Series: School Friends: Book 5
By Ann Bryant
“That’s coming on nicely, Jess.”
I jumped a mile at the sound of Mr. Cary’s voice because I’d been in a world of my own, blending shapes and patterns in a collage. It was my favourite lesson of the week: art. With my favourite teacher. Mr. Cary and I both laughed at the way he’d given me such a shock.
“Sorry, Jess, I forget how absorbed you always get! I’ll cough or something to warn you I’m approaching in future.” He leaned forward and studied my picture carefully, then took a step back and nodded to himself. “Hmm. I like the shape that’s emerging through the colours of the collage.”
I frowned at my picture because I didn’t get what Mr. Cary meant. I hadn’t intended there to be any shape.
“Look,” he said, seeing the puzzled look on my face, as his finger drew a line in the air just above the painting. “It’s a shoe!”
“Oh wow! So it is!”
“Let’s have a look,” said my best friend, Grace, coming over from her easel. “Yes, it’s a trainer!” she said, smiling to herself. “I think it’s one of mine!”
I grinned at her. Some people wonder why she and I are best friends when we don’t seem to have anything in common. You see, Grace is the most talented girl in Year Seven at sport and she’s really good at most other subjects too, whereas I’m no good at anything except art. But Grace is a very sensitive person so she understands what it is I love about art, and when I show her stuff I’ve done, she doesn’t just say, Oh yes, very nice. She asks questions and tries to see what I see. And that’s lovely for me because, apart from Mr. Cary, Grace is the only person in my entire life who really understands me.
“Are you getting ideas for the art exhibition, Jess?” she asked me, her eyes all sparkly. Grace is from Thailand and when she smiles she’s so pretty. Her whole face kind of crinkles and lights up.
“Just what I was about to ask, Grace!” said Mr. Cary. “I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with for the exhibition, Jess.” He smiled. “Remember, you don’t have to limit your work to a painting. Or even to craftwork. Last year we had sculptures, pottery, silk screening, installation art—”
“Installation art?” said Georgie, bouncing over with a paintbrush in her hand.
“Georgie, you’re dripping!” said Mr. Cary, pretending to be cross, even though everyone knows that Mr. Cary never really gets cross. None of the art teachers do. That’s one of the lovely things about art – there’s no need for crossness. There’s no right or wrong. No horrible words. Just lovely, lovely pictures, and everyone simply slides into the magical world of whatever they’re creating.
For me personally, I really feel the magic. I’ve always felt it, ever since I was four, moulding a ball of play dough into an elephant at playschool. I can still remember the excitement I felt as I made two thin plate shapes for the elephant’s ears. I was having a little competition with myself to see if I could make the whole elephant without tearing any bits off the dough and sticking them back on again. I was trying to just keep moulding away, teasing out the legs and the trunk and the ears and the tail until the blob of dough turned into an elephant.
Then the playgroup leader said I had to stop because it was time for milk, and I remember how I cried and cried and stamped my foot until she promised to keep my elephant safe so I could carry on with it the next day. Later, when my nanny, Julie, came to collect me, the playgroup leader told her about me crying, but Julie didn’t even ask to see the elephant, which made me sad.
After playschool, I got Julie to make play dough at home and I created a whole zoo. I arranged all the animals on newspaper spread right across the kitchen table, and as soon as I heard Mum’s key in the front door when she got home from work – she’s an accountant by the way – I rushed to the hall, grabbed her hand and pulled her through to the kitchen.
“Look!” I said proudly.
“Oooh! That’s lovely, Jess!” she said, giving me a big hug. But she hadn’t looked for long enough, and I think that was the first time I realized in some funny little childish way that I could see things that some people couldn’t see. I mean, I’m sure the blobs of dough looked exactly that – blobs of play dough with bits sticking out – but to me there were all sorts of animals in there just waiting to be seen.
Then, when Dad got home – he’s also an accountant by the way – he hardly even glanced at my zoo. He just patted my head and said, “Very nice. Let’s clear it away now, Jess.”
As I got older, I realized that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who kind of connect with art (that’s the only way I can describe it), and those who simply don’t. So that’s why I feel so lucky to have Grace. I mean, the teachers at primary must have thought I was quite a good artist because they often praised me, but none of them actually wanted to discuss anything I’d done. Whereas Grace seems genuinely interested and says she loves trying to see the world in pictures like I do.
“I’ve heard that word ‘installation’ before,” Georgie was saying. “But I don’t get it. I mean an installation is like getting a washing machine or something fitted, isn’t it?”
Mr. Cary chuckled, partly because Georgie had been waving her brush around while she’d been talking and had accidentally smeared green paint across her nose.
“Installation art is exactly what it says it is,” said Mr. Cary. “It’s all about installing art within its own specific environment, which might be anywhere. For example, last year,” he went on, staring out of the window, “it was a piece of installation art that won first prize in the senior art exhibition. It was a birdcage hanging from a tree near Beech House, but the student had made it entirely out of natural materials and she’d left the door open to show that the bird had flown. She could have displayed the birdcage on a surface in the art room, but it wouldn’t have made the same impact as it did hanging from the branch of a tree. You see, that student was making a comment about how it’s not natural to keep birds in cages.”
I felt my heart do the squeezing thing it does whenever I see a piece of art I love. I know I couldn’t actually see the birdcage, but it was just as though I could, because there was such a clear picture of it in my head.
“That’s a brilliant idea,” breathed Grace. Then we exchanged a look, which meant we both understood about the birdcage.
Georgie was wrinkling her nose. “Is that art, though?” she said. “I mean it’s very clever and all that, but…”
“Well, that’s the big debate, isn’t it?” said Mr. Cary. “Some people can’t see it at all. Other people love it. But tell me, Georgie, if you saw an amazing piece of, say, jewellery, and it happened to be hanging from a tree, would you appreciate it?”
“Yes! Of course!” said Georgie squeakily. “You can wear jewellery. You can’t wear a birdcage!”
Jess is really struggling with her lessons. She daren't ask her friends for help, because she doesn't want them to find out how stupid she is. But now that she's being made to go to special classes, how long can she keep her secret to herself? Crammed with the glamour and gossip of boarding-school life, this is a fabulously aspirational new series from a well-loved author.
Ann Bryant is both an author and a musician. She started her writing when she was young, writing a play when she was still at primary school. At school, one of her favourite activities was just hanging out with friends and Ann is happy to relive these times again with the girls of Silver Spires in the fantastic School Friends series. Ann now teaches music and drama as well as writing children's fiction, including the very successful Ballerina Dreams series.
Visit www.annbryant.co.uk to find out more.