A guy walked into my tenth-grade art class at Bridgewater-Raritan high school New Jersey, and changed my life. Sounds like the setup for a classic punch line, but this was no joke. The guy had graduated from my school two years earlier and was now a student at some place called the Rhode Island School of Design. He said it was an art school.
An art school? I had never heard of such a thing. Art was what defined me to the world – to my family, to my friends, and most definitely to my teachers. I was the kid who was always drawing. Even so, up to that point in my public school education I hadn’t seen anyplace where my art and I would fit in.
The guy was not only talking about what art school was like, he was showing what it was like. Providing a very funny running commentary, he screened eight-millimeter movies of many of his projects. There were strange and wonderful public conceptual pieces that he had staged around the RISD campus. There was a hilarious commercial he had made for some sort of shaving product. And there was a beautiful and technically remarkable contraption made from cardboard that sent three ball bearings – each starting at a different time and place – down a maze of chutes, ramps, and tunnels so that all three balls ended up at the same point at the same time.
Many of the details are now vague, but I still clearly remember my emotional reaction: happiness. Incredible excitement was mixed with a great sense of relief, because here was a place where I could fit in. This guy from my school – Michael was his name – was going to be an artist. Now I knew that I, too, was going to be an artist.
And that was no joke.