Paradise Lost

Last Thursday, I got fed up and lost.
Jack and I started taking a class together at a prestigious art-class-taking-place and despite an initial enthusiasm for the undertaking, several things happened during the second class that reminded of all of the reasons I hate taking art classes and have since I was ten. As we walked out, an hour before the class ended, I said to Jack, “look, the three things I think you should get in art school are a) inspiration, ideas, and infectious passion from your fellow students, b) a teacher who gives you useful and specific direction and c) facilities that you could not duplicate at home. Tonight, we got none of the three.” I wished I’d spent the evening at home drawing in my journal instead.

What I didn’t go into with him was the sense of being lost that started to well up inside me. I suddenly realized that my general enthusiasm for art school — a Nirvana filled with printing presses and – studios and challenging assignments and benevolent mentors — might just turn out to be an expensive illusion that will fritter away the best years of my boy’s life.

What if he finds himself surrounded with nihilistic slackers and trust fund babies with no talent and loads of cynicism being carelessly fed pompous claptrap by failed conceptual bores with tenure and resentment for anyone with a naive enthusiasm for creativity in a shopworn environment filled with squeezed out tubes of drying oil paint and broken easels? Instead of bringing home arm loads of brilliant lithographs and watercolors and bronzes, Jack will slouch into our apartment with tattoos, pendulous pierced ear lobes, a ton of attitude and excuses, and a generally wasted education that produced little but a gaping divot in my bank account.
Hearing our fellow students provide lengthy and incomprehensible explanations of their poorly constructed constructions and randomly daubed canvases, explanations that were crude shadows of the sort of pompous nonsense that cultural critics have mocked since the Salon de Refuse, I was brought up short, thinking, “Shit, I’ve got to make sure he gets into a decent liberal arts college so at least he’ll have a chance to go to law school.”

Anyhow, a weekend of calmer reflection and a 6 a.m. train ride to Providence, Rhode Island calmed me down. Jack and I spent a glorious spring day touring RISD, and my fears receded. The school was filed with amazing painting studios, enormous print shops and woodshops, darkrooms and kilns and endless hallways filled with beautiful art. The students all seemed serious and passionate and ran around carrying canvases and arm loads of wood. The library was humming with studying brains. The students seemed like professionals in the making and I only saw one girl with blue hair.

I don’t know if Jack will end up going to RISD or Cooper Union or MIT or Harvard Law. But I sense in him the same sort of enthusiasm for art that I had, abandoned, and then regained. An enthusiasm that I didn’t get in school, but in spite of it. Jack has been long-marinated in art and I think he’ll always have creative juice in his marrow. Whatever he does with his education and his life, I know it will be interesting and worthwhile.

Today we are on our way to visit MICA, another creative hotspot. On Monday we’ll check out Bard for a different perspective.
My faith in higher education is stored but I still don’t know if I’ll be going to next Thursday night’s class.