Life has been hectic lately. I’m deep into the art competition season and was at the art conference last week which took away some days of preparation for the so-called Reflections competition. This is a national competition sponsored by the National PTA and the art teachers in my district are required to participate. If there were no requirement I would drop this “competition” like the big bag of drudgery it is.

First of all, each year there is a “theme” to which students have to adhere and just as many classroom teachers complain about No Child Left Behind, in many ways, The Reflections Competition is teaching to the test. Worse, creativity is not important unless it is a child’s original portrayal of politically correct art reflecting hackneyed themes.

This year’s theme is Together we can. Oh yes, Together we can. Shades of Yes we can.

I’ve never been one to follow the crowd and I do not think that I am doing my job if I am not encouraging my students to be their own creative selves. Therefore, when we “brainstorm” about the themes of the Reflections Competition I stay away from cliches.

Still, public education has done its bit.

As a result, several of my students have rendered art worthy of a Miss America contestant. “Yes we can go green”, “Yes we can achieve world peace”, “Yes we can recycle” were some of the results.

But happily, other students followed their own unique minds and took a more personal approach to the theme.

Some of the most pleasing art reflected the students’ own personal life. “Yes we can clean our room.” was a funny take on the theme.

“Yes we can win the soccer game”, “Yes we can bake a cake”, “Yes, we can go to church”, “Yes, we can join the Army” were very well done pieces of art reflecting everyday life, which has always been the art that touches hearts.This kind of art fills the art museums of the world,and is more reflective of the cultures of the time. It is doubtful that the political thought that has been enforced throughout K-12 American schools will produce brilliance.

My favorite take on this years’ theme? A sixth grade girl created an artwork depicting girls fighting against nazi zombies. On her statement she wrote, “Yes we can fight the Nazi zombies” The art was clean, crisp, stylish and funny.

(this young lady has an ironic sense of humor, she is not a candidate for the school counselor)

I can’t imagine Vincent Van Gogh collapsing to mediocrity when being confronted with creating to a theme. Perhaps he would have chosen to portray the Potato Eaters (Yes, we can eat potatoes) he painted in his dark early days. Throughout the Renaissance period the greatest artists became great despite the demands of the Pope and Lorenzo de Medici.

I can just imagine Leonardo da Vinci’s reaction to a PTA lady’s demands that he fill out the Reflections entry form which is in itself one of the most excruciating experiences for an art teacher who has no active PTA at his/her school. If he even deemed to respond to it he would have filled it out by writing everything backwards. Nor would he have bothered to fill in the section that requires the particular schools’ PTA digits or the dates the school PTA paid their dues or passed their bylaws.

Oh, and yes, every art teacher entering their one fifth of all the students they teach (about a hundred students) in the Reflections Competition has to list each student who is entered and turn in five copies of five forms.