I took a landscape painting class when I was in college. It was a liberal arts college, so they forced us to get some art into our education – and this was one of them. Sitting outside with paint instead of inside of a classroom during the last few good days before the summer turned to a wet fall, then quickly to winter appealed to me. Seemed a good way to start my Senior year.
The class was taught by a weird old professor – head of the art department. I call him weird for 2 reasons. The first was that he had a totally treatable skin condition that made him look like has constantly shedding skin, like a snake. He did not treat it because he liked the study of texture on his body. The second reason was because – no matter what you painted – he could find at least one unintentional nude woman in it. One classmate tested this theory by putting up a canvas only covered in green paint. He had started painting it as a background when one of us joked he was probably subconsciously painting nudes. He left it at the background color to see what the professor would say. He found no less than three nude women in that painting.
What I totally appreciated about this man was how he realized that what was on the canvas was a total projection and reflection of how the artist was feeling at that moment mentally and emotionally. He would during the weekly critiques sometimes stand in front of the paintings in silent contemplation for several minutes, then turn the artist and ask if they were getting through the breakup ok. He always nailed it.
But what was scary one day was when he did it to me. We had gone the week before to a school playground, and I was intrigued by how the part of the playground I had chosen had these random posts sticking up, on end, at different heights. It looked almost like they were rising out of the sand or during low tide. Another painting I had done was a lone tree in a harvested field. He stood there as I was standing next to the paintings in front of the class, then turned and asked if I was having a lot of people dump on me because my paintings screamed “I want to be alone”.
I stood there dumbfounded. The group of which I was president was in the middle of a huge drama that resulted in me getting dragged into the middle of to solve. Not a moment went by where someone wasn’t trying to tell me their side – trying to tell me their concerns – trying to make their issues mine. I was so fucking done with the bullshit, I wanted to scream “grow the fuck up and deal with your own shit”…..but sadly, I could not. I was truly between a rock and a hard place. And on top of that, I had come to college with a horrible stomach bug that I could not kick. So between the drama and the classes and the doctor’s visits where I had to explain that I was not pregnant but legitimately sick, I was just done. And island – and empty field? I would have ran if I had the chance to escape the bullshit. He had nailed it.
But that’s what I learned to appreciate about him – about art. Sure he was creepy and couple project his own love of the nude female form into the backgrounds of other people’s paintings, but he knew what he was doing. And he knew that artists did that – that the output – the drawing, the painting, the photograph – whatever – it was a reflection of what the artist was feeling at the moment. It was a reflection of the mental state.
I was not drawn to flowers – not the pretty ones – not the perfect ones. I was drawn to the artichoke which was past a point to be picked for food – past the point to be picked for a floral centerpiece. It was at the point where it was prickly – and sunburned – yet it was still trying to stand strong – it was not laying down or dying. It was transforming into something else – a different picture, a different image of itself. And in it, I was drawn to the edges – drawn to how the purple flower was transformed into a different texture, how the petals were opening wide, how the light was hitting different angles – angles that maybe the light needed to hit – to reveal what was hiding there. The tight fruit people find delicious to eat as they tear apart with their fingers was still blooming even when the purple flowers were fading.