This Thursday and last, I gave presentations in Mrs. Cheri Riley’s art class at Belle High School, the high school in town. The presentations were meant to give a sense of my own journey and experiences as a young artist, and of my specific interests in poetry and painting. It is a strange thing to talk about your work and yourself- especially when, since I am so young, I feel like I don’t yet have that much to share. You also don’t want to claim to speak for all artists and their experience, and there is a danger of that when speaking to a community of young students who aren’t around (yet) a lot of working artists. I actually never took an art class before college, and told the students that they were all ahead of me when I was their age!
As I grew more comfortable, I found myself enjoying the presentations more. The last couple presentations were especially rewarding. I discussed the painters who have influenced me- Jasper Johns, Manet, Philip Guston, among many others- and talked at length about how specific paintings worked. It was a revelation to me that the students loved and were eager to learn and participate in discussions about some of these great works. Art can seem very opaque when you don’t know how to enter it, how to read a painting- and it was a joy to share with them a vocabulary with which to approach these paintings.
What a crazy thing it is to step into a strange classroom full of students with their own preoccupations and histories and lives, and try to connect with them, to bring them into your own world, and to claim that it is also, in some ways, their world. I read a passage from Wordsworth, one of my favorite poets- and talked about how, as a young British intellectual, he traveled to France to participate in the French Revolution, inspired by the fervor for democracy, and returned home, chastened and disillusioned by the Revolution’s turbulence and violence. His great poems emerged out of a need to reconcile his experiences and his longings, the torment of history and the restorative power of Nature. In that way, he is not unlike some modern soldiers, perhaps motivated after 9/11 to enlist and defend their nation, who went to wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and returned, altered in ways that they search to understand. I could feel the attention of a few students intensifying as I tried to relate a poet from the 1790’s to experiences that they may have or be able to relate better to.
What a wonderful opportunity to have briefly stepped into the lives of these students. I’m glad to have had it.