When I taught high school as an art teacher, my colleague, Bud, and I shared a studio-classroom, and we often made our own art in there. As teachers, we used our projects to inspire students to try something new, and maybe learn something. Frequently, as we worked alongside our students, they became curious about what artists make, how artists think, and they wanted to know more about how Bud and I made our own things. Some students took chances they may not have risked before they watched us work. They often asked questions about ideas, and many times, we taught them ‘go for their own idea.’ Making mistakes is actually a good way to grow.
Many students felt comfortable in our open studio, encouraged to think for themselves. As artists, Bud and I follow ‘our muse,’ or some idea bubbling up from inside our imaginations, we turned them into some new piece, using a variety of materials, like paper, canvas, clay or Plaster of Paris. Bud and I each had decades of teaching experience, and taught legions of students about a variety of materials. We wanted them to become inspired art students.
Bud was working with an idea that caught my attention one day, and I sat down with him, curious. Using a Sharpie pen, Bud drew a hundred pair of paper eyeglasses on mania file folders, like disguises. He cut them out, and piled them up into a large pile, and kept drawing new designs, expanding style, and the pile grew larger, and larger. Bud’s pile started making an artistic statement about disguises, because clearly, a random pile of glasses, even made of paper, are very intimate accessories, like messages to other people revealing how we feel about our own personalities. Different designs are like stories, narrations, serious and cartoon-like, and the stories put characters with each pair. It was easy to imagine a human, lifelike face with each pair of those paper frames. As Bud sat drawing and cutting at the table, several students walked by the pile and looked, but I was the only one who came over and played around with them, and I thought that was interesting. Not everybody cares about glasses.
I started to think about disguises. Disguises reveal something unexpected about our human nature, or they deliberately hide part of us, and it’s likely that each of us have something to hide. When a person chooses a pair of glasses, we are saying something about how we feel about ourselves, and it’s like we choose a disguise. Even with paper eyeglasses, Bud managed to capture that aspect. Glasses convey hidden messages when we put them on, like a character in a play. Like any part of a costume, imaginary people became real in our minds when we add property, or a ‘prop’. Choosing eyeglasses goes along with disguise, something to hide behind, imaginary secrets. People assume the person may (or may not) be a real person, and emotions come along with the disguise.
It took awhile for me to choose a pair, because there were one hundred shapes and sizes. I picked them up one at a time, and put them on my face. For example, I picked up a diamond-shaped pair that slanted up in a 1950’s look, and felt squinty and suspicious, as I peered through both slits, and found myself looking from side to side, kept my head level, and felt like an accountant, a stereotype. Another pair were simple circles, round and wide, and could have been made of black thick plastic, and they reminded me of anonymous American Mom and Pop toy store owners. When I put those on, I felt fat, unsophisticated, and nervous, so I put them back in the pile.
A third pair lay upside down, looking rectangular, shaped like old black and white television screens, and made me feel like turning a few knobs and moving dials back to when I was a little girl. When I leaned forward and put my chin to my chest they felt heavy like they may fall off my face, if I wasn’t careful. I could have continued on and on, with one hundred personalities and disguises, and each one felt like a familiar personality. I assumed that I knew who would wear the glasses, disguised.
Disguises for what? When do we need them? Can we live without disguises? What makes someone authentic? Who was I in the pile, and what did I pretend every day?
I don’t even know if Bud was trying going deep with the manila glasses pile, but I loved that piece. His work took me on a trajectory. What I was looking for, sitting up to my paper eyeglasses, nobody but my colleague around? Nobody else turned Bud’s pile over with both hands, but when I did, I felt the weight of infinite disguise.