Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guest Artist

I remain swamped with teaching and grading, leaving little time for writing here. But I received this piece the other day from a mother some of you know, who finds herself balancing the demands of parenting with those of renewing her teaching certification, finding employment in a job market devastated by Wall Street's implosion, supporting herself and two children, and rebuilding a life devastated by another's deception. The Art History class that she's taking is, thankfully, challenging and rewarding. Having had the pleasure of reading a few of her submissions for homework assignments, I expect the course's instructor is finding this particular student at least as rewarding as she finds the class. In nearly every course, there is always one student, sometimes more, who makes it possible to remember why you liked teaching in the first place. (I've been more blessed in that regard this semester than ever before.)

The assignment was to write a creative essay about one's following of a certain style in art. The students were encouraged to push this idea as far as they could take it. What follows is one result. When one invites creativity from the offspring of English professors, the results are seldom boring. Enjoy.

Over the last two years, I have been a close follower of my son's style of eating. Jackson, also known as The Savage, mastered the fine art of solid food consumption before his first birthday and has since explored a variety of techniques for exploring, testing, tasting, and on occasion, actually digesting the meals provided for him.

His initial suppers served a la high chair always came with the requisite spoon. At first this spoon was used merely as a tool of entertainment or as a missile and his finely minced meats, vegetables and sauces were as finger paint to the palette. Most items designed to journey to his belly were smeared ferociously about the high chair tray, his hair and face in a method most German Expressionist. Jack's direct approach to the deliberate plastering of his food in thick heavy strokes directly mirrored not just his curiosity, but his angst and rebellion with having to follow the traditional rule of sitting quietly while eating.

As Jack's fine motor control increased, so did his desire to control the quality and taste of his media. However, the fervor with which he enjoyed his meals developed a more Abstract-Expressionist quality. Food was dumped from his plate immediately and then flung, spattered, dotted in decided rows of clumps on the floor or in random spatterings on the window behind his chair. Experiments with the translucence of food as a result of smearing or of the effects of layering the various colors and consistencies—such as red beans and rice over applesauce-- became direct parallels to his study of Jackson Pollock prints from time spent perusing my bookshelf. The spoon and fork became more forcefully used instruments to push, scrape and splay tasty material. Even his cup, between being thrown forcefully and retrieved, would be used to practice inking and stamping a circular shape of mashed food, the symbolism of importance only understood by the little artist himself.

In the past few months, however, Jackson's style of consumption has had a massive overhaul and new direction. The spoon, fork, and cup are now used in a more traditional manner and the tasting and digestion seems to have a more naturalistic approach. He executes more restraint keeping his colorful meals on the plate and prefers to keep the colors from touching or blending. Violent heavings of food upon floor are less frequent, as is the aforementioned flying cup. His tray, once heavily impastoed, remains only slightly delineated with crumbs or sauce bits. His face, however, still retains the lean toward the free-food painting of the Expressionist eater. While Jack is not alone in this current trend, his enthusiasm and pervasive public restaurant displays make him a pioneer in this final style, which I call Realist Nouveau.

The styles of Jack's dining have traveled through various courses of exploration, one set of standards building upon the next. One can only guess the duration of his current food study and the progression into a following, unnamed, undecided phase. This critic thoroughly hopes, though, that the spirit of Jack's eat-ability and the joy he brings to table continues to influence not just fellow consumers, but to inspire onlookers to loftier heights of parental appreciation.