To everything, there is a season*

Singing with Amy by Jen Norton

“Singing with Amy”

This is a story about patience. Like the five years it covers, it’s a bit long for a blog entry, but I wanted to tell it because sometimes the best things are worth waiting for. And sometimes we’re just not ready to receive blessings when we think we are.

I’m not much of a celebrity follower, with one exception. Since the age of 18, I’ve been a huge fan of singer/songwriter Amy Grant. My admiration began with the first note on her 1985 record Unguarded, and 30 years later I’m still a fully-confirmed “Granthead”. Beyond the music, I have admired her connection with fans (she kindly refers to us as Friends of Amy), her commitment to her faith and her growing stewardship of the causes she champions. She has been an inspiration to me in my own artistic journey as I notice over and over that art is merely a vehicle for deeper communication. So many times one of my paintings has prompted someone to tell me their story, my job being only to listen and be present in that moment. So many times, I’ve seen Amy give her fans their “moment”.

So last night, I had MY moment. I got to talk briefly with Amy at a soundcheck, where she exclaimed, “You’re Jen Norton! I’ve been hoping to meet you!”. No kidding, she really said that…but maybe I’d better backtrack a bit…

My first personal encounter with Amy was at a soundcheck in 2005 at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, CA. I brought my then 8-year-old daughter for moral support. I was a nervous wreck the whole time and could barely get a word out. Felt like I was back at a junior high dance again and vowed to do it better next time.

In 2006, Amy was a awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars aligned for me as well, so to speak, and my husband and I made the trek to L.A. to witness the event. Let me just say that this was completely out of my comfort zone. Hollywood is usually the last place you’d find me, but for Amy, well… It was one of those times when you knew if you didn’t do it, you’d regret it. So I went. A few weeks before the trip, I decided to paint her a picture for the occasion. I am a painter, after all. It’s my truest form of expression, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to chatting over lunch with her. So I painted the picture above. It shows her in a contemplative moment because her most reflective work, the stuff you don’t hear on the radio, is the most meaningful to me. Behind her is an abstract cruciform shape made up of people holding hands (horizontal) and the sun setting in a musical sky over mountains (vertical). Together they elude to both the crucified Christ as well as the risen Christ with His light shining through us. Amy is all about connection, she loves nature, and of course her faith has shaped her career. Working on this piece was also a great lesson in painting what is meaningful to me. At the time, I enjoyed it more than anything I was doing.

So off I went to wait with my fellow fans on the streets in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I had all the other fan club members there sign the back of the painting so it could be from all of us and then passed it to her son during the ceremony. Because of logistics, I never had the chance to talk to her personally that day.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

Lord, all that you have for me, I receive.

I also made her a smaller piece featuring a meaningful prayer she had shared with fans about accepting God’s grace: “Lord, all that you have for me I receive.” The piece was done in a quilt style because Amy collects quilts, and I put a note on it for her to give it away to someone who needed it. Yeah, I probably overdid it, but that’s what happens when I’m left to battle my own creative energy unedited!

A few years later, she came to the Bay Area and I had another chance to speak to her at a soundcheck. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a picture of the piece, and she had just gotten up from a nap for the rehearsal, so when I said I was the one who gave her a painting in Hollywood, she thanked me with a very confused look. Inside I thought, “Oh no! It might have been left on the bus!” I have a journal where I write down wishes that seem unsurmountable…the big stuff that requires God’s help. I know this isn’t life or death, but it was big to me. I write down my desires, then let them go. (In order to not drive yourself nuts, it’s good to practice a Buddhist detachment from these obscure goals.) Somewhere down the road, they manifest into another reality. I wrote down that I would like to know if Amy ever got my painting. I didn’t care if she liked it…I was ok if it ended up in a “fan gift warehouse” somewhere (I wonder if she has one!), or even sold at one of her charity events. I just wanted to know it passed through her hands. So I wrote my wish and waited…

Forward a few more years and Amy came back to CA, this time Malibu. Some of the other fans organized a lunch for her. I couldn’t go, but one of them was kind enough to let me include something in a special scrapbook made for that day. This time, I included the picture and I heard later that when Amy looked through the book she said, “I know that picture! I have that picture!” Phew…mission accomplished. I would still love to tell her in person, but I could live with this. Goal checked off.

So another year goes by and now Amy is back to do a concert literally 10 min (and no freeways away) from my house. Of course I must go, soundcheck and all. This time I am prepared and when I get a chance to say hello, I show her the picture and let her know that was my work. That’s when she says she’s been waiting meet me, hoping I’d show up along the way and that she not only has the painting, but it is hanging near her coffee pot in the recording studio she and Vince built at their home! (I know Amy loves her coffee, so that could be quite a bit of mindshare on a daily basis!) After all the years, I am much less nervous than at that first soundcheck, but but I’m still floored. Not only that, but many Nashville artists record there and people like LeAnn Rimes and Alice Cooper have walked by it and commented on it (how’s that for hitting a wide audience?). She even considered using the art on an album cover (wow!) but it didn’t work out. (Understandably, she used one of her own paintings on her last release). As for the smaller painting, she hung it in her cabin where she goes to write. Like the rest of us, she still needs to be reminded to receive God’s grace, and her willingness to share that frailty is what makes her great. Just to be able to look her in the eye while she told me all those details was well worth the wait. And because I had to wait, I was able to receive that gift much more fully. Thank you Amy.

Are you waiting for something big in your life? It takes a little time, sometimes. I hope my story inspires you to keep the faith.

*Ecclesiastes 3:1