My son sat on the floor with tears of frustration streaming down his little face. He was trying to draw a Jack O’Lantern and he just couldn’t get it “right.” He looked at the inspiration picture, and looked at his own drawing, and declared that he hated everything. My other son sat at the table trying to draw a dragon with a rider and declared the same. I calmed them down and attempted to teach them how to see the hidden shapes in things and how to see how all the shapes fit in the space in relation to one another. The pumpkin’s smile extended beyond the triangle eyes. The rider’s body started on the right half of the dragon, just above where his shoulders would be. Being typical kids, they resisted art lessons from mom. We took a break.

     But it got me thinking… I don’t want to fail my children in teaching them how to see the world around us. This lesson of “seeing” what is actually there instead of what you assume is there is one of the most important ones I learned as an artist. When you draw or paint, you have to really look at what is before your eyes.

     The grass is not green. It is seven shades of green in a mosaic together. It is patches of brown. It is sun highlights of yellow. It is deep shadows of blue. The branches of the tree you draw are not all angled up, reaching for the sun. Some are bowed down under the weight of the snow. They are straight, they are curved, they are twisted. That person’s face you are drawing, you know they have two eyes. But do you really see them? Are they almond shaped? Or is one more like a peanut? Is one hidden slightly in the turning of the head? Are there tears in those eyes? Is it joy or anger? What do you really see?

     It is hard at times to face what I am seeing. Especially lately. I want to paint a pretty picture of my world. I want to glaze over the puzzle pieces of hate, ignorance, and frustration smoothly falling into place together, forming a wall before my eyes. I don’t want to see how often victims’ experiences are colored over or erased. I don’t want to realize how many people view women only in relation to the men in their lives (as their daughters, sisters, and mothers).

     I need to teach my boys to open their eyes to the realities of the world around them. I want them to see more than black or white, men or women, predator or prey. They need to see people not in boxes as if they are objects, but instead, humans with complex stories and subtleties. Just like they don’t have to limit themselves to “boy colors” on the palette, they don’t have to limit themselves from expressing the full range of their emotions. I want them to notice the myriad of shades, appreciate how actions and words affect the dynamic tapestry around them.

     I want them to see how things fit together and if they don’t like the picture, I want to teach them how to change their piece of it.

          Shel Silverstein

     I also want to teach them that their picture of the world may look very different from where they are standing than the picture from where someone else is standing. And it is their job to shift their perspectives and increase their understanding. It is all of our jobs.

     I’m trying. I’m doing my best to help them and myself be better people. I have spent years trying to grow as an artist and as a person, and I’m still a work in progress. I try to see the filters I am looking through and slowly remove them. 

     We’ll get back to the pumpkin and the dragon, and all the other things that pop up in our lives. We’ll break it down into manageable chunks and tackle what’s not “right.” Hopefully, my children will progress with open eyes and open minds. I hope to follow.


Marla Bender

What do you see?

2 thoughts on “What do you see?

  • October 18, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    I wish everyone could read your blogs ! They are so loving and healing and we all need that these days ! You are an inspiration every day !
    Love, Mom


Join the conversation