Artistic experiences: part 5, the League
Five days before my 21st birthday I left my old life behind and started my new life. With all my possessions in two large suitcases I boarded a train for New York and checked into the 63rd Street YMCA. I knew I had to find a job and an apartment but the first thing I did was register for a class at the Art Students League. I purchased a big newsprint pad and some vine charcoal, headed up to the second floor, found an empty chair and started to draw. I never felt more alive. As the weeks passed by I found a place to live and got a job working at a concession stand in Carnegie Hall, half a block from the League. I would visit galleries and museums in the morning, draw at the League in the afternoon and listen to the concerts while I worked in the evening. My cultural life was definitely improving. The instructor in my first class was nice enough but more encouraging than instructive. I was hungry to learn and switched to Hale’s anatomy class. Robert Beverly Hale was a legendary anatomy teacher and I drank in as much as I could. I couldn't learn fast enough. I practiced drawing boxes of all sizes and lighting them from different directions. I worked hard on shading forms from light to dark and drawing lines that went around those forms. Soon I found myself reading and copying out of anatomy books at midnight when I got home from work. During the breaks in my drawing class I would wander around the League poking my head into the painting classes. I knew I had to improve my drawing skills but I was eager to paint…..
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Artistic experiences: part 5, the League
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Artistic experiences: part 4, art school.
No one ever told that me that I could make a living as an artist, but then again no one ever told me that I couldn’t. In fact I never discussed it with anyone. After my friends went away to college I got a job in one of the local factories. I decided to try to learn something about painting at night and sent away for the Famous Artists School painting program. I would produce a picture according to the lesson plan and mail it to the school, an artist at the school would correct my picture and mail it back to me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was no way to learn how to paint so after 3 lessons I became a mail order art school dropout. It did make me aware of how much I wanted to get started painting. So I did some research and sent away for information from every art school I could find in the country. They were all pretty much the same. There was a prescribed course where you learned drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, etc, etc, etc. And they were all expensive. Then I received the catalog from the Art Students League. The work by the instructors was better than at any of the other schools. At the League you pay a small amount per month and choose what classes you want to take. No prescribed course, no papers to write, no grading, no degree program. No portfolio to present for admission, I could just show up and learn to paint. I knew immediately where I was going…..
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Artistic experiences: part 3, the museum.
While visiting the home of one of my high school friends I saw two pictures on the wall which moved me very profoundly. I looked for them in the art books at the library the next day and found one was Rembrandt’s Girl with a Broom, the other was Frans Hals’ Bohemian Girl. They were cheap reproductions but a spell had been cast. Shortly after graduation I took myself to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As far as I knew no one in my family had ever been to a museum, neither had any of my friends. In my uncultured world I was sailing into uncharted waters. I started up the enormous stairs leading to the museum, it seemed as if I were climbing Mount Olympus. I was in fact about to enter what would become for me the home of the gods. The first room I entered housed an early Renaissance altar, quite beautiful but I came to see paintings. The next room did not disappoint. I entered and stood before Rubens’ Prometheus Bound. I was frozen in my tracks. I had never seen or experienced anything like this before. A 7’ x 8’ tour de force with Prometheus tumbling out of the canvas while an eagle swoops in to peck at his liver. I had never perceived anything so terrifying and yet so beautiful, so powerful, expressive and compelling. I was unaware of my surroundings, nothing existed for me except this painting. My heart was pounding, my head swimming, I was transported to another dimension. I’m not sure how long I stood there but I knew my life had changed. At that moment, though I had not yet touched a canvas with a brush, I knew I was an artist…..
Monday, August 16, 2010
Artistic experiences: part 2, school days.
When I was in first grade my mother gave me a nickel each morning so I could buy a pint of cold milk at school to go with my peanut butter and jelly or baloney sandwich for lunch. I stopped at the corner store instead and bought a pack of baseball trading cards. When I got home I would take a piece of paper, a pencil and a few crayons and draw portraits of the ball players from the cards. This is my earliest memory of drawing. Later, in high school, the final project in my French class was to have a group of 4 students write a small newspaper in French. I was terrible at French and suggested to my group that instead of writing a story I would create a page of comics for our paper. They were thrilled because we were sure to be the only group with comics in our newspaper and I was happy because I could fill my page with drawings and had very little to translate. So there were Charlie Brown and Beetle Bailey, Blondie and Dick Tracy all beautifully drawn and speaking French. Apparently I did not translate “Good grief” properly but the teacher was very impressed with my drawings. I may be the only student in history to pass French class by drawing in French…..
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Artistic experiences: part 1, finger painting.
I grew up in what I refer to as a culturally deprived home. It was a nice home, in a small town with the kind of people you see in Norman Rockwell’s illustrations, but it was artistically uninspiring. There were no books in the house, except the bible. My main stimulation was the black and white TV with its 3 channels. Its sterile programming of Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver echoed my Catholic upbringing. My musical experiences were shaped by my sister watching American Bandstand and my parents taking in the adult music of Sing Along with Mitch and Lawrence Welk’s champagne music. The Ed Sullivan Show introduced me to the current cultural trends. The pictures on the wall were either family photos or something so uninteresting that I can not now recall. There were no paintings. I never knew anyone who painted, even as a hobby. My mother told me that growing up in Philadelphia she used to draw her friends as they played in the street but I never saw her draw. I remember my father made a drawing of a cowboy for me when I was very young, maybe 3 or 4. I was amazed that he could do this, but it never happened again. When I went to kindergarten they gave us finger paints and told us to fill up the paper with paint and make designs with our fingers. “This is really stupid” I thought to my young self, “Why can’t they teach me to draw a cowboy like the one dad did?”…..
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Not far from where I live there is a beautiful historic estate called Hildene. It was built by Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in 1905. Behind the house there is a magnificent garden, known as the Hoyt Formal Garden. Some years ago the Friends of Hildene, who now oversee the estate, decided to have an art competition of paintings inspired by or painted in the garden. The top prize was $1000 and I was invited to be the juror. The resulting paintings were so wonderful they decided to repeat the competition the next year. This time I was able to participate. There are many varieties of peonies in the Hoyt garden, so I decided to paint a still life of peonies inspired by Hildene but from my garden. It was quite elaborate so I called it The Peony Symphony. I was delighted to be awarded First Prize at the opening. The next year I assumed I would not be in the running for a prize and decided to do a smaller piece. This time I worked in the garden painting a few Festiva Maxima blooms directly from the plant. I was alone in the garden with the estate gardener and we chatted cheerfully as we both worked. The painting was fresh and free and lively. I attended the opening to see who would get the top prize this year and was quite surprised to find I had won again. When my name was announced I heard another artist behind me whisper "again" and began to have thoughts of being pummeled by a gang of angry artists in the parking lot.....