How my high school art teacher changed the way I view – everything.
I remember the day I understood what it meant to succeed at a task – specifically a school art project. It wasn’t the grade — nor the obligatory oohs and ahs from my parents — it had to be something I felt inside. I didn’t know this until I was 15 – when my 10th grade art teacher, “Mr. Printz” tossed out a question that made me cry.
We were assigned a sculpture project, and I had chosen to make a plaster of paris oak tree in the middle of our living room in Great Neck, Long Island. I knew I needed something to hold the plaster onto the trunk, so I bought a roll of chicken wire and made what I thought was an adequate column, covered in traditional paper mache, and onto which I spackled the wet plaster.
The plaster never dried, and by the time I had gotten the masterpiece to class, I had left a goopy white trail from my house through the halls of Great Neck North. The project had become an oozing blob of white goo supported by a sickly crumpled wire foundation… resembling a little more of a Dr. Seuss character than I might have hoped.
I knew I had to submit the work, and had to speak about it. I was paralyzed. But Mr. Printz cut right through my consternation, and asked one thing:
“Lon, does this piece raise your blood pressure?”
At first I thought, well, yes, but only because I am completely humiliated. I knew that wasn’t what he meant. He went on to explain that you know when a work is good when it sends you somewhere, speaks to you, makes you really feel something.
I felt nothing.
Lesson learned: Appreciating a turn of phrase, a high note, a sidewalk show
From that day on, I have always tried to judge my work by this standard, and it has become a part of my psyche – an internal mechanism of sorts — for appreciating and exploring art: in literature, in music, and on canvas.
It’s why I get so excited reading certain descriptions of nature in a Robert Frost poem, hearing the late jazz great Susannah McCorkle sing “Waters of March” or finding an unexpected artistic jolt on the sidewalk while I’m out for a jog. I’m now recognizing — and savoring — when I do feel my blood pressure rise. It’s what’s supposed to happen when you do your best work, and appreciate the beauty of art around you.
In describing blue butterflies, I love that Frost uses the phrase “flowers that fly.” (See poem above.) I still get misty when McCorkle slips into the Portuguese chorus, and just last week my blood steamed up when I saw this Mondrian-style cement block (Pic #1) on a sidewalk in Calabasas.
It’s a wonder I have time for anything else. Thank God for that, and for a sobering critique from Mr. Printz.
“Life is not measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”
— Tina Adderholdt