My art education was always a gradual and ad hoc thing. Untaught in what is strangely called "art appreciation," I was somehow always a classicist (in form, in technique, in metrical scheme – I was writing sonnets regularly by seventh grade) and it wasn't until entering high school that an odd assignment for world history found me studying Picasso. With a hard heart and a harder head, I can admit it; I was convinced his art didn't interest me. But here of course is the wonder of immersion, the complete unseating, shifting, the changing of a heart; and that was the beginning of it all for me, as far as I can tell.
I continued to carry around tiny pockets of art knowledge until later in high school when my involvement in Academic Decathlon (the Olympics of nerd-sports) found me studying art again, with a truly incredible art teacher. The way the competition works is this: each year, the selection committee (whoever they are) choose several pieces of art from a specific U.S. art museum, and the lucky contestants study the pieces, their makers, their eras, techniques used, &tc., &tc. And the first year that I was on the team, the pieces were selected from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
I took a redeye from San Francisco to Boston and arrived on the 15th, beat tired and kind of hazy in my mind. I dropped my bag off at the hotel, took a nap in Boston Common, and headed over to the MFA, a place I'd been hoping to get to for about ten years now.
By now of course, things are somewhat different than they were when I was sixteen. I moved from the Sacramento suburbs to la città dell'Arte, and have had the ridiculous good fortune to spend time in some of the best art museums of Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England, the U.S., and the Netherlands. And yet the MFA was one of the pleasantest art museum experiences I've ever had. I would enter a room, look around at its contents, and then find myself startled to see something so familiar that I'd also never seen before, in person at least. A bit like meeting a pen pal, I imagine.* It was surprisingly soothing, comforting, casual.
My thanks forever to Ms. Jill Pease for her inspiration and infectious enthusiasm.
*when I was a child, I had a pen pal for about four years. His name was Karthik and he lived in India. We have never met.