My Sporting Life
In keeping with the Olympics, Australia’s slipping grip on golden glory and repeated calls for more sports education in Australian schools, I cast my mind back:
I was never a ‘sporty’ kid. Active, sure, but when it came to organised sports I performed woefully, particularly in those that involved some kind of ball (ie: most of them). Severe short-sightedness and a complete lack of hand/eye coordination left me always last picked for the team. Whenever I could avoid participating I would, and needless to say this didn’t bode well for school, much less sports mad Australian schools where, to quote my year nine PE teacher, ‘I tried every excuse in the book’ to get out of having to take part.
In primary and high school sport was everywhere, everyday. It was inescapable. It became my single greatest source of school-going anxiety, constantly dreading the next humiliation, jibe, or volleyball square in the face. Worst of all were the swimming carnivals, the athletics carnivals – entire days devoted to sport. Entire days of hell.
Perhaps unsurprisingly I was an ‘arty’ kid. I had drawn, painted and made things for as long as I can remember, and by early primary school I had realised that this was something one could be ‘good at’. It wasn’t something everyone did. For instance in year two I could draw painstaking likenesses of horses and unicorns, which my fellow horsey-mad girl classmates would buy from me at lunchtime for five cents a pop. A grand sum, considering I could well have charged a one or two cent piece at the time.
In fact, lunchtimes provided a fleeting opportunity to indulge my creativity, as the further through school I progressed, the rarer the appearances of art class or craft time. Sure at the beginning it’s all finger painting, collage, plasticine and pasta necklaces, but as the years progressed these sessions became fewer and farther between until eventually it was an elective once or twice a week, or worse yet, a summer holiday program.
Few kids I went to school with shared my artistic interests. In fact most saw art, namely visual art, to be something that was done by Other People because they themselves weren’t ‘good at it’. The encouragement to ‘just have a go’ was prevalent in our sports education, but never uttered in the art room. Being ‘good at art’ meant little more than you could perhaps draw something that looked just as it did in real life.
Sadly for many school would be the last time they would ever get a chance to try their hand at art making. I may never have taken the whole caper seriously had it not been for my parents, who fortunately held a deep appreciation for the arts, faith in my ability and enough of an income to be able to enrol me in extra-curricular art classes when school art became lacking.
Around the age of eight I went along to Saturday morning classes at the ANU School of Art, working in the same studios I would find myself in as an undergrad over a decade later. Nothing had a greater impact on my young brain and developing understanding of what art was and what it could be. During one particularly formative lesson I was shown the idea of perspectival space – the way you could make a road look like it was disappearing into the horizon, or a coffee cup appear three-dimensional. All of a sudden I sensed how powerful art was and how much there was to learn. I drew roads and coffee cups for weeks to follow.
It was these out-of-school experiences where I found the encouragement, validation and mentorship I needed. Had it not been for my parents I may well have continued to view art as the mild entertainment or decorative hobby that school seemed to position it as. I’m under no impression that I should have been saved the sporting horror of my school days. Despite my disdain I was exposed to a wealth of sporting pursuits and am no worse off for that (I turned out to be quite good at swimming but still can’t catch to save my life).
I don’t know what it’s like to be in school today, but I hope that when my little son begins his formal education, five years from now, that he and his classmates enjoy as much exposure and encouragement in the artistic fields as they surely will on the sporting ones. And I look forward to teaching him about the roads and the coffee cups.