by R.S. Mellette
I sat there naked listening to the teacher talk.
No, this wasn't one of those dreams where you find yourself in school or at work in your underwear. This was reality. No, I wasn't one of those young boys being abused by their smokin' hot eighth grade teacher... darn it. I was working as a model for figure drawing classes at Virginia Commonwealth University while I tried to finish out my BFA in theatre at this, my 3rd college.
To take my mind off my right foot, which had gone so numb from sitting still that it felt like it belonged to some other person, I listened to the teacher talk about technique. His art class sounded similar to my acting classes, and from what I could gather, his students hated him as much as some of the actors hated our teachers who pounded the drum of technique.
He talked of "seeing the muscles." (This was back when I had muscles). The students had to name them like doctors in an anatomy class. If a student drew lines, he asked them to point out the lines they saw on my body. (This was before I had lines on my body). "There are no lines," he would say, "only sharp differentials of light and shadow."
He was not teaching his students to draw; he was teaching them to see.
On breaks, I got to walk around and look at the students' work – which if you ever get a chance to do will make clear the concept of Cubism. In this teacher's class the drawings looked like me. Not only that, but as they year went on, the work got better. In another class, where the teacher did not harp on technique, anatomy, seeing what was really there, etc. I wondered why I had to be there at all. The drawings were as mushy as her discussions of how to draw. Her lessons had a point, but not for beginning students.
Noticing this difference, I decided to pay more attention to our teachers hammering home techniques of acting. "Listen and respond." "Don't act. React to what you're given." "Don't show, just do."
They weren't teaching us to speak – that's another class – they were teaching us to listen. To listen to our scene partners. To listen to the words on the page and what they had to say about the human condition our characters faced. They were teaching us to listen with our entire being.
The idea of artistic cross training took hold in my head and has become a tool of mine in all aspects of life. One I hope to share in this blog.
Painters learn to see. Actors learn to listen. Musicians learn to hear. Dancers learn to feel. Writers learn how all five senses create more than the sum of their parts.
From the artists' work, we learn how to become better human beings.