I was riding my bike early this morning and as I came around a corner, there, in front of me was group of clouds with light shining behind them. I thought, not for the first time, “I wish that I could paint”. In a flash I was back to 4th grade and attempting to draw 3 vases in art class. I went to a small Catholic grade school and we didn’t have frivolous subjects like the public school; no art, no gym, no band, no choir (except learning hymns for special holy days). This year was different; there was a male teacher; Mr. Bryk. It just wasn’t done; a male teacher who wasn’t a priest? I still remember our amazement and then the gradual realization that this was going to be the best thing that had happened to us. The other two classes of 4th graders became more and more envious as we got art, music, and gym. We also worked harder than any of the other kids because, as he explained, we could only do the extra things if we completed the mandated work. No slackers. It had to be everyone or no one. We accepted the challenge and benefited.
Back to those vases. We each got paper, charcoal and pastels. Not much instruction; just look and draw what we saw. I focused and drew and rubbed out and redrew, and finally produced a page with 3 wobbly but recognizable images of the vases. I was ecstatic. Mr. Bryk sprayed the finished drawings with hair spray, to fix the chalk, and up they went, all around the room. Every day for a week I would come in and gaze proudly at my vases. I couldn’t wait to take it home and show my mom. Friday came and I carried my picture home sure that it was going to rate a place of honor. It didn’t. Instead of praise, I received a critique of how I had failed to draw symmetrically, and the bottom of one was lopsided and on another the shading wasn’t right so it didn’t look 3-dimensional. All of it true. All of it irrelevant. A pat on the shoulder, “try harder next time to get it right”.
Looking at the clouds, wanting to capture it in paint, I was gripped by that flash back. I saw myself walking away with my precious picture in my hands, trying not to cry until I was out of sight. I retreated to the basement and sat on the toy box staring at it as the lines seemed to run together, making it look like a shapeless blob. I turned the paper and tore it in half, and then again, and again; threw the pieces in the trash, and went outside to ride my bike.