Art Lessons

Image from the Tom Corbett television series in the early 1950s. Command cadet Tom Corbett is flanked by Martian astrogator Roger Manning and Venusian rocket specialist Astro. Photo source: IMDb.

Art Lessons
By John Unger Zussman

One day in fourth grade, our art teacher passed out crayons and asked us to draw a picture of the most beautiful thing we could imagine.

I started with a verdant forest beside a lush green meadow. Above it I added a blue sky, wispy white clouds, and a yellow sun. And in the middle of the meadow, I placed a sleek, gleaming, silver rocket ship, pointed skyward and bearing an American flag.

It was 1960.  The space race was in high gear. The Russians had launched two Sputnik satellites in 1957 and the U.S. was trying desperately to catch up. Both countries were rushing to put astronauts in orbit. The excitement captured my nine-year-old imagination. I had even abandoned my beloved Hardy Boys books to pursue Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Only now does the sheer phallic audacity of that picture make me chuckle.

The art teacher, roaming the classroom, finally stopped behind my desk. “Is that really the most beautiful thing you can think of?” she sniffed.

I got the message. Since that day my artistic endeavors have been limited to doodles and scribbles. And my brilliant career as a rocket artist was snuffed out before it began.

Copyright © 2010, John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.

An abridged version of this essay was published in The Sun Magazine in June 2004.

About John Unger Zussman

John Unger Zussman is an award-winning screenwriter, creative writer, and technical writer from Portola Valley, California. His essays have been published in The Sun Magazine. He has won a Grammy Award (as a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus), but there’s room on the shelf for an Oscar and a Pulitzer. John also works as a corporate storyteller in info and biotech and holds a PhD in Psychology from Stanford University.
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2 Responses to Art Lessons

  1. Melissa Smith says:

    Lovely post John. What is it about elementary and middle school art teachers? Mine in 8th grade told me I couldn’t draw, therefore I couldn’t paint, so no art career for me.

    We watched the NASA special on PBS recently and got very misty eyed. So amazing what humans can achieve…

  2. Reblogged this on A Twirly Life and commented:
    This story (although not about poetry) explains succinctly and tragically the harm well-meaning (but unthinking) teachers can do to children. Art is a sacred right for children. Let them alone. Let them make it what they will. Who are you (oh evil teachers, we all had one) to tell me what is beautiful, to assign value to what I value? Fragile child, paint again, or write, or sing, or dance. Please.

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