A little boy likes to draw. “Stop that and pay attention,” he is told in Sunday school. “Keep it inside the lines,” says his kindergarten teacher. “Who says you can draw?” says a fourth grade boy, tearing the drawing in half.
“You didn’t follow directions, again. Those figures have to be concise,” says his math teacher. He hands the boy a ruler and draws a straight line. “Look, try drawing them…like this.” The teacher demonstrates. On Report Card Day the teacher asks him to wait outside while he meets with his mother. On his tiptoes, the boy peers through the glass window. His mother sits in the classroom, nodding her head, the teacher shaking his. They are there a long time. Later, he is punished, sent to his room. “You must try harder,” says his mother.
* * *
The high school years are worse. No one asks him to draw. No one asks him to do much of anything he likes. The teacher is content that he shows up, that he is a quiet boy. Not like those others, who talk back, or throw their books out the window, or pass notes all through the class. But inside his brain he continues to see colors, and faces in odd shapes, and people and objects hiding in a kohl green forest.
* * *
When his children leave home, and his wife dies, he retires. He enrolls in an art class: learns about color theory, the gradation of blended colors, objectification, and iconophilia. He holds his breath when learning of Impressionist and Cubist’s painting techniques. Favorites are Theodore Robinson, Zinaida Serebryakova, and Van Gogh. The pictures in his head come alive again. They breathe, they dance, they want to live. He searches thrift shops for art books -- visits museums on the free days, saves up to buy postcards of favorite compositions. He makes frames for them-Monet’s Soleil Levant, Prendergast’s Salem Cove, and Picasso’s Guernica.
He sighs deeply when sitting in front of The Sun Flowers-the rich colors, the absence of lines. It is all in the eye, in the mind. He begins to paint his own pictures, the ones that have been dancing in his brain for all those years. At first, he paints above kitchen table, then in the garage, and then takes canvasses outside when the weather is benign-en plein air. He shows his pictures to his teacher. They are exhibited in a student art show. Students stand for a long time in front of his paintings. He wonders what they are thinking.
One evening, he is at home framing an oil canvas. The phone rings. Would he be able to speak on his paintings at the university? Perhaps they could place them in the university’s art gallery? Would he be interested in teaching a course or two? Artist in residence they say. The old man, shakes his head. And cannot speak.