Portrait of an Art Teacher as a Young Woman

Portrait of an Art Teacher as a Young Woman

By Guest Bohemian Alex Hemrick

The Delta Bohemian is thrilled to feature an intuitive, humorous reflection by Delta Bohemian Alex Hemrick, a local middle school teacher in the Clarksdale Municipal School District. Alex and her awesome roommate and teacher Kelly West share a fishpond with Poor William and Magical Madge.

Alex Hemrick

Alex Hemrick

Often prone to long discourse, Poor William will now hush and let Alex’s vulnerable expression as an artist and a teacher reveal the tenaciousness of a young woman who is making a demonstrable difference in the Mississippi Delta.

NOTE: The former ADHD-riddled teacher known as Poor William has read this piece three times for pleasure and finds it to be a fine example of a multi-gifted person with the patience, humility and passion to pass along a sense of excellence, accomplishment, and purpose to a generation in need of all three! Thank you Alex!

Portrait of an Art Teacher as a Young Woman

7th grade Exploratory Art

Regardless of my artistic ambitions, art class seems pretty dumb.  I bet Van Gogh never took notes.  I hate notes.  Van Gogh probably didn’t have to draw what any teacher told him to draw.  In fact, he was so crazy he might have just cut off his art teacher’s ear if his art teacher forced him to take notes and do blind contour drawings.  Blind contour drawings are stupid.  Real artists don’t need to be taught.  Real artists are just born that way.  Eventually, my natural talent will kick in.  I will draw doodles instead of taking notes.  Maybe that will unlock the extraordinary art talent that will lead me to artistic fame and fortune.

Art teacher: “Alexandra, you will fail this assignment if you don’t attempt to do it.”
Me: “I can’t do it.”
Art teacher: “Of course you can, you are simply choosing not to try.”

I hastily shuffle my papers so that the amazing doodles I drew during the notes can be seen by my art teacher.

Art teacher: “Although your creativity is evident here, this is not the assignment.  I will say it one more time: you will fail if you do not attempt the assignment.”
Me: *DRAMATIC SIGH,* *EYE ROLL,* half-assed attempt at a blind contour drawing.  “See?  It’s ugly.”

When I get home, I do about twenty-five blind contour drawings of a hammer until it starts to look less like a pile of mess and more like some type of hammer-y tool.

First art show

Hands practically shaking with the genius of my idea, I take my easel outside from its formerly secluded location in the scary storage room of our suburban home.  Here is my chance to become an artist.  In the spirit of Monet, I am taking my nonexistent art career to the next level.  Carefully, I’ve been talking about my desire to become an artist around my parents and my materials have been growing from notebook paper and pencils, to sketchbooks, to watercolors and now I have an easel, paintbrushes and oil paints.  Already I’m moving up in the art world thanks to several birthdays and Christmases adding up.

Outside, I experiment with the post-impressionist technique of blobby paint like that guy Van Gogh who cut off his ear.  This is mostly because I have no idea how to use oil paint and the thickness of the paint seems to match that of Van Gogh’s so that will work.  I have no deep emotional traumas to express in my art, nor have I cut off my ear, so I settle for a study of Van Gogh’s sunflowers.

In a matter of minutes my sunflower is the size of my entire canvas. Having messed up and covered up so many times I am now in possession of an abstract, sun-looking thing.  Ok, I can work with this.  I start to expand my color palette from yellow, orange and red because I’m running out of oil paint.  Suddenly I have just about every color that I got for Christmas in my “Oil Paint Starter Set” on my canvas.  The first patron to my art gallery walks by my easel.  Ok, it’s my mom who says, “That’s interesting.  What is that?”

“I dunno…modern art?”
“Hm….well good luck sweetie.  Don’t forget to clean your room.  And at some point, can you put down the paint, the book, and call a friend to hang out or something?  I’m worried about your social life.”
“MO-om, *Dramatic sigh* *Eye Roll*.”

I decide my answer is not arty enough and that at this moment my artistic temperament is in no way understood by ANYONE, because it did not elicit the appropriate response from my viewer who should have said something like what I imagined in my head, which was, “Genius!  Looks like you are on your way to becoming an artist!”

The next patron, my neighbor, walks by which gives me the perfect opportunity to mix in some truth with some stuff I make up so my art seems “deep” and “important.”  He looks at the art silently, and I pretend like I really know what I’m doing while he watches.  Finally he says, “That’s a nice…flower?”

“It’s a sun abstracted, of course, to represent how sunny days aren’t always bright.  See?  I used dark colors mixed in with regular sun colors.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah, I hate sunny days.”
“Hm.  Ok, well good luck with that.”

Rejected, misunderstood and the epitome of middle school angst.  I hastily take down the easel I barely know how to work and take my art indoors.

Practice
Erase. Tear. Crumple. Scratch, scratch, scratch.  Erase, Tear, Crumple.  *DRAMATIC SIGH* Scratch, scratch, scratch. Erase. Tear. Crumple. Scream. Balls of paper lie in unmarked graves around the sketchbook that might have well have stayed pristinely blank.  Now it bears the marks of atrocious attempts at a sketch of my hand.  Throwing the papers in the trashcan seems like a sure sign of self-defeat.  At this point I feel there is no hope for me, but I’m going to at least allow myself to not totally suck by keeping the paper nearby in the off chance that one of the crumpled pieces of paper actually carries some kind of hidden genius that someone will find years later in a box somewhere.  I know deep down this will never happen.

I am not an artist.  This weighs on my conscience as parents and relatives have purchased sketchbooks and supplies in order to support my artistic ambitions, and my continued inability to produce any art work worthy of fame and fortune will eventually mean that my art supply pipeline will dwindle.  But, behind the locked door of my bedroom, puzzling through the 1,500th sketch of my hand is the only part of life I currently enjoy besides reading books and avoiding most if not all social situations.  So, I’ll never be Van Gogh, at least I’ll have my ears to destroy with overly loud alternative rock.  Perhaps I’ll never live up to the unrealistic expectations I’ve set for myself as an artist.  But, I will make it through one more stupid, stupid day of middle school.

Teaching Middle School Students

Assignment: Blind Contour Drawings.

I was once a middle school student.  I can teach this lesson.  I know what it’s like.  I spent all night coming up with the coolest objects to draw and the most inspiring, “Just try, art takes practice” lesson ever created.

Student 1, class period 1: “I don’t get this.  Isn’t this art?  Why are we taking notes?  My other art teacher didn’t make us take notes.”
Me: “Taking notes allows us to learn the basics so that we can do advanced projects by the end of the year.”
Student 1, class period 1: “I hate this stupid class.  I just want to tie-dye shirts.  I’m getting my schedule changed.”
Me: “Ok, good luck with that, until then, give it a try.”
Student 1, class period 1: “*DRAMATIC SIGH**On God this class is stupid!”

My students hate me.

Student 2, class period 5: Throws erasers during lecture.  “I can’t draw!  You don’t even give us erasers!  I hate this class.”
Me: “Funny, I did have erasers at the beginning of this class period. I’m curious where yours went.”
Student 2, class period 5: *EYE ROLL*
Me: “Luckily you don’t need an eraser for this assignment.  Give it a try and earn your daily credit or put your head down and fail this assignment.” Déjà vu.

My students hate me and I’m the worst teacher in the world.

Student 3, class period 8: Has doodled through the entire portion of just-try-art-takes-practice-inspirational session.  “*DRAMATIC SIGH* I can’t do this!”
Me: “You certainly can do this, and in fact, if you had paid attention during the notes you would know that art takes a little effort and a lot of practice.”
Student 3, class period 8: Shuffles papers around and points to doodles.
Me: “I can see that you definitely have interest in art judging from your drawing, but art takes practice and we start with the basics.”
Student 3, class period 8: “I hate this class.”
Me: “That may be true, but you will get it.  Did you look at my example today?”
Student 3, class period 8: “Yeah, it was good, but you’re like an artist so you know how to draw and stuff.”
Me: Out of my clipboard, I take out a few weathered, crumpled pages.  They are the sketches I saved from middle school art class.  “Ok, well these are my drawings from middle school art.”
Student 3, class period 8: “Really?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Student 3, class period 8: “Oh.  You were really bad.”
Me: “Well, I wasn’t bad, I just hadn’t practiced enough yet.  It took a lot of practice.”
Student 3, class period 8: “Hm.”

Student 1 now reluctantly takes the notes each day, but carries around a sketchbook in school and I have seen him adding to it regularly.  Student 2 has not yet gotten her schedule changed and now participates in the art competitions each Friday.  Student 3 has recently expressed a desire to become an artist.

Through the years, I have learned to be an artist or at least, I know that it’s possible to be one with hard work.  I’m not yet the art teacher I’d like to be, but I realize it takes practice like everything else.  The tiny chance that I could maybe inspire these kids to love art through hating me and my class gets me up each morning for one more day of middle school.

Alex Hemrick

Alex Hemrick

Alex Hemrick

Self Portrait. Pencil drawing by Alex Hemrick

Self Portrait. Pencil drawing by Alex Hemrick

Alex Hemrick

Alex Hemrick

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Comments

  1. Kelly West says:

    Great Job!!

  2. Lovely! Thanks so much for sharing…those kids need more Ms. Hemricks

  3. A great start to a greater story. “Live ON”. Continue to practice and be patient.

  4. Great read! Go Ms. Hemrick!

  5. Great stuff. Love reading your work!

  6. Wow — a truly inspirational article presented in a witty, edgy style. Have to agree with Poor William — I love this guest bohemian!!!

  7. I love the message of the story and the way the article progressed. With a great understanding of the students and passion, Ms. Hemrick is sure to inspire a new generation of young artists!

  8. Barbara-Anne says:

    Great article Ms.Hemrick!! You inspire me to go draw some sketches. 🙂

  9. I am so proud ofAlex……….she has real talent as an artist or writer!!! Keep up the great work. I would love to subscribe to The Delta Bohemian and hope that they will publish some more of her work. Mo

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