The color of artists

white petaled flowers
Photo by Flora Westbrook on

Brown. An undistinguished color, common as dirt.

In academic regalia, other more brilliant colors are claimed by various fields of study, but Brown – that turned earth color, that dirt-that’s-been-rained-on color, that sometimes mud color – is reserved for the Fine Arts. It’s apparently the color for the composers, the performers, the visual artists who are earthbound yet are called upon to touch, just touch, and to point out to something sacred in us all. That turned earth that’s been rained on? That’s us artists. That mud color? That’s us.

It’s in our DNA, I suppose. We are a blend of earthly material, physical matter with a density that results in a muddy color as when blending many paints. But the rain, the inspiration and the warmth can bring forth newness from the common dirt. Even cool temperatures can call forth life.

My hope for Fine Arts grads this season: Stay humble and enjoy your bit of earth. Cultivate it, prepare it, be ready like any farmer who watches and prays… like the farmer, the artist prepares to feed many people in and beyond acquaintance.

On his website, painter Madison Cawein writes: “Why do paintings hang on walls? To connect earth to heaven…We also stand vertically, perpendicular to the earth. Connecting earth to heaven is also our purpose.”

Congratulations, Fine Arts graduates. Now let’s get to work.



This morning I turned in my laptop, classroom keys and collected my personal belongings at the art school. After about 40 years in some type of classroom setting both as a student and as a teacher (mostly the latter), I finally left a campus for the last time. It took me a while to see that I was overly fond of all the rights thereunto pertaining to my advanced degree. Years ago, I convinced my parents that I needed an MFA to land a college teaching job; for my part, I was interested in further exploration of ideas from undergraduate school. But after graduation, the idea of getting a college teaching job loomed very large – I wanted to justify my parents’ belief in my education and gradually, I began to believe in the importance of this over anything else.

So, what’s next? Well, as my grad committee chair once told me “You’ll always have work.” Maybe not the universally recognized work of the “gainfully employed.” But work nonetheless. Satisfying activity. No advanced degree required, only the willingness to work diligently. As for subject matter and medium? Back to basics, it seems: drawing, like when I was a youngster and wanted to find only a blank piece of paper and a number 2 pencil…then anything could be “mine” for a bit. I actually feel like I’m beginning again, but this time I’m not going to cave in to the bid to be a socially-acceptable success.

I did enjoy my time in the classroom and the many faces that passed through my life as an educator. But last Christmas, my daughter gave me a Josh Groban CD. I was shocked when I heard the first cut “Never take a single breath for Granted” and I knew then and there that it was time to leave education for something more.