It took me 37 years, but I now understand just how important my natural “talents” were for my success in school. The right side of my brain carried me through with its affinity for writing, drawing and language. My memory was highly visual, and I relied heavily upon its ability to “photograph” what I needed to memorize to pass each test in the subjects I found boring or frustrating. When I couldn’t do that and was forced to reconcile with the numbers for what they were, it ended in wailing and tears. Algebra, how I hated you.
Due to my strengths in Art, English, French, Music and Geometry, I managed to completely dodge Chemistry, Trigonometry, and all but one Biology class in high school. In college I flocked to Art again, and managed to dodge math altogether. After a few semesters of flux I settled at the University of the Arts in the Illustration program. There, I became fascinated with Apple computers and the internet, which were relatively new and green with possibilities. Our design teachers didn’t even fully realize the potential yet, and insisted we learn paste-up and cut our own rubyliths. Wikipedia it if you’re younger than 30.
I thrived in an environment where I could work hard and perfect my craft. My attention to detail in illustration won me scholarship money and other rewards. My understanding of color and light translated well to photo-realism. The pressure of deadlines and pleasing professors ensured I show up and do the work, and do it exceptionally well.
The structure of school itself was a comfort, though I resented its restraints. I was late for high school buses and often paid for public transportation when I missed them completely. I still have nightmares about missing classes, forgetting my syllabus, losing my way in the long, dark halls, forgetting my locker combination, forgetting my lines in school plays. None of the most basic, regular day-to-day parts of school were easy for me. Even the parts I loved were difficult. Being an artist, I did get a “pass” in being the absent-minded type, I guess. Certain teachers understood me, and valued my talents more than they cared to punish my inadequacies. While my classmates studied or read the next chapter in Social Studies, I stapled away at holiday billboards, high above the rest on a wobbly chair, ever aware and fearful that the boys might see up my pleated uniform skirt.
What no one saw, not even my parents, were the catastrophic situations I’d imagine, the nightmares I’d live in my brain and avoid playing out in real life as much as possible. Constantly thinking, imagining, avoiding. The exhaustion of the effort. The pain of imperfection. A lingering, doomed feeling that I was not like anyone else, but I could not understand why. Not quite a brainiac, definitely not with the hip crowd, a brown-noser to most, I felt forever in between being somebody and nobody, an achiever and a poser. I tried so hard.
I always did well in school, but I am certain I worked much harder than anyone could see on the surface. Not until I had the arts at my disposal did I feel any peace, belonging, acceptance.
I feel there is an important link between mental capacity and art. It pains me that the arts are first to be cut in schools, businesses and cities when finances are strained. Art is not a luxury item. It fills an intellectual, emotional need for the children and adults that benefit from the creation of it. Beauty lies in the eye of the artist.