The question took me totally off-guard.
I thought that I was explaining the impact of Klaus Moje as a teacher on his students at the Canberra School of Art in Australia.
In the middle of my “lecture”, my cell phone had disrupted what I thought was the message I was delivering.
It just happened to be Klaus calling from the Denver airport where he was trapped between another airline fiasco. I excused myself quickly from the phone call in order to get back to the kids and our talk about teachers and learning – and Klaus’s large colorfully striped glass panels.
That was Mr Moje on the phone. Wow, what a wonderful surprise – KLAUS MOJE! I gushed. I wish he could be here to talk to you in person, but he’s on his way.
I was lots more amazed than the kids at the technology that suddenly allows an artist from the other side of the world to materialize next to a pair of his works in Toledo, Ohio while he’s in an airport in Denver, Colorado.
Trying to recover the conversation that I thought had been about art and the impact of great teachers, I tossed out a random question to the kids: Do you have any questions about the art we’ve been talking about?
A kid at the back of the pack that I’d already identified as being a bit of a cynical 3rd grade sage shot back at me: Is it cool to know famous artists?
I’ve been thinking about his question for the last month At the time it stumped me. So I shot back from the same arsenal of cynicism that I’d honed myself in 3rd grade: Waaaaaay cooler than knowing Paris Hilton. I’m sorry that I was so flip.
In 30 days of thinking about it, it has occurred to me (so I’m slow!) that kids are the canaries in our mine shafts.
Is it cool? is a question about identity. About who we know – or what we own – and how those facts define us to others.
No one of my generation asks aloud whether it’s “cool” to own a Chihuly. But many assume it. Or used to. Later it became cool to have been to the Boathouse. Or to have sat at Dale’s table at the Pilchuck auction. (Or to refer to him as “Dale” instead of “Mr Chihuly”) Lately it’s become cool to NOT own a Chihuly. Unless it’s the size of Jerusalem or Kew Gardens.
In the middle of the most wonderful week of my wonderful year, a week spent with the amazing Brazee Street Studio team as they coaxed a remarkable kiln-glass universe out of 5 to 12 year olds, I suddenly realized how early we learn the wrong lessons. And the messages that we’re sending about who we are and about the pointless cult of “fame” that has become the question du jour.
PS. In the midst of my befuddlement, I came away pretty convinced that the smarty-pants kid who asked the question is on his way to a pretty sure-footed future. Max was just too all-around ornery to ever accept anyone else’s idea of who should or should not be famous. As it should be.