Monday, March 02, 2009

In the blink of an eye....

Time passes.
When people ask I usually say I'm a self taught artist. This is mainly because I don't have a degree in Art from any college. My degree is in Theatre. When I say that I usually have this little niggling feeling in the back of my head that remembers two people.

One doesn't really count, in my opinion. My drawing teacher for drawing one back at KState when I didn't really think too much about anything at all. I remember him well though, because that class was at 8:00am which I found entirely too early to be drawing when I was 19 years old. I skipped a lot. We learned a few techniques that I thought were intriguing. I barely scooted through that class, though I did end up with a B, I think...which was due to talent I guess. Because it had absolutely nothing to do with interest or discipline, or caring, on my part. It makes me ashamed to think of. The final project was to pick any technique we had learned in class and make a final project. I picked that thing where you plot out a graph of a photo and then plot out a graph on paper and replicate it. I did a giant portrait of my brother in a play when he was a kid that I loved. I put it off until the night before and stayed up, literally, all night doing it....came late to class....didn't put it up for critique because I was embarrassed to put it up late...and showed it the professor at the end of class. He looked at it and said "You are hard to understand, because you have immense talent but you just don't give a fuck." That's a quote. :) I remember I was startled that he used the word "fuck". I guess he made his point at the time though, because it made a huge impression on me. And when I picked up the drawing after classes were over, I found a small coffee stain on the back of it. Karma, I guess? It was the first drawing or piece of art I ever spent the money to have framed, and it still hangs in my mom's hallway. A reminder. Maybe he does count, after all.

The second was my teacher at Tarkio College where I got my Theatre degree from. Mary Beth Fogarty. Over the years I go in and out of being able to remember her name, but then I go look at the book I "swiped" from her. Actually, she lent it to me, but asked that I be sure to return it. You know how that goes. Being who I am though I always remember that I should have returned it. She lent me a few books...a couple on design and basic principles of art, and one on Oskar Kokoschka. She used to tell me that my style reminded her of him and I simply didn't see it. I took a long time to get that Theatre degree. For one thing, I think it's important to note that I grew up in Theatre. It's what my parent's did...it's what my family on my maternal side did...it was a way of life for me and it seemed natural to get a degree in it. But I took a long time at it because life happened at 19 for me. I realized there was other stuff to do, albeit a lot of it could be considered a waste of time. I ended up at Tarkio College because my dad was teaching there and they paid for faculty kid's tuition. I was working on a BFA in Theatre, and then the road turned half way through what was my fifth year of college. (I took a couple of breaks along the road, as well). I'm not sure why it happened....a lot of times I honestly think it started because of the (ahem) "party" lifestyle I was into...but I went and spent a summer away from Tarkio instead of participating in their summer theatre program, and I came back only interested in art. I wanted to learn everything I could. Mary Beth was the new art teacher they had hired. It was a very small college, so they only needed one. I dropped from a BFA to a BA in Theatre, so that I could spend more time taking art classes. I took every single art class I could. I still had some, er, attendance problems (my grade in sculpture was a gift...) but I soaked it in. I retook drawing, I took painting, figure drawing, art history....anything that had to do with art and Mary Beth Fogarty was my teacher. She was an artist in her own right, from Nebraska...and she took us to exhibits in Omaha a couple of times. She was incredibly encouraging. She said some things to me that I didn't agree with, and thereby taught me that you don't have to agree with everything a teacher tells you and that's okay. She once told me that the color blue, used in it's entirety on a drawing or painting, was only reserved for Picasso. I thought that was a bunch of hooey. It makes me laugh to think about to this day. Mary Beth taught me that it was important to learn the rules first...and then it was okay to break them. She taught me what abstraction was, in my opinion. I wasn't always crazy about her art...but I "got it". She really helped to form my opinions about art to this day. She taught me everything I know about art history. She was passionate, and fun.
So the other day I saw that someone had described themselves (who didn't have a degree either, I guess) as having "studied under" a few people. I thought to myself "well I would have to say I studied under Mary Beth!" and then that further prompted me to go google her.... So I did and I found some of her work. It brought back a lot of memories, and it was weird to look at it from the perspective of years having gone by. My first thought was that she was the German Expressionist, and why had I not noticed this before? And then I kept looking and it popped out at me: she had died in 2002. How could this be? She was born in 1943! That makes her 59 at her death. I wasn't able to find any explanation of how she died. It just seemed to stun me, because I knew she wasn't very old. I found a lovely article/page about an exhibit they had for her after her death. You can read it here.
So that's it. We all know it to be true...and as artists we joke about it constantly. We press on with our art because we feel the need to "express" and if we are lucky, it all boils down to someone having a lovely exhibit of our work after we die. But the thing is....the work does live on. Occasionally someone will view it, and love it, and want to know who did it...and the name will be a name that they read and remember for a bit, or perhaps a lifetime. I am lucky to have had someone like that teach me about art. I have remembered her often throughout my life. As I said at the beginning of this...I have often had that niggling feeling that I needed to give some sort of credit where credit was due. I would have stayed with her longer if the college had not gone bankrupt and closed down...if I had not gotten a Theatre degree. But I am thankful for what she did teach me, and I need to remember those things more often. Rest in peace, Mary Beth Schmidt Fogarty.

2 comments:

Jose said...

1. I know a lot of people feel the same way about Joel, Mimi. He was their mentor and who they think about when they think about themselves writing.

2. The way you feel about art education vs. theater education is the same way I think about music vs. theater.

Steve Emery said...

This is a moving post. It makes me think of important art teachers in my life, too. Makes me think I should try to find out about them - what are they doing, are they still with us, are they still making art. I know what two are doing - I keep some track of them, and referenced them in my profile on my gallery page. But there are several others...

It's great that you have (and had) this passion about art.

And I agree Mary Beth's untimely death is a tragedy. And that her art living beyond her is a tribute - as was this post of yours.