Sunday, May 1, 2011

The perfect squirrel and the window, assignment from mid-April

I enrolled as an Art Education major when I first went to college. I didn't really understand what college could teach me about myself and about the world, and in the absence of any real understanding, I hoped to train for something. I took the first required drawing class in college. We had undergone the usual torture-by-still-life (those center-of-the-room assignments where we all drew a rocking chair, a teddy bear, a tinfoil star, a bit of plastic wrap, a leather-bound book, a light bulb, a mannequin's hand, a cereal box, whatever was smooth or rough or shiny or silky or transparent or fuzzy or wooden or weird... it was only a test, but it was every week).

I believe I was assuming I would learn draftsmanship (which is what it was still called then, in the dark ages).  When we were given our fist real assignment, weeks into the term, which was (in its entirety) "draw a window," I was excited. I sought out the perfect one: a frame that had come loose from its moorings, a window-pane with a delicate crack, traces of scrubbed-away wallpaper.  I succeeded, I was sure, in reproducing its 1910-or-thereabouts feeling. My charcoal-ed panes looked like real glass. I added a chair under the window. Looked like wood to me.  I glued on some printed paper to help establish the remnants of wallpaper. 

The critique was, then, going to be an event.  We came rambling in, each of us push-pinning our final pieces up in a left-to-right row along the wall.  I was feeling good; this was not a normal feeling for me, as I felt my fellow students were all, basically, Albrecht Durer on his best day.

Then SHE came in. She unrolled her drawing and pinned it up. Yes, it was a window, an old, wood-framed,  slightly off-kilter window. But, more importantly, she was the only person in the class to have realized that it might be useful to allow the viewer to see something through the window. The rest of us had been so preoccupied with getting the glass right that we ignored the view.  And her view was, it must be said, a perfect squirrel. Every little line of fur was distinct; there were shadows on his chest, there were gleaming eyes.  To quote a Keats letter, "the creature hath a purpose, and his eyes are bright with it."

Not long after, I became an English major. And I earned another degree in English after that one.I made these decisions while thinking about the perfection of that student's drawing. But the fur, the eyes, the acorn  between the squirrel's paws... none of that, in the long run, was important. What was important was that a window is to see through.

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