Students at Fulton Junior High and Carriel Junior High in O'Fallon learned to ignore all the rules and tune out all the critics Thursday.
"Don't be intelligent. Don't be clever. Don't be an adult. Be a 3-year-old kid who is having fun putting fingers to paper and just paint," said Israeli artist Yoram Gal, 61.
"Just have fun. I want to paint like a child and have fun and I know it would spoil my paintings if I started listening to the clever people who want to tell me how to paint and how to follow the rules. No one in the world can tell you if your painting is good or bad. No one."
Gal, who lives near Tel Aviv, Israel, was in O'Fallon as part of Belleville's Art on the Square artists-in-residence program where artists who are invited to be part of the show are asked to go to area schools to talk to children and teach them about their art. Gal is one of more than 100 artists from around the world invited to the annual three-day event in Belleville. He has been a part of the art show for nine years.
The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students listened to Gal talk about his experience as an artist and his philosophies about what makes art. Then, they closed their eyes when instructed and were directed to visualize the thing they love the most in the whole world before putting paint, crayon or watercolor to paper and letting their inner 3-year-old create art.
Some opened their eyes and stared at the blank canvass.
Others immediately began creating art.
Seventh-grade student Rachel Wilde opened her eyes after concentrating on something she loved, as instructed, and immediately put paint to paper. Her efforts caught Gal's attention as she used her hands instead of a brush and flicked globs of color across the image she was creating. Some of the paint found its way to her forehead, her hair and her clothes as she worked.
"She is like an accomplished artist of 40 years old," he said. "It's a wonderful piece of art. She had some freedom in her art. It took me 40 years to be brave enough to flick paint on my paintings."
Her image depicted the figure of a black haired man with multi-colored wings filling the page.
"It's Mitch Lucker," Rachel explained. "He was in a band I really appreciate. But, he died in a motorcycle accident last year. He was a person who was just himself and didn't care what other people said or thought."
Art teacher Suzy McDaniel, a teacher at the school for 10 years, rushed around her art classroom, bringing paper to students, squeezing out paint onto palettes and ensuring everyone had brushes, rinse cups and crayons. She smiled and encouraged the students individually as they created their art and commented on some of the techniques and ideas used by the students and about the ideas expressed by Gal.
"He is amazing," she said. "I wish I had known him earlier. When I found out our school had been selected I was thrilled because I attend Art on the Square every year."
But Gal's visit to her classrooms is bittersweet for McDaniel.
"There won't be any art in the district in the junior high next year," she said. "It's been a grieving process for me. At first, it was just disbelief. I was sad. I let my students know I was sad. Now, I'm moving towards acceptance."
This will be the last year O'Fallon Junior High students will have the opportunity to take an art class and learn from a professional artist.
Art, along with, band, chorus, computer and study hall, are being eliminated from the curriculum.
Nearly 90 staff members will be laid off as part of cuts to eliminate $2.7 million in operating costs from the district's budget after District 90 voters rejected a property tax increase in April. The referendum would have increased the education fund rate from $1.40 to $1.89.
McDaniel doesn't yet know what the future holds, but it won't be teaching in the O'Fallon School District -- there are no positions available. She's considering some different options, including the possibility of opening her own art school or teaching private classes. Nothing is sure yet, she said.
"But having him here has been a real boost and I am so grateful," she said.
Gal showed the students some of his work, a variety of perspectives and styles depicting similar scenes. Then, he talked about the work of Vincent van Gogh and informed students that when van Gogh was painting, everything he painted was considered wrong, but he painted anyway because he wanted to and just loved to paint.
"I just do it the way I want to do it when my hand is having fun painting," Gal said. "I try to paint what I love. If I don't love it, I can't paint it. If you love it, there's a chance that love will come though that painting. Just paint it. Fearlessly. Bravely. Strongly and joyfully, I hope."
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2667.