Looking back at college

I want to spend a few days looking back at my last 25 years as an artist, or faux-artist as I tended to think of myself. I started in college as a confused general student, with a vague idea that I would be a scientist, since I come from a family of those. I had a bent toward art, but it was a career that dare not speak its name in my family, so I never thought anything much about my art ability, nor did I have any high school teachers who especially encouraged me in it.  <!–more–>

I was fortunate to run into an excellent scientific illustration program at the University of Arizona (Professor Saynor!), and that was safe in the context I grew up in. Soon I wanted to do nothing else. In my junior year, I extended that and began to take graphic art courses. I decided soon to make that my major, but found the studio classes more exciting and finally switched to that, so I made a slow journey from science to art. College was a mixed experience. I developed quickly as an artist. I still look back on my figure drawing from that era and hope someday to be as good again. But the school was full of male abstract expressionists and realism was considered kind of gauche and naive. I have always been a realist of some ilk, but got little encouragement there. I also learned very little technique after leaving the graphic classes, with the exception of printmaking skills. It was all supposed to come from emotion and feeling. I was kind of retarded in that arena (hmmm), shall we say repressed?  I got no instruction in paint mixing, color theory, glazing, scumbling, etc. — all the tools a painter needs. Frustrated, I concentrated on printmaking.

The great encouragement to me in this period was my girlfriend Pat, who loved art and artists, and was tremendously supportive. But I was in that No Club That Would Have Me For a Member club, so devalued her support badly. It was in this period that I made the acquaintance of the Art Judge, that horrible, niggling, internal critic that whispers that you are never good enough. That began my suspicion that I wasn’t a Real Artist, while those around me were.

I left college with no skills to make it in the art world (no training in gallery submissions, marketing, getting your art out, etc, in that college), and no conviction that it was even possible, so I fell back on my scientific illustration training and became a drafter. It was a great career choice for an artist — I could work part-time and since it was a male field, I made decent money — but since I had little sense of myself as an artist, art quickly became a thing I did on the side.

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I retired today after 22 years working for a County government in Tucson, Arizona. I am elated, excited, apprehensive, unmoored — such a mix of emotions as I begin my journey back to art. Why apprehensive?  I have long loved a quote from Roethke that dreams drain the spirit if we dream too long. I have wanted this for so long that I am terrified that I won’t be able to do it. Who would I be then?  My whole image of myself has been that I will be an artist when I finally have the time.  Now I do.  I think I will shrink into nothing if I don’t really end up doing it.

I am elated, though, because I believe I can and will.

Posted in Art