I’ve always loved art. As a kid I liked to draw and color and paint. All mediums really. I would frequently craft or create. I think it’s a bit of an only-child syndrome. I was bored. And necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. My parents were pretty much ok with whatever I wanted to create or paint or craft or glue since I was also a very talkative child. It was a win-win for them. It gave me the freedom to explore my creativity while also giving them some much needed peace and quiet. They didn’t even blink an eye when they came home one day when I was 17 and I had painted a mural on my entire bedroom wall. I guess it was better than what other kids my age might’ve been getting into at that moment. Better than some things I had gotten into in the past. At least they knew where I was – in my bedroom blaring a brooding, angry female singer on my radio with paint in my hair.
But freedom to create was only one of the ways my creative passion was encouraged growing up. Sure, my parents let me create. But my high school art teacher really nurtured my love for creating. If he’s reading this right now he’s probably wondering if we’re talking about the same person. I’m not sure how he remembers me from high school but I was definitely a bit of a sass mouth. A bit moody. And too caught up. High school is hard man. Being a teenager is hard. So much angst. I’m sure he knew I completed assignments from other classes on his watch. I’m sure I was difficult about assignment deadlines and working in groups. I’m sure I was late to class. But, in spite of all that, he taught me anyway. He might be the most patient person I encountered in those 4 years. And everyday in class, even while caught up in my own teen angst over the latest boy problem or cheerleading squabble, I saw him nurture a love of creating. I think that the artsy side of him was what allowed him to see us as creative beings instead of the monsters some of us were. Maybe he was saying all the swear words loudly in his head at some of us. I doubt it though. He modeled discipline and encouraged patience and a slow-to-anger motto. He didn’t just hand us paint and brushes and tell us to create for an hour and a half. He showed us how to slow down and focus on what we were feeling and put it on paper. He encouraged free thought and expression but also respectfulness and dignity.
I’m not sure if he remembers it this way. Or if he would say that he was just trying to get us to appreciate Renoir or Degas. Maybe I idealize that time of my life. But that’s not likely since I can also remember the absolute disdain I had for authority and chemistry and the clear as day anxiety before every halftime performance. I’m pretty sure the way I remember it is the right way (because I’m still a little sassy).
Now, instead of a simple cognitive knowledge of how to put pen to paper I appreciate the process. I appreciate all of the emotions that come along with creating. Because Dr. D never asked us to put that away to create. He asked us to harness it and put it into our work. I’m not sure I ever remember him insinuating that anyone’s work was bad. Even if we were all thinking it. He taught us to appreciate the ugly work and the pretty work and see the beauty in both. And sure, some of the lessons were boring. Sorry Dr. D. Art history didn’t stick in college either so it’s me, not you. But in general the man was a walking inspiration. I mean, he has a PhD in art, went to college with Michael Stipe from R.E.M., and I swear I watched him build an amazing wearable wooden and canvas plane for our senior play. It was amazing. All the while remaining one of the most humble people I know.
D taught me that you can do all the things in art. He never guaranteed us we would do them well. But we could still do them if we wanted. We weren’t limited to a style or a medium or even our own ability. And I don’t think I can recall too many times when I asked him how to do something and him not know. But I’m sure if he didn’t know, he knew where to look to learn. And, lest we forget, we were working WITHOUT Google and YouTube then. I’ll let you marinate on that for a minute.
So here’s what I want you to know Dr.D: sometimes I teach my kids a homeschool lesson and I can see that it didn’t stick. Not even a little bit. And then there’s this phenomenon that happens several weeks or even months later where one of the kids randomly calls up every bit of information from that lesson in detail and blows me away. I started thinking that maybe high school teachers don’t always get to experience those moments of victory since you only have us for a short time. While I can’t call up any information on where Renoir was born or what the heck he even painted, I can tell you that I have tried (and failed…a lot…let’s not talk about that) to model your teaching methods with my own children – a gentle spirit, patience while they try it their own way, and a love of creating and learning with a dash of discipline. Your influence on my teenage self is still having an impact 12 years after my last class with you. And it is now influencing the next generation. I’m finally learning at 30 what you imparted to me at 17. I’m starting to learn to give myself enough grace to create. To slow down enough and channel my energy into making something, anything, and doing my best even if it sucks. And encouraging my children to do the same.
So thanks Dr. D., for being awesome. I still want to be like you when I grow up.