I’d rather a room dripping with paint like a Jackson Pollock. This classroom felt sterile and prisonlike. The walls were bare, void of anything inspiring. The lingering smell of newly painted walls mingled with burnt steak from a restaurant nearby and fogged my head. Maybe I was in the wrong room. This had to be where juvenile delinquents earned a diploma, not where art was taught.
A woman glided in draped in what looked like large scarves for a skirt. A twisted one in a different paisley pattern wrapped around her head, securing her dreadlocks in place. Tassels swung as she moved, and her cheeks caved into two dimples when she smiled.
She passed out packets of four papers: the first one had the directions; the next three were blank.
The woman swooshed to the front of the room.
“You will have two hours to finish three drawings. Be creative and demonstrate your drawing skill as well. There’s a lot of competition this year, but you’ve made it this far. The judges from our faculty will choose the top three artists to receive a full scholarship here at the School of Visual Arts. Please title your work. Okay, you may begin.”
Two hours seemed more than enough time, but my heart pounded as I read the directions: Draw a scene on each page, from the past, present, and future. Each scene must repeat an element or object in a different way. I glanced at the clock. Ten minutes had passed already? Think, think. I waited for an idea to burst into my brain, something so unique and creative the judges would instantly pick me as the winner.
Fifteen more minutes passed, so I informed my brain that this wasn’t funny; I needed enough time to draw. Was the paper growing? The white empty space expanding? I’d swear it was. And the clock hands moved faster than normal…thirty-five minutes had passed. The only pencil mark on my paper was my name. The boy next to me scribbled away like his pencil was on fire. He wasn’t the only one; to my right, to my left, in front, and behind, pencils wiggled at every desk. I was alone in my blankness. So I danced my pencil around as if it were drawing. Tick, tick, tick…how does anyone think or draw under this pressure? I prayed silently: “Okay, Lord, do you want me to be a math teacher? I’m about as creative as a worm right now.”
Wondering what the guy in the blue Mohawk and cheek piercings was drawing, I stretched my neck and leaned just a bit in his direction. In my pink plaid shirt, next to his black ripped jeans and chains, I felt too, too pink, as if I wore pigtails and bows. He turned his shoulder to cover his paper. “Relax, buddy, you can’t cheat on an art test. I’m not about to copy your skulls, even if they are amazing with the rose vine weaving through the eye sockets.”
Suddenly, as I stared at my white cloud of paper, I had an idea that didn’t completely stink. A test. I’d draw a boy taking a test today, in the 1800’s, and at the end of life.
The present was easy; I drew Mohawk boy taking a test from an odd angle of an empty room. For the past, I drew a one-room schoolhouse; in a close up view, through the window, a boy—without a Mohawk—was hunched over, taking a spelling test. I didn’t have much time to get into detail so the drawings were mostly contour with a hint of shading. I had ten minutes to finish the futuristic scene. Angels surrounded a boy who leaned over a cross and held a paper with one question etched on it: “Do you believe?” His pencil hovered over the yes and no box.
As I sketched the final scene, my heart rate slowed down and peace replaced the pressure I felt to win. My bold question wouldn’t score many points in an art school, but maybe one for heaven.
A few kids finished early and left after the first hour. No doubt, they turned in masterpieces of creativity. I stayed until the woman of many scarves announced: “Time’s up. Please bring your packets to the front.”
I knew it wasn’t my best artwork, and was a bit corny, but at least it wasn’t blank.
Inspired by a true story.