The story below is about art, one of my favorite subjects. While I am not sure about the art theory in it, the story is great, and I like the spirit of it. The world of art is one where little is known for sure, and as a result it abounds with Authorities. This is one of those things we all have to learn sooner or later: The more you trust authorities over your own perception, the worse off you are. You are the only person with all the data about your own life, so ultimately every desicion about your life has to be your own.
"Excellent work, Ms. Porter--as usual. You have the *soul* of an artist."
Rachel Porter, three easels away from John, beamed happily and pretended to ignore Professor Halaby's rheumy eyes devouring her breasts. John snorted derisively, then tried once more to concentrate. On a chair in the middle of the room stood their life drawing model, a twentyish girl with short black hair, small neat breasts and a stomach slightly protruding over the dark triangle beneath it; she stared into space and yawned, about as self-conscious as a cat. John picked up his charcoal pencil, seeking the inspiration which thus far was failing him.
The professor was now two easels away, frowning at pimply young Brian Cox's work. "Adequate," Halaby pronounced, "I suppose. But what is technical expertise really worth, when the Muse herself is absent? Do you understand that though you have captured the shape of her breasts on paper, their spirit eludes you completely?"
*Clown,* John thought. Brian just sat there, looking confused.
As he sketched the model's form with rapid strokes, John wondered for the thousandth time just what the Lakeside College of Art had ever seen in him, or he in it, and why on earth Professor Alinsky's Intermediate Drawing classes--uniformly raved about--all had to be filled before he even arrived on campus, leaving him stuck with Halaby the hack. At thirty John was the oldest student in the class, and surely the only one who'd earned his tuition in double cannery shifts instead of yuppie Daddy's generosity. Lisa Mayerson, the only friend he'd managed to make in this poseur's paradise, was the second oldest at twenty-six and the only one not sporting the dreary art-school uniform of green hair, smudgy tattoos, bits of metal poking from every orifice and thrift-store rags in clashing shades of black. She sat at the easel next to his, frowning in concentration as she sketched the motionless model; she had large, slightly slanting blue eyes, pale skin, a delicate profile, a wealth of curly red hair held back in a careless ponytail, and long, slender legs set off to nice advantage by her pale blue shorts. She wasn't Halaby's type, having an IQ over eighty and very little patience for palaver about spirits and Muses.
Professor Halaby approached Lisa's easel, nodded curtly and moved on without comment. At the sight of John's half-finished drawing, he laughed and shook his head.
"Terrible," he pronounced curtly, and John flinched despite himself. "Look at this--no perspective, no proper proportions, it's *flat.* It just lies there like it died. How on earth is this supposed to engage the artistic eye? Never mind the soul?"
John had long since concluded that if Halaby had ever had a soul, he'd sold it in exchange for tenure and a constant supply of gullible teenage "girlfriends," but kept that thought to himself. "I'm just sketching out a few ideas," he mumbled, feeling the entire roomful of kids watching him. "For starters. I'm going to--"
"A few *ideas?*" Halaby looked incredulous. "Sir, the only idea you need is right there in front of you"--he waved a hand at the impassive model--"and it's obviously one that's far beyond your abilities. As were still lifes, and contour drawing, and everything else I've assigned you--what the hell was in your admissions portfolio, anyway? Crayon drawings? Clay handprints? Little papier-mache bunnies?"
From the corner of his eye John saw Rachel Porter openly smirking. His ears were very hot. "Fine," he managed, between gritted teeth. "Just let me start over, and--"
"No time for that," Halaby snapped, stalking away. "No time, trying to wrestle with your mediocrity would waste even more of mine--Ms. Faber, thank you for your assistance. You may go."
The model jumped off the chair, pulled on her robe and strolled toward the back room where she'd stored her clothes. The sympathetic glance she cast at John was, under the circumstances, almost too much. Goddammit, he thought, stuffing his sketchpad into his knapsack. Should have kicked Halaby's aging hippy ass, should have said right out that it was the professor's hovering, malignant, sneering presence that was blocking him, literally crippling his hand--
"Art," declared the professor to nobody in particular, his gray ponytail quivering, "is a firsthand observation of the raw, true, stripped-bare world around us. No barriers, no inhibitions, no apologies. That means it's always going to be beyond certain people's ability to grasp." He gave John a significant glance. "People whose souls are just too bourgeois, too simplistic, too blinded by lack of imagination--"
"Professor, how exactly does this help any of us?" Lisa demanded, and as John looked up gratefully he saw her blue eyes flashing with anger. "Ripping someone to shreds and disguising it as--"
"Ms. Mayerson, I am in charge of this classroom, not you, and frankly given your grade on the still life assignment that's all for the better. I'll see you all again on Wednesday."
Lisa rose, clearly meaning to approach John; he pretended not to see her, and as usual was the first one out the classroom door.
He arrived very early the next day to a deserted classroom, determined to sit with his sketchbook until he had produced--even for no credit--a worthwhile life drawing, until he'd proven to himself that Halaby was full of it and he, John, had at least the hand of an artist if not the soul. He started himself out easy, sketching a few of the classroom's empty chairs, the shadows on the walls; then, on a fresh page, he started drawing a naked female figure. He was not terrible, his perspective was not off, it was *not* sitting on the page like it was--
Frustrated, he threw down his pencil. Goddammit, he had a *good* portfolio, he'd won awards (chicken-crap kiddie medals, true, but they'd been good enough for Lakeside), he'd done work people admired--how could he have lost all that, not be able to handle a simple goddamned drawing class? What the hell was he doing wrong?
The sound of footsteps made him look up. There was Lisa, again in her pale blue shorts and an even paler pink tank top, smiling in greeting.
"I was just going to do a little sketching before my classes start," she explained. "You don't mind the company, do you?"
"Of course not," John said, though he was torn between the genuine pleasure of a friend's presence and the old self-conscious art class feeling, an unwanted audience criticizing every stroke of the pencil. "Have a seat."
Brushing back a strawberry-colored curl that had escaped from her ponytail, Lisa nodded, draped herself gracefully over her chair and rummaged through her knapsack for a sketchpad. John bent his head over his own paper, idly drawing from memory the curve of the class model's shoulder, the arch of her hip, but he couldn't help glancing over at his new companion. Her sketchpad now lying at her feet, Lisa raised her arms to tighten her loosened ponytail, fumbled with the ribbon...
...and then, to John's astonishment, she reached for the hem of her pink tank top and pulled it swiftly over her head. As calmly and naturally as if she were alone, she then unhooked her pale pink bra, draped it over the chair back and stood up to pull down her shorts; a pair of beige cotton panties came off with them, and only then did she kick off her sandals and, now completely nude, pick up her sketchpad and resume her seat. She turned, sensing John watching her, and gave him a nonchalant smile.
"I'm not embarrassing you, am I?" she asked.
"No," John replied, and to his surprise he wasn't the slightest bit embarrassed. "I hope I'm not in your way--"
Lisa laughed, stood up and stretched like a cat.
"I always draw and paint in the nude," she explained. She strolled around the room with the sketchpad tucked beneath her arm, studying the empty ring of student easels. "As much as I can. Art is supposed to be about 'observing with no barriers, stripped bare'--right?" She mimicked Professor Halaby's querulous, nasal voice perfectly, then shrugged. "Shows you how much he knows, if he doesn't realize that's a literal truth. At least for me. If I don't feel perfectly natural, I can't create anything."
It was a fact, John realized, gazing at her with admiration. There wasn't any hint of artifice about her body, with its long lines and naturally graceful curves of breasts and buttocks, or her instinctive, uninhibited ease inside her own skin, or the bold distinctive flourish of her drawings. He felt torn between appreciation of her beauty, and envy of her effortless confidence.
"I don't think that would work for me," he confessed.
"Then you'll have to figure out what does," Lisa shrugged. "You'll do it. You're the only person in this damned class, besides me, with any shred of talent--"
John couldn't help but laugh. "Since when?" he demanded, giving up on yet another besmirched page. "Look at this--I can't draw, I can't even *sketch* without my fingers freezing up. It's artist's block. Halaby's voice starts running through my head, and--"
"Screw Halaby." Lisa tossed the sketchbook aside and folded her arms, looking fierce. "You're a artist, whether you realize it or not, and he's a loser who lucked into a good teaching gig and he knows it. When's the last time you saw any of *his* immortal work? You know why he rips you apart, and tries to pretend I don't exist? He's jealous of both of us. That's why."
Flattered but still skeptical--at least where he was concerned--John shook his head; Lisa nodded stubbornly and padded over to his chair. Draping a casual arm over the chair back, she squatted close enough to his sketchbook that one nipple brushed the edge of the page. "You have to become what you're drawing," she declared, flipping through the aborted sketches. "For life drawing? You have to imagine yourself as that model, completely naked, exposed to the entire world. You have to see things from her perspective, before you can see her from your perspective."
John had a sudden, absurd mental image of his head atop a naked girl's body, and stifled another laugh. "What about still lifes?" he demanded. "I can't exactly picture you becoming a bowl of fruit."
Lisa threw her head back and laughed, then gave him a mischievous glance. "That's where you're wrong," she retorted. "I stayed after class that day and I sat right where the fruit basket was. I picked up the apple, the oranges--" She cupped an imaginary apple in one fine-boned hand. "I felt their textures, studied their colors, smelled them. Dug my fingernails in so I could taste a bit of the juices. Pictured myself ripening, being picked--being peeled and eaten, teeth going into my flesh." She turned toward him, still holding the phantom fruit. "I made myself into them."
"You got under their skin."
Lisa smiled. "Exactly."
"Naked?" John asked.
"Of course, naked. Since when does produce wear shirts?"
John thought this over, then stood up and walked toward the center of the room. Still fully clothed, he climbed onto the model's chair and looked out at Lisa, at the empty room. Nothing. He closed his eyes and concentrated, imagining himself naked and the subject of all eyes. Still nothing.
Lisa remained squatting on the floor, palms clutching her slightly parted knees; quietly, patiently, she watched him. She seemed, judging from her expression, to believe he was on to something.
John, as he stood there, wasn't so sure. Damn, he thought, staring at the pale lithe girl who watched him like a hawk, he wished to God he could see the world the way Lisa did. No barriers, just an instinctive artistic vision, viewing something immediately in all its beauty and drawing it with perfect--
And then it hit him. *No barriers, stripped bare.* That was his problem, that was why he couldn't reproduce what he saw--because he was trying to grasp every last detail of everything he drew *all at once.* Maybe Lisa could do that, but he needed to strip it down, layer by layer, just as she had shed her clothes; without even realizing it, she'd shown him exactly what he needed to do. How, he almost laughed out loud, had he managed to miss something so simple?
"You laughing at me?" Lisa teased. "What's so funny all of a sudden?"
"I'm an idiot," John said cheerfully, jumping off the chair with a surge of excitement. "That's what. But I think I can--stand up for a minute."
Lisa rose to her feet and stood there, a hand on her hip. "You've thought of something," she declared, looking nearly as excited as he felt. "Haven't you?"
"Wait." He grabbed the charcoal pencil before he could hesitate. He couldn't "become" what he drew, maybe, couldn't Method act himself into a nude model or a bowl of fruit, but he didn't have to. Maybe Lisa, to make art, had to see and feel the world as a whole--but as she'd shown him right upfront, what he needed to do was break it down into the sum of its parts.
"Okay," he said. "Start moving."
Lisa frowned in confusion. "What should I do?"
"Anything," John replied, flipping quickly to a new sketchbook page. "Run, walk, sit, stretch, scratch, dance--anything. I'm observing the native Lisa in the wild. I'm breaking you down and building you up again--a scientific study on paper."
She grinned at him, and he realized, with a surge of joy, that she completely understood. "Okay, Michelangelo," she announced, chin held high, "study this!"
Lifting one long, graceful leg like a ballet dancer, she kicked it high, back arching, then started running around the room in a loud slap-slap of footsteps. As she sprinted, palms holding her breasts steady so they wouldn't hurt from bouncing, John forced himself not to draw, just to watch; as Lisa had stripped herself of her clothes, he mentally stripped her of her flesh, paring her down to the lines and angles of her skeleton as she ran. Her face and chest pink with exertion, she slowed down, caught her breath and then turned a perfect, gorgeous cartwheel; John started to sketch, not allowing himself to erase any missteps as he imagined her hard straight skeleton, then her soft curving flesh, then both of them joined together in the lines of his drawing.
Panting with laughter, she threw herself into a chair, and John kept drawing, kept building up the layers of her body in his mind and then realizing them with his hand. She was now a black-and-white form on the page, two-dimensional, but as he drew John mentally selected the oil-paint shades to bring her flesh fully to life: pink-tinged cream for her skin, richly blended reddish-gold for her hair, a blue just off indigo for her eyes. As she rose again and bent forward, touching her toes, John imagined her as a living silhouette, drew the shadows she cast against the floor; she struck a mock bodybuilder's pose and he pictured her as a sculpture, every angle smoothly carved. He stared at the sketchpad, at the drawing of her caught nude in mid-run, mid-leap. That was it. That was *it,* that was exactly what he'd tried and failed for weeks now to--
"I've got it," he muttered, then shouted because he damned well felt like it. "I've got it!"
"Of course you do!" Lisa shouted back, as though there'd never been any doubt. "So toss me my sketchbook and let me have a turn!"
John threw the sketchbook to her and started running, still clothed, around the room as she drew him. Cartwheels being beyond him, he turned a clumsy somersault, then for the hell of it flung out his arms and began spinning like a top. Shrieking with laughter, Lisa circled him and drew as fast as she could, her body a flash of white in the corner of his eye. The room was a blur. Exhilarated, he spun, she sketched, they moved in two perfectly concentric circles...
...and as they turned simultaneously toward the door, they saw Professor Halaby and his far more talented colleague Professor Alinsky, watching from the classroom doorway.
How the hell long had they been there? John came to a hasty, dizzy halt. Lisa wasn't nearly so put off.
"So what the hell do *you* want?" she demanded of Halaby, arms folded. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're making art."
Professor Halaby gulped, went beet-red and, to John's astonishment, turned tail and ran back down the hallway. Professor Alinsky, not the least fazed by Lisa's nudity or John's whirling dervish, strolled up and examined both their sketchbooks in turn. She nodded with satisfaction.
"Splendid work," she declared. "Absolutely splendid! The boldness, the spontaneity, the effortless perspective--this is *exactly* what I've tried to pound into my students' heads for months, and it's just not getting through." She turned to them, dangling gold earrings flashing in the light. "Why the hell aren't you two in my class, instead of that idiot Halaby's? You won't learn anything about art from him, that's for sure--"
"I registered," John explained, both glowing with praise and feeling very sheepish at Lisa's I-told-you-so glance. "We both did. There wasn't any room."
"There is now," Professor Alinsky announced. "And we meet in twenty minutes, so sharpen your pencils." She nodded once more at Lisa. "Clothing optional. I never stand in the way of inspiration."
Doing up her loosened ponytail with one hand and reaching for her sketchbook with the other, Lisa turned to John and smiled. He couldn't help but grin back.