by Margo McCarthy
At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity. Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
I am a very lucky woman. I am happy. My life is not perfect, but I have been married to the love of my life for 44 years. We have two beautiful, talented daughters who I could not be more proud of; each of them is married to an outstanding, accomplished gentleman I love dearly, and my nearly one-year-old perfect granddaughter lights up my life. My career paths continue to stimulate creativity. These are the things for which I’m grateful. Between the detours and roadblocks to success, my journey has probably been similar to yours. As a woman of faith, I know my joyful attitude can be a gift to those I encounter; my career has helped me build such positivity. I am a professional artist, an art educator, and musician, who cannot live without dancing. I am addicted to the healing properties of the arts.
In a recent attempt to organize my life, I sorted through boxes of notes and cards from current and former students, and was intrigued by some recurring themes they contained. One student wrote to me while serving time in in-school-suspension (Fig. 1), expressing boredom and regret for poor choices, but asking me to be her friend outside of school. Others thanked me for teaching them new techniques, and for being patient with them when they needed help (Fig. 2). Then there was the pupil who simply thanked me for being nice (Fig. 3). And one who said I was “tolerant” and helped her through some difficult times (Fig. 4). Many notes appreciated being encouraged (Fig. 5-10). Former students thanked me for keeping in touch with them (at least two of them are now art educators themselves).
Parents of my students wrote to tell me that I helped bring about growth and confidence in their children. These mementos reminded me of a recent phone call from a friend whose husband was prescribed “art and golf” to improve his hand and eye coordination. She told me that, after each painting session with me, his spirits seemed lifted.
I am an art teacher, not a counselor or psychologist. But I recognize that, in coaching students to think creatively, it is essential that I help them validate their own responses to the world. It is not my role to force them to fit my artistic vision; it is my job to direct them to find personal meaning in order to create original work. And when they recognize the value of their authentic ideas, magic happens. Art students find joy and gratitude in discovering their own gifts. And then they write you thank-you notes.
Teaching art can be therapeutic as well. I am so blessed to be teaching a subject that integrates all other areas of learning. I’ve taught art for more than forty years, at every level, in a variety of situations. After retiring from teaching at the high school level five years ago, I found myself continually seeking museum workshops which would allow me to engage students in the visual arts. I finally said “yes” to a full time position this past school year, and it has been invigorating, and, well… healing. Turns out I was tired of being retired, and needed that connection with active learning as much as I needed more time in my studio. I have always believed that the arts can rejuvenate and connect us as human beings.
Judith Orloff, M.D. states in her book entitled Positive Energy, “Creativity is the mother of all energies, nurturer of your most alive self. It charges up every part of you.”
The restorative properties of artmaking happen to my students, and also to me as an artist. As an artist, I’ve had numerous opportunities to communicate deeply without limitations of sex, age, viewpoints, or native tongue. My work as an artist can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. From researching details of a portrait subject, to choosing media, to creating a color palette, to organizing a composition – making art can feel like drudgery… until it reveals meaning or beauty of its own accord. When, and if that happens, it is a glorious, life-giving moment that reminds me God is near. I experience healing in those moments: freedom from self-doubt, an end to comparing myself with others who seem to have it made – pure gratitude. This is what my students should be feeling if I am teaching them well. I believe that when a work of art is ready, the artist gets a little glimpse of Heaven. I’d like to think most of my students experience this same vision.
And I get to enjoy their bliss.
Marguerite Moreau McCarthy
An art educator, painter, printmaker, graphic designer, and musician, Marguerite “Margo” McCarthy has taught art at every level, from pre-kindergarten through college. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education from Louisiana State University, and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she also worked as a Graphic Illustrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation and several private companies.
McCarthy conducts art workshops in association with museums in San Antonio. She is a member of the San Antonio Art Education Association, Texas Art Education Association, National Art Education Association, San Antonio Art League, and Gentileschi Aegis Gallery Association. After retiring from the North East Independent School District, she has continued to teach in these settings, and currently teaches art at The Montessori School of San Antonio.
McCarthy’s paintings can be found in corporate as well as private collections nationwide. She was awarded the commission to produce a formal portrait of Paris Hilton for her Los Angeles home in 2008. Most recently, her painting of her graduate school mentor, Professor Emeritus William Woodward, was juried into an exhibit of work by his former students at The Arts Club of Washington, D.C. More of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes may be found on her website: www.margueritemoreaumccarthy.com
Marguerite is married, has two daughters and one granddaughter. She is a member of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, and a cantor in the music ministry.
“Art has the role in education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else.”
Sidney Gurwitz Clemons
“Happiness is but a state of mind
Anytime you want, you can cross the state line”
Lyrics from Waitin’ For You, Bob Dylan