I was probably about 13 when it happened. There was a teenage female model sitting on an elevated area on one side of the classroom while my art class drew and painted her image. I didn’t look at what anyone else was doing. I just painted.
When we were asked to stop and show our paintings, the class made fun of mine. They giggled, they moaned, they rolled their eyes. Why? The girl in my painting had bright orange skin and hair. She looked nothing, color-wise, like the model. I hadn’t thought anything of it while painting it, but the apparent strangeness of it in this 60s-era suburban Midwest classroom brought on complaints. From everyone except the teacher.
This high school teacher, who oddly enough is nameless and faceless to me now, responded to my classmates’ reactions in a way that I have never forgotten. She questioned why anyone thought my colors shouldn’t be that way. She praised the expressiveness of it. She said it wasn’t wrong to do it that way.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened to my artistic spirit if she’d responded differently. What if she’d agreed with their criticisms? What if she’d dismissed it as childish or silly or not the way it should be done?
I shudder to think!
Yesterday, a visitor in my studio said she loved the energy of the color in my work. I hear appreciative, enthusiastic comments about my use of color more than just about anything else. I too love the color in my work. After that lovely visitor left, my mind flashed back to that high school art class. That teacher has no idea what a powerful and lasting impression she made on me by simply validating my artistic expression.
In a recent post about being a self-taught artist, I credited “every moment of practice, every exchange of ideas, and every attempt at understanding” as my teachers. I have of course benefited from some wonderful humans, a few of whom were teachers! I remember nothing else about that teacher but that one pivotal moment when she opened up art to me.
Thank you so much, mystery high school teacher. Whomever and wherever you are.