The Fringe Benefits of Art

Pencil portrait of Loretta Swit

It’s probably been 25 years since I last did any drawing. I don’t know why I stopped. Most likely the daily busy-ness of life. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t enjoy doing it anymore. Drawing is one of the things that I’m considering adding back into my life now that I have all this free time at home.

While I initially discovered I could draw well in Grade 3, it wasn’t until junior high that the drawing bug really bit. It was in junior high that I first encountered Mrs. Rode.

Mrs. Rode was my art teacher in Grades 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. (I know her first name, Charlotte, but even now, almost 40 years after graduation, it would feel weird to call her anything but “Mrs. Rode”.)

She was a terrific art teacher. Not only did she teach all the mediums, but she took great pains to go into the history of art. I learned a lot from her and became a better artist as a result. She also taught me something unintentionally that I didn’t realize until years later.

I think most people would agree that there are those that have an aptitude for art and those that totally do not. Those that can draw anything with the flick of their hand and those that can’t draw a circle with a compass.  (Is that the artist’s equivalent of burning boiling water?)

For six years, I watched Mrs. Rode lean over students’ shoulders and look at their work. And whether their self-portrait actually looked like them or like a giraffe straddling a VW Microbus, she always complimented something about it before gently giving them a suggestion that would enhance their work. Or help with what they were trying to convey.

Six years. I had no idea at the time how much of an effect that would have on my life.

Always find the positive.

I wasn’t even conscious that it had rubbed off on me until quite a few years later.

Always find the positive.

Try it next time you have a situation that has you at your wits end. You won’t believe how much better it will look when you find something good to focus on.

EPILOGUE:  One day, a couple of years ago, I was surfing the net, trying to find some reference to an event in one of our local papers when I stumbled upon an article about Charlotte Rode.  She had just celebrated 35 years of teaching and was still going strong although at a different school than I had gone to.

About two weeks later, during that week before the new school year starts when all the teachers are at school working on their lesson plans and all that jazz, I was driving to a house to work on the kitchen cabinets. My last job of the day. Right past the school the local paper had said she was still teaching at. Right after I finished that job, I found myself in the office of the school, asking to see her.

We went and found someplace quiet to sit and I thanked her for that wonderful fringe benefit to being her student. After that, we just sat and talked and caught up. It had, after all, been 30 years since we’d seen each other.

It was a great day.

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