In Art School my Introduction to Drawing class was taught by a painter named Clifford Smith. He was in his fit fifties, stood about five foot nine, and was an amalgamation of actors Ed Harris and John Malkovich. His voice was craggy and rough. He wore form fitting (not tight) white t-shirts or black turtlenecks, blue jeans and dark Doc Martin-ish shoes. He was intimidating, he had a presence and he commanded the room. But soon enough we grew accustomed to the routine, acquiesced our anxiety and insecurities and began to appreciate Clifford Smith's guidance and controlled energetic enthusiasm.
Throughout the semester our artist's space became a warp in time, as if in a trance, we would awaken at the end of the three hours, with charcoaled stained fingers and hands and concepts like contour, shading and crosshatching dancing in our brains. We became more confident. Light bulbs above our heads would illuminate as each lesson enabled us to see the correlation of these concepts in our chosen mediums. And after many weeks, when all of us began to show our feathers; Clifford Smith suggested the class read Search For The Real, a collection of essay's by abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman. In it, my personal light bulb clicked. I began to see that my camera frame has a world with a spiritual life. That outside of my frame is the outer world but inside, well, that's my world, the world of an artist.
Towards the last couple of weeks of our semester, I got up the nerve to ask Clifford Smith to bring in one of his paintings for all of us to see. He agreed and as promised next class there it was. I should have anticipated that instead of the manageably framed landscape painting, suitable for normal household hanging, he would bring in a huge painting that he had to put in the bed of his truck. Unexpected yes, but that was our teacher. I will always remember Clifford Smith for his patience and understanding, for through his guidance and empathy, he helped this unsure student see through the eyes of an artist.