Part Two of Coming to Grips with the “A” Word: Mrs. Huggard changes my life forever….
My high school had a very exotic art teacher by the name of Mrs. Huggard – I can’t remember where she was from but she wasn’t born in the United States and to me, a young Catholic girl from a small city in the midwest, she was exotic.
Under Mrs. Huggard’s tutelage I fared somewhat better than in elementary school. She taught me that I was better than I thought I was, and she was the person who first introduced me to the fact that there are far more colors in things than what you think. I’ve told this story to my students many, many times: drawing with colored pencils outside one day I had done what I thought was a fairly decent picture of an old oak tree – brown trunk, green leaves. Mrs. Huggard came over to look, and she said, “LOOK! LOOK at that tree until you see the reds, the purples, the yellows, the blues!” I thought she was crazy. But I did look, and look, and look some more until I DID see the colors.
She also taught me that I wasn’t the only person with talent. And that in order to be really good I had to reach far beyond the gift that I was given and hone it – work at it – suffer during the time I was working, to really be considered “good.”
I did a lot of hard work in her art class during those four years. And we had a lot of fun, too. One of my high school friends recently reminded me (in a comment to the first part of this post) that Mrs. Huggard actually threw an art history book at us!
We painted sets for our musicals and plays, decorated the gym as a roman ruin, and painted a huge rendition of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” that hung over the entrance to the auditorium. It was my favorite class, naturally.
I really didn’t think much about whether or not I was a real “artist” during my high school years. I was too busy being boy crazy, discovering weed, cigarettes and beer, and getting through the trauma caused by the death of my mother during freshman year, and my father’s subsequent remarriage the next.
At the end of my fourth year, though, it was time for senior awards; a big deal to us. I knew I wouldn’t win any of the academic awards — I barely took a book home for four years. But I harbored a secret hope that I would win the art award.
The art award was for “Outstanding Artist,” and was determined by none other than Mrs. Huggard herself. There was stiff competition, especially from one of my good friends. When Mrs. Huggard stood to walk to the podium, I held my breath, and looked at my friend. She was staring straight ahead. I barely heard Mrs. Huggard announce the award. “For Outstanding Technical Ability in Art….”
What????!?!?!?!? She changed the name of the award! Why did she do that?
I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder the question because the next thing I knew she was saying my name. “….goes to Gini Galvin.”
I’d like to say I was thrilled. I was pleased, definitely, but thrilled? Nope. Why had she changed the name of the award? Why?
I was sure it was because she couldn’t quite call me an artist. Not with a capital “A.” She couldn’t ignore my technical ability, no, but everyone knows that technical ability does not an artist make. Even I knew that at the tender age of eighteen.
That change followed me throughout my life. I thought about it in college where I majored in drawing and painting. Thought about it again in 1994 when I quit my full-time job (the first time) to paint, andyet again when I quit my day job for the last time, in 2003.
The best advice I got to counteract the affect that little change had on me was from my sister, Marilyn (the real artist), when I sent her a photo of a painting I had done when I first moved to Seattle. It was a painting done from a magazine cover of a little boy holding a pie. She told me it was good, yes, but it would be much better if I painted something or someone that had personal meaning for me.
She gave me equally good advice in 1994 when I told her I was going to paint full-time. She told me NOT to sit down and try to paint a masterpiece. Instead, get a sketchbook, and use it as a journal. “Just write,” she said, “and you’ll soon begin to draw, and then you’ll begin to generate ideas from what you’ve drawn and written.”
She was right. And it was the key to my “Are You My Mother?” series, which, I believe, included the first paintings I had done that went beyond good technique.
I now consider myself an artist, or Artist. I’ve learned that “artists” are simply people who make art, and making “good” art isn’t worth talking about. I tell my students to paint what they want to paint, and paint it as well as they can. Give it their all. Make it personal. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Now, if I could just ask Mrs. Huggard why she made that change…..?