We’ve all had certain teachers who come into your life and have a profound influence – I mean there’s a handful that I can recall – but this small group’s twist on my head was so forceful that as an artist – I can still remember the point in time vividly. From Mrs. Mimm’s Seventh Grade English were I finally got interested in reading like a fiend, to Joseph Colligan’s Creative Writing which instilled in me the need to write.
Most persuasive was, of all things, a life drawing class I had in college. The teacher was a fellow who was newly graduated himself, Doug Smith. His exclaiming the first day that he really didn’t know what he was doing teaching life drawing. That it was the only position open and since he had no tenure, that was why he took it.
The class had wandered along, as most of my drawing instructional classes, with models and reams of paper being used. It seemed to be just another session that would start and stop with some improvement to technique and not much else. Then on the fourth meeting of class – we all showed up to an empty classroom sans a ring of chairs. Doug sat on the floor against the wall and as we filtered in, he told us to grab a chair and that there was to be no drawing today. Glances of “what the devil” passed between all of us – as it was the first time interaction of the group as a whole had taken place – as most of us would come and go without so much as a hello between us.
Doug then sauntered over to the door and gently closed it. “ Ok, we will not be drawing today as I said. Let’s get that out of the way right now.” as he circled behind us, “I think we need to talk about a much more important subject, that of what you are doing here, and how you feel about art. I feel there is not enough discussion of art”
He then turned and planted himself behind the chair of one my class mates. “I am going to make a statement that we will discuss today, because I feel art is more than just putting charcoal to paper.” he let a pregnant pause sit for a moment and then, “ How do you feel when I say, … all art is stuff?”
Another pause, letting the words float in the middle of the ring of chairs. “This stuff is just that, stuff. It has no connection to you, it’s creator, and never will. It will live and breathe all on it’s own no matter how much love and care you put into it. And believe me I see many of you pampering your art as if you just gave birth.”
“No, your art work, once it leaves your hand, can never tell anything to the viewer other than is it a good work of art. And it must stand on it’s own two feet.”
The next two hours was spent in a heated debate, of people’s view points and opinions – but the fact is that the statement of “all art is stuff” has been rolodex card number one in my head my entire career in art. It has made many a picture be thrown away, painting ripped, ceramic broken because it set a bar of excellence in my head that I feel I have to get over every time I create something. What happened that day was that Doug taught all of us to step back from what we were doing, and to become our own worst critic. To realize crap when we were faced with it, even if it was our own, and to cut the personal umbilical cord early.
I am not sure were Doug Smith is today, but I felt the need to put his words out there for all to ponder.