My Art Education, continued
Though the Art Department was a departure from the norm, looking back, I realize that not every experience supported may creative growth. In my first year I was taking a printmaking class and we were asked to plan a sketch for our first woodcut. I chose to draw a working woman at a bus stop loaded down with packages waiting for the bus, an image I was very familiar to me in my depressed, segregated community. Anxious to get started with my idea, I showed the instructor my sketch. His response – “Don’t use that”. I didn’t have to ask why. Somehow, I instinctively knew that speaking about struggle was not acceptable in this integrated setting. It was a time when my personal experience could touch a nerve in this uncharted territory. I felt I had to be careful. I think I was aware, for many years after, of "being careful".
Come 1973, over 10 years later, I was in a graduate painting class at a school in New York. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X had all been assassinated and the Black community was feeling the pain of it and expressing that pain through movements and protests. My friend Dr. Goodwin asked me to make an illustration for his essay, “The Death of Integration”. The illustration sparked an idea in me for a painting about the struggle which I planned and began working on in the class. It was déjà vu. “You can’t paint that” was the instructor’s response when he reached me in his rounds. Well this time I was in New York city and it was the 70’s. “I can’t paint this; why not?” was my response. Honestly, I was clueless. His response, “You can get into a lot of trouble painting that.” Then, to my amazement, the whole class gathered around my easel to support me. “Why can’t she paint that?” they asked. The instructor relinquished his position. So, I finished the painting and I’ve kept it all these years. You’re seeing it here, shown publicly for the first time. Why didn’t I show it before? Because as I matured in my expression I realized that literal is not always the best way to make your point. I learned to sneak up on the viewer, hold his attention longer, let him go away thinking about all the subtleties in the paint process, the imagery and, of course, the message.