A Decision for Art
Entering Memphis State University when I did was a was a unique experience. The University had been integrated, just 3 years earlier. Many of the restrictions that were instituted when the first group of African American were admitted were still in place. This made it obvious to us Black students that we were not expected to immerse into the full life of the college community and we were constantly aware of negative from the White students and faculty. The Art Department was different. It was an oasis in a desert. The Art instructors treated us the same as everyone else. Their major concern, it seemed to me, was developing talent. I felt respected. My Initial intent when I enrolled in college was to major in English, but it only took one Art class for me to realize that was where I belonged.
The approach to art education in the 60’s was experiential learning. The academic approach to art had been scrapped and it was "no rules pasta". In painting class, I was told what medium I would need to work with oils and how to use them then told to go for it. Even though I honed most of my technical skills later, I still count this initial experience with learning to express myself as an important part of my development. The painting shown here is one of my earliest works, a view of the bridge that crossed the bayou that ran through my community.
I remember some of my experiences in drawing classes. So much was about expression. For one assignment I chose to pose in a mirror for a nude self-portrait. When I finished I felt timid about showing it, so, using an eraser I stroked across the page to smudge the color and blur the image. The teacher thought it was brilliant. I remember taking a commercial layout class, with zero knowledge about commercial layout and feeling totally lost. The "B" I got in that class was definitely for effort. In another drawing class the instructor asked us to paint a series based on literature that interested us, and I did a Biblical series in tempera. I remember how she raved about my paintings before the class, which surprised me because I had wondered whether my choice of Biblical subject matter would be appreciated. I suppose that experience was a precursor to the Biblical series that I began much later in my art career, and which I’m still expanding today.
TO BE CONTINUED