My first and last painting, or, it’s a good thing I write.

My only painting, a self portrait entitled "grief," and earned me the dreaded "C."

My only painting, a self portrait entitled “grief,” earning me the dreaded “C.”

Winter term sophomore year can be a little rough at Eckerd college. Your freshman year, because you came to school 3 weeks before the upper-class-men, you had winter term off.  Added to Christmas break, you had an entire month to travel abroad, work, or hang with the family. It was so much hanging with the family, it was the last time many of us went home for that length of time again.

Being obedient, I took a winter term that submersed me in something that I had interest in, but no experience: art. The class was called something like “Art For Absolutely Everyone, A Cheap and
Easy Credit.”

  • I was naive enough to believe that if I took an art class, I would be able to produce a piece of art.

  • I believed an art class would be an easy “A”.

  • I greatly admired the calligraphic stylings of the professor, Peg Rig, and  I thought being under her tutelage would help me with my own lettering capabilities, limited to my attempt at Olde English lettering on gift tags with a Flair pen.

Alas all untrue.

I was in back in Florida for about a week when I got the phone call.

They picked me up from the airport and drove me directly to the funeral home.

When I got back to school, there were 2 more days to complete my painting, which was now morphing into a self-portrait. Others, 5 days ahead of me by now, were contemplating framing options for their masterpieces.

Having just shared my first close-up with grief (picture Sally Fields stomping on her mother’s fresh grave, now add a handful of Valium), I was in no shape to be in school. Zombie-like, I went through the motions of finishing my painting, watering down everything, turning my acrylic into watercolor.

A little about our instructor, Peg Rigg. Some compact, concise information can found in her obituary. Here is a piece of her breathtaking calligraphy.

https://i0.wp.com/www.eckerd.edu/academics/visualarts/img/rigg6.jpg

Art by Peg Rigg – From the Eckerd College Catalog History Online

I had heard that it was a little challenging to be her student. She survived a car accident that took the other passenger’s life. She wrote a book about it called “Survivor’s Box.”  There were times she would forget she knew you. Years later after my own brain surgery I would think of her often, forgiving, although she had done nothing needing forgiveness from me.

Mostly she was in her own little world, and I loved her, until she gave me a “C”.  I went to her and said “I missed half of winter term because my grandfather died”, thinking she might have forgotten that detail because she had had the accident. I might have spoken these words a little too casually.

“You didn’t complete your assignment. ”

I said the assignment was to make a painting, wasn’t it?

“True,” she said.

I don’t remember her exact words but in essence she told me not to try any more visual art. Harsh words from my artsy liberal arts school. Harsh words from the woman idolized for both her art and her quirkiness, who taught me to play “Go” over endless lunches at the local Greek restaurant. Harsh words while I was still navigating the student-friend relationships the art community of the college fostered. Harsh words no doubt magnified over my recent, inaugural loss.

It was the late 70’s, and almost anything but my grief painting counted as art, or seemed to. A classmate from that winter term pressed her bodice into  primary colors and called her painting “Tits on Tempera.”  She got an “A”.

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8 thoughts on “My first and last painting, or, it’s a good thing I write.

    • Thanks Luanne. It’s one of those stories that makes it seem like I have more feelings than I actually do. Transported back in time, I can only write about what feels true to me in that flashback. I read the comments and wake up in the present. I have nothing but loving feelings for the artist known as Peg, and while my feelings were indeed complicated, they are no longer.

      Now the gal with the paint: those were some complex feelings LOL!

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      • Lately, I’ve been thinking how serene I tend to feel about things that were upsetting to me years ago. I hope that’s not the sign of being old and just the sign of being wise or maybe just having enough time flow between.

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  1. Art, whether it is painting, drawing, writing, making music, or anything else, is such a weird subject for a class. Art is such a personal thing, and many a teacher, often unintentionally, can say something to our fragile young minds, and kill our artistic impulses. I know a great many people who can trace their artistic block back to a passing remark from a teacher.

    I’m glad that your feelings for her changed over the years.

    I hope that you had a happy holiday!

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  2. In New Zealand, I took art at highschool for what was called “School Certificate”, a national assessment in form five (US grade 10, now called year 11 in NZ). The teacher seemed interested only in the kids who were naturally good at art, and in showing us demonstrations of our own art. I did not receive one word of encouragement from her, just that I hadn’t done enough pieces of art in the subject to get a higher mark. Like you, I got a C, and, although I remained fascinated by art and full of ideas, painting pictures in my mind, I didn’t try it again for 30 years. When I did, just a couple of years ago, I found that in fact I COULD paint, and now it is my favourite hobby. I use my art to decorate my blog, and I sometimes write about it. Here is an example: http://carondann.com/2013/08/09/painting-canada/. Art is about emotional reactions to its subject—by both the artist and the viewer. So I think your painting is definitely art and your teacher was so wrong to put down your effort.

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