Ten Years a Painter

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Professor Hanson’s intense blue eyes seemed to look right through you somehow. He had frizzy, poodle-like hair that sort of danced on top of his head when he talked. But the funny thing was, I always found it impossible to concentrate on what he was saying. This was a studio art class, and I just wanted to paint. Most of the time when he wandered over toward my easel it made my skin crawl.

“Ten years from now, you won’t be painting anymore,” I heard him say one day. At first, I thought he was talking to me, but he was hovering around the girl at the next easel, weaving left and right in front of her like they were in a boxing match. A couple of the other students glanced over and took notice. Hanson looked around and seemed pleased that his provocation had caught their attention. The girl he was talking to was named Sarah. And when she started to cry, you could see Hanson delighting in the moment.

“Who are you trying to please with this painting anyway?” he snarled. “You have no passion.” Now everyone was listening. Sarah was trying to put on a game face, but Hanson wanted to see those tears. He seemed to be trying to summon them like a medicine man pounding the ground for rain. “I don’t know why you’re even here,” he pressed, eyeing her for signs of weakness. “What are you doing here?”

A lone tear ran down Sarah’s cheek, and she sniffled a little. “Go ahead and cry,” Hanson crowed, raising his voice at the big wet payoff. “If you would put that much emotion into your painting, maybe it wouldn’t be so boring. Maybe you’d actually have something worth looking at.”

“I think she should use more color,” Jason offered, in his typically obnoxious brown-nosing way. This was really starting to bug me as it bordered on bullying. Now Saundra spoke up. “I think she should just cut loose and explore. You know, not be so uptight.”

Sarah’s face was turning red now. She’d taken this onslaught without saying a word. Her curly auburn hair was a mess, and her nose and cheeks had little multi-colored fingerprints on them, like artist’s war paint. Everyone was clustered around her easel, and she addressed each one of her antagonists with her huge watery eyes before she plopped her brush down on the palette and stomped out of the studio without uttering a word.

“Do you all see the point of this?” Hanson asked a room full of bemused college kids. “You see where I’m coming from?” I didn’t. I bet none of us did. I went out to look for Sarah.

The art studio was tucked into the edge of a forest, and I found Sarah sitting under a tree by herself. “Don’t listen to them,” I said. “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Hanson probably can’t even paint.” Sarah looked at me and shrugged. We sat silently on the moist forest carpet, running our fingers through the mulch and tugging at fallen twigs and leaves to keep our hands busy. We were painters, after all.

Maybe it’s all bullshit, I thought. Everyone’s pretending to be something - attempting to alter our own perceptions and impressions of them. Hanson’s just pretending, too. We were halfway to the coffee house when Sarah mused, “I bet I’ll still be painting in ten years. I know I will.