Childhood Civility


By Sarah West

Paper is rolled out over school lunch room tables. Easels, sketchbooks, still-life drawing props and various other studio necessities are arranged before the school bell rings. The beginning and end of my week is marked this way. After the bell, excitement fills the halls, and there is a rush as students descend into the lunchroom eager to engage in the creative process. They bring with them stories of their day.
Some tell of exciting events, and express their anticipation of the upcoming holiday, while others harbor somber sentiments regarding disheartening experiences that had befallen them. Just last week, I greeted my class and presented the question, “please tell me something interesting that you have experienced this week.” The prevalent topic was, of course, Halloween, fall festivals and candy. Amid the joyful chatter, another approached me and explained, “Ms. Sarah, someone said that my artwork wasn’t good…” After consoling this student with compassion, and thoughtful advice, I encouraged everyone to gather around for a group conversation. The conversation began as I asked each student a series of questions, “how do you define art, and what does art mean to you?” I encouraged each young artist to think before answering. I also impressed upon them the importance of civility and how we might encourage it by practicing civility through conversation spoken mindfully. Each student reverently waited their turn to answer and contribute to this discussion. I grew aware that our talk continued well into our brush painting exercise. No one seemed to mind.
At the end of our class, students had not only achieved drawing and beautifully painted studies; they had grown to understand their fellow classmates better. Through art they practiced civility, and mindfully considered diverse reactions to art and ways that they might react compassionately to others too, even when art might be misunderstood.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of Cultural Arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation and conservation advocate, activist and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on regional narrative painting. She is the founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, a center for cultural art in Smiths Station and Alabama’s premier fine-arts destination. She is the appointed Official Artist to the city of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist and the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative, which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all. She also serves a chief curator to the City of Smiths Station’s City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smith Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board- Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators-NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station. To learn more about her work and activism visit,


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