After being discouraged from taking an art class while in high school, I decided to use one of my electives in college to take a Drawing course. I had always enjoyed art, so it seemed like a good choice to expand my skills and learn new techniques.
Long story short, I hated it. But I did learn one vital lesson, on the very first day of class, that I shall carry with me always.
This drawing course was taught by an eccentric artist. I imagine most of them are. She was almost like a caricature of an art teacher. Crazy hair, random statements, hyper-criticism of any art style that didn’t suit her preferences, and she occasionally wore her sweaters backwards. I’m sure she was a lovely woman outside of a classroom setting, but, to be totally honest, I don’t even remember her name because I must have blocked it from my memory out of sheer hatred for that class.
This professor also often accused me and my fellow students of not accurately “seeing” things, which made our artistic reproductions of fruit bowls or trees lackluster. She would lob us lofty musings, such as “It might look like a tree, but what do you really see?” and “You must look beyond the apples and oranges, and see the truth.” We began to suspect that we were the unwitting subjects of an elaborate sociology experiment. Alas, we were not.
I mean, I’m all for art. I’ve been to the Tate Modern twice. But this class made me never want to pick up an oil pastel or colored pencil ever again. She did have a point, though. Seeing is not always seeing.
On the first day of class, we sat outside on the grass in one of the campus courtyards. We had our pristine white sketchpads and unpeeled pastels at our sides. And our professor told us to look up at the sky, and describe what we saw. We did, unsure of what the point of the exercise was meant to be. We saw blue. On that day, it was cloudless blue. Of course, the answer was more nuanced than that.
She told us that yes, the sky is blue. But it is not one single shade of blue. I stared up at one patch of sky, and realized that it was comprised of several shades. One vast mural painted in a thousand, maybe a million shades. I had never noticed it before; how many different blue fragments make up even one little section of sky. I saw the sky every single day and never once realized the truth in it’s beauty. And in that moment, I was amazed.
I never managed to channel that kind of brilliance in my artwork – I mean, I only had 2 shades of blue in my palette – but it’s a lesson I never forgot. Look closer to see the truth. And I try to apply that lesson to my writing, now. Dive below the surface, and make readers examine the depths for new meaning.
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