Art for Everyone
“I do not want art for a few, more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.” — William Morris
My first night in Roma, eight of us took a taxi to Piazza Navona for dinner. I dined on pizza mere yards from Bernini’s fountain “The Four Rivers.” Digesting food next to a masterpiece of such tremendous artistic/ historical significance felt like toasting marshmallows on beach chairs next to the Coliseum. Among us was a couple from Boston- Brian the Athletic Director of a local High School, and his wife Julie who worked in Public Housing.
“So you’re an Aht Teacha?” said Brian in beautiful Boston drawl. “Let me tell you a story about an aht class I took,” he said mid-sip of Chianti.
Conversation among everyone silenced. Indeed. How did a Bostonian tough guy who ran marathons and put away bottles of wine in one sitting, come to take a course in Art? Forgive me, but the Athletic Directors I’ve heard of don’t take Art classes. They eat buffalo wings and play darts with “cronies,” after an eight hour shift modeling a similar macho lifestyle to teenagers on the field.
Many years back, Brian left his job as a mechanic to pursue an Education Degree. He had to take a course called “Art Appreciation.” Put bluntly, courses with names like “Art Appreciation” are for those who tend towards stick figures, smiley faces, and can’t hold elitist/ intellectual Art debates on things such as “Aesthetic Instrumentalism in the Post Modern Era.”
The first assignment was to create a self portrait. It could be a poem, music, drawing, collage, photography, or any combination of tools/media that would communicate the answer to one simple question: “Who am I?”
I don’t remember what Brian created. Forgive me Brian. Instead, he shared what others created. He fondly recollected the poem a woman read to music… written for her son who had passed away. He quoted parts as if he had heard it days before… rather than decades. If I hadn’t pegged him against the “Sports Meathead Wall” I might have noticed sooner he was blinking tears. As I turned to the pediatrician from Miami sitting next to me, I noticed her eyes were tearing as well. Let me tell you with as much certainty as I can possess after a quarter century of life… the magic that this Irish Catholic/ Car Mechanic turned Sports Director felt during his first and last Art class was the real deal.
This magic passed through a mother mourning… into a Boston Tough Guy… through 20 years of time… and into eight strangers at a Cafe in Rome. Sometimes I feel alone in my own world- wondering if I’m the only person who thinks this is the most amazing fucking thing ever.
Just as those who make “pretty pictures”… just as the ones who possess great depth… wear black turtle necks and drink Starbucks… Art is for every single Athletic Director, blue collar, white collar, educated, uneducated, redneck, business elite, starving African, Communist, Socialist, Capitalist, Muslim terrorist, Mexican immigrant, rich and poor person on this blue and green spinning planet.