Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: College Art Class, Part Two
I appreciated fine art, I just didn’t like walking a mile at 7:00 in the morning to do it. That was the only class time I could fit into my sophomore schedule at college, and I needed the credit. It wasn’t so bad that fall, walking to school in the early morning, but as it grew colder, it became harder and harder to go out the door and into the dark and the cold. Besides, after a month of classes, I was totally unimpressed with the instructor, who turned off the lights in the room when class started and began showing slides of art, paintings, buildings, statues, unrelated in style or time, never stopping until the bell rang. That bell woke much of the class up, having been lulled to sleep by the teacher’s monotone voice and his ramblings about the objects on the screen.
I complained about the class to a girl I knew, telling her it felt like such a waste of time. She had the “perfect” solution. She had taken the class from the same instructor the year before, and said students were graded on the mid-term and final tests, so she skipped classes (the teacher never took roll), read the textbook which was so much more interesting than the teacher, then took the tests and got a “C” for the class. Since it was a required block class, a “C” as a grade sounded pretty good to me, especially if I only had to take the tests and wouldn’t have to attend those early morning classes. So I let her experience influence me, and I started skipping classes. The mid-term came, I took the test, discovering most of it was right out of the text, and received a “B”! Wow! This was going to be better than I thought! I didn’t worry about skipping classes from then on, took the final test and got another “B”! Christmas vacation came and went, and as I returned to campus my first stop was at the campus post office. I opened my grades, looking for the results in my English and French Revolution classes, and stopped breathing when I saw my art class grade. “F”. What? I had “B”s on both tests! A trip to the teacher’s office to protest my unfair treatment brought me up short when I was told that shortly after I quit going to classes, the teacher had assigned a weekly research paper on various works of art. According to his records, I had not turned in any research papers. Hmm. I had been caught in my own trap! Thankfully, that tragedy turned into a great blessing.
I took the class over the next year, at a different time and with a different teacher. I love history and this art appreciation class was the history of art, connecting societies, cultures, mediums from around the world, giving art a context and meaning that made it exciting. It was a demanding class, the instructor ran it with an iron hand, if you gave any indication you weren’t paying attention, weren’t taking notes or was a minute late for class, he gave you a dressing down in front of a class of fifty or more students. You knew you were there to learn and he made it worth your while by being a teacher passionate about his work. I thought many times while studying for the many tests we took how lucky I was to have failed that first art class, how much I would have missed in my life if I hadn’t been forced to retake the class under this gifted, demanding teacher.
I find that the ability to influence people isn’t necessarily what you know but how passionate you are when trying to teach, instruct, or “sell” an idea to others. Our belief, our passion in an idea or cause is what people see and identify with. Whether it is art appreciation, a sales idea, a cowboy festival, anything we believe in, being passionate about it is what makes it work. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” I don’t remember my art teacher’s name, I’m sorry to say, but I do remember his enthusiasm, and I thank him for the difference he made in my life.