Today I took my Art History students to the National Gallery of Art in order to actually see some of the artwork that they have been learning about all year. I was so excited to lead them up to the Dying Gaul, an ancient Roman masterpiece carved out of marble and visiting the US for the first time. There I was, leading them in an inspired conversation (If I do say so myself) about the fact that this Ancient Roman copy of an Ancient Greek sculpture was a watershed moment in the history of art because of its use of emotion and action. The Gaul was actually dying, not standing still with an archaic smile. I was trying to get them to tell me that this was so important in the history of art because it was the first time that artists showed everyday people feeling real emotions.
While asking my leading questions that would help the kids to answer in the way that would engage them in a meaningful conversation, I had one student raise her hand and ask: “So this is a copy…. Right? Wait… is it the real thing?” I sort of laughed as I glanced around us at the ridiculously large amount of stern security guards who were clearly stationed around this piece to keep it safe and thought, “Wow! These kids don’t realize that they are in the presence of ‘real’ masterpieces.” I think that in their overloaded lives of uploaded images and “reality” television, these teenagers didn’t expect to see the real art in front of them. When they figured out that these were the actual masterpieces from Van Gogh, and Leonardo, Degas, and Monet and showed their excitement, I started to feel real emotions, too! It was so much fun to see them actually experience what they thought they couldn’t possibly have seen before: actual masterpieces from the real artists.
Having recently been chosen as one of the women in the Climb 365 Leadership Program, I believe that I can bring this same experience of discovering “real” art to many different types of people, from many different walks of life, and I am so excited to do it!
My passion for art has been a part of me since I can remember, but I first began to truly learn about and experience my real love of oil painting when I studied abroad for the first two summers that I was a young, struggling teacher. I was able to live at home with my parents, so my “rent” checks went to paying for two amazing summers that I was able to spend abroad traveling, living, and learning to paint ‘en pleine air’ (out in the landscape). Painting in two countries where I did not fluently speak the language, was and always will be one of the most unique and amazing experiences that I have ever had. I was able to experience a culture and a foreign place in such a way that made both San Miguel, Mexico and Sorrento, Italy become like home to me.
Painting for an entire day on a street corner, or in the middle of a market place, or even on the beach dock with Mario (the eccentric Italian life guard who gabbed the day away about his “crazy” night at the clubs) really helped me to absorb, witness, and fall in love with the life that flourishes in these places. I remember painting near a park in San Miguel and a couple of cute little Mexican girls who spoke no English came up to me. Through my broken Spanish and their sheer curiosity about why the heck I was out on the street painting, the three of us really bonded. In no time, I had them holding my brushes and helping me paint the scene that was laid out in front of us. I still look at that painting and smile when I think of them glopping the green paint onto my canvas and then my having to try and make something out of it after they had left. I loved every second of the time that I spent painting abroad. My experiences were so varied and taught me so much. I can remember literally being overrun by goats on the side of a rugged cliff in Mexico firmly trying to hold onto my easel while they swept past. On not-so-similar cliffs in Italy, I was able to paint a bird’s eye view of the gorgeously colored laundry that was strewn about the little town of Piano di Sorrento on the Amalfi coast while young Italian lovers made out on a park bench nearby. I can often remember being humbled by the sheer beauty of nature such as the daily evening San Miguel thunderstorms that rolled over the mountains toward my terrace where I had set up shop and feverishly tried to complete quick little storm paintings before I got soaked. I learned so much about painting and capturing the feeling of a place or a scene, but more than anything I learned a lot about myself and my own life experiences through the eyes of the people and the places where I lived and travelled.
I started the Post-Baccalaureate program and began painting large “empty” canvases. They were mainly white, all 5 feet 6 inches tall. The height my mother had been. They occupy the same amount of space that she had physically taken up in the world. Within each white canvas is an object that had meant something to her that she left behind. This idea of still life and objects evolved into paintings of things that people had left behind. I began painting scenes where it looked like someone had just left the room, or just left something on a table, etc. I fell in love with painting still life and how it could embody the portrait of someone. So, I started an entire series of paintings called my “cocktail” series in which I painted all of the bottles of pills, vitamins, medicines, and perfumes or daily cosmetics that people might use in a day; thus displaying the “cocktail” that made up the person’s portrait.
I am so excited to begin this adventure and have you along on this journey with me! I am ready to make art “real” for non-artists and artists alike. I look forward to the day when I can stand in the middle of my art center, having just stepped out of my own studio, or maybe the studio of a fellow artist, and welcome guests into the gallery or classrooms where they, too, will be able to experience what a real, creative, and thriving artistic environment can provide in terms of education and exposure to new and different ideas. This way members of the community can learn to experience art in a way that isn’t just on their computer screens or TVs. They can interact with real artists who are successful in the business. They can attend shows of artists from across the nation who will provide exposure to unique points of view different from those in our local community. They can also create their own art and experiment with new and different techniques in classes or workshops that will enrich their lives as much as living and learning through the study of art has enriched my own.