When I was 20, I took a drawing class. I believed in the Liberal Arts tradition that college should be about more than just checking off a list of required classes. I believed that college should help you to become a better person. You should learn a career or trade, but also learn about yourself in the process.
I scanned my college’s behemoth catalog and came across Art History and Drawing 101. I considered the two classes. I had an interest in learning about Michaelangelo and Rembrandt to name two artists. In addition, I always wanted to become a better drawer. I envisioned the teacher and students sitting around a table, chatting about the meaning of life as we drew and coming away with masterpieces, okay maybe not a masterpiece, but certainly something I could take home at the end of the semester and give to my mom. Most importantly to my current situation, both classes would check off my college’s Liberal Arts – Art Requirement.
I thought about the two classes, finally deciding to nix the Art History class when all of my friends told me that I would crazy to take it. Why kill yourself with an Art History class and mountain upon mountain of reading to complete and paintings to remember when I could just show up every couple of days with and take a piece of cake drawing class.
I couldn’t have made a bigger mistake.
What I didn’t factor into my decision-making was grades. I needed a good grade and I didn’t have a ton of time to waste. I was carrying a full load of classes and I needed to make the most of my time.
My luck turned bad right from the start when I ended up with a teacher who couldn’t speak a lot of English and, more important to my situation, couldn’t convey what he wanted us to do. He would take his black charcoal stick, move it a little this way and then that way and come away with something on paper that looked like it might earn him a few bucks at the town’s summer arts festival. I swirled my thin charcoal stick the same way he had and came away with a bunch of crude smudges.
The class was a colossal failure. I took the class to learn a fun, new hobby. Instead, it became a painful, joyless chore. I struggled and struggled until the very end. With the semester coming to a close, I somehow managed by the skin of my teeth to earn a passing grade, but gave up hope of ever enjoying drawing or painting.
All these years later, I watch my wife draw a simple picture for the students in her classroom and I marvel at the skill and wonder what might have been. I’ve long wanted to draw, but it just doesn’t come natural. I see images in my head, but I can’t convey them on paper. I’m the Pictionary partner everyone tries to avoid. Instead, I stick to doodles and stick figures.
The joy of drawing has passed me by—maybe one day it will come back—but I still hold out hope for Art History and the value of Liberal Arts. I’m sure it’s the dreamer in me, but I’m holding out hope.