In my freshman year in college I signed up for Art 101. The class was merry and a nice respite from all the reading and testing involved with hard core basic subjects freshmen take. Make no mistake I was no future Rembrandt. But I enjoyed the class so much that I boldly signed up for Art 102 the following semester.
I knew immediately that I’d overshot my ability level when I walked into this class. Students here were not your basic artists. I remembered Art 101 students were settling for a couple of extracurricular credits. Art 102 happened to be serious art students.
I struggled through the class on that first day. Then, afterwards, I visited the professor in his office. I told him the class was a good one and I enjoyed Art 101, but that Art 102 was beyond my ability to continue. I was, I admitted forthrightly, unfortunately, not an artist. I thanked him.
As I walked out the door he called me back. “Our babysitter is sick. Do you babysit? Have you ever done that?”
Sure. I admitted. I babysat all through high school. So he arranged for me to babysit his children the following Saturday night. And as I walked out the door the second time he also yelled at me… “And don’t drop the class…yet!”
When I arrived at the professor’s house, I learned that he had come from a family of artists. He and his wife had tastefully decorated their house with beautiful paintings. The show cased wall in the living room was museum worthy. Amused, and equally touched, I noticed all the pictures surrounded a single framed finger painting done by their 3 year old. Kind of looks like my art, I thought.
The gig went well and the following week I returned to Art 102. I continued to charcoal a self-portrait of myself, moving my easel a ways back from the more talented artists. I still planned to drop the class. I had about a week to do so.
The professor walked around commenting on everyone’s picture one-by-one, and I fully expected him to pass me by. But he didn’t. He spoke to me like he spoke to everyone else, despite the fact that it was obviously not a great picture.
After class I visited his office again, fully prepared to tell him I was dropping out of the class. But before I could say anything he spoke first.
“How do you like this class?” he asked.
“It’s great, but…”
“Good. Your shading should be a little darker on the side of your face in the portrait. It would have a better effect.”
And so I stayed in Art 102 with all the others who did much better than me. The art professor continued to teach me how to draw and paint, at my level, along with everyone else. He treated me like I was no different, but I know he knew I was less advanced than the others. His approach to teaching art was very individualized.
Several years later I was browsing around an art show on the banks of Lake Michigan, and suddenly looked up to see my professor smiling at me, selling his artwork. I bought a lovely lithograph of a turtle.
And although I am still no Rembrandt, the art professor taught me a lot about art and a whole lot more about believing in myself and to always try something new with an open mind.
In Art 102 he made me stretch forward to try something I didn’t think I could do. But it was the way he did it. There were no high-stakes tests, no right and wrong answers. No pushing me out of the class because I wasn’t perfect material.
How many teachers have you had who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself? I have had many, but my art professor story is one of my favorites.
Many years later, I just bought a canvas and completed another painting. I haven’t painted in a while but I intend to do more. It’s fun, and if you do abstracts you sometimes can get by! At least I will try.
And the picture of the turtle is always hanging on the wall for me to remind myself of that.