Monday, April 22, 2013

Best Piece

Grant Gilsdorf is a past high school teacher of mine that I’d barely just gotten to know in the three years of classes I took with him. However, in that short amount of time I realized that he not only taught me how to bend the will of my own art, but my life and the things I was going to face in the future. I didn’t just learn how to draw and take photos. I learned what it meant to actually see the world and be an active part of it. This is just a short passage from the profile I put together after our interview. I think to allow him to talk freely was the best decision I could have made. He answered the couple questions I fit in honestly and spoke the words of someone with a bit too much wisdom for his age- as if he was waiting for someone to listen.

The light shining in through the window gives our new seating arrangement that lazy Sunday morning feel. I can see why he finds it the perfect place to work. There’s a graveyard of coffee mugs on the table and a pair of deer antlers seated next to them. Paint spots just barely outnumber the amount of paint brushes on the floor. Canvases and tripods litter the corners, leaving little space for anything but art. The paintings themselves are all eye catching, a very notable style coming to life in each of them. I want to inquire, but I feel there’s more to Gilsdorf than just what he portrays in his art.
            He sits back on a stool, comfortable despite asserting early on that he never liked the lime light. “I just shut down and stay stupid things.” I don’t think he took a breath the entire interview.
            Grant Gilsdorf works as a high school teacher at Olentangy Liberty High School. But to ask him if he considers it work would bring on a whole new round of conversation. Never once did he express any distaste or even mild boredom with his job. “I can’t believe that I get paid to talk about art, make art and listen to music all day! This is really something special.”
Who am I? That could be very open-ended, I guess. Essentially I am a high school art teach at Olentangy Liberty High School and my name is Grant Gilsdorf. My students affectionately call me Mr. G. But beyond that I’m a person that does what he wanted to do with his life. In high school I was a big time athlete and I had pretty much made up my mind that that was how I’d be going to make a living, that I would just be the next NFL star. Cause’ I figured- I dreamt it in my backyard, then it’s probably going to be true, right? And for a long time, the evidence was supporting that and I was having a lot of success. Then I had a sports injury. I lost feeling in my lower body and had to get carted off the field. I ended up injuring my neck and my spine, very seriously. It was a very traumatizing, very scary time. To the point where it was a very serious conversation if I was ever going to play sports again or not.
            Up to that point, I never really considered my future. My dad, who is a wonderful person and a school counselor, sat down and talked with me. We started thinking about, “What do you really wanna do with your life?” And I think that was the first time the maturity had hit me and I’d gotten past the idea of being just a cool high school boy. And I realized that one of the things I really liked was art. He said, “Why not art education- like teaching people?”
I thought, “Like high school kids? You want me to go back to high school? That’s crazy talk.”
He was like, “Grant, your true talent is people. You’re really good with people.” And I said, “Yeah dad, but I want to make a difference, you know what I mean? I feel like I’m destined for big things.”
So, my senior year, I signed up for six art classes and figured that I’d try it on. I really truly think that I believed I could not fail at anything. “Well I’ll just give this art thing a try and I’ll probably do alright at that. I mean, I love art.” It was just kind of the perfect storm. I think you need confidence and I think you need support. Especially if you’re gonna jump into something. I credit my dad and just having a really good support network around me. I have a very supportive family. I had a lot of confidence in myself because of maybe the success that I had had in sports. It’s easy to feel fear. It’s easy to feel vulnerable. I was really lucky. It didn’t feel like a big jump to me. It was just something I did. It’s been a long process, and one that I’m very proud of.
I want to be the best at whatever I do. I’m a very difficult person to live with in that regard. I didn’t always have that attitude in high school. I wanted to be as good a person as possible, but I didn’t see the value in education or learning. I wish I would have gone back and really made myself a better person. I made up for a lot of lost ground and I still feel like I’m making up for that lost ground.
There are so many kids I see doing that now.
I don’t have any tolerance for it, or lack of maturity. Those things I really value in people: an open mind and maturity. This world’s too awesome to be that closed off to it. I have difficulty with those dudes: underachieving, lazy, close-minded, simple thinking people. There have been other kids that just, you could tell that they’re a little bit too strange to live, a little too rare to die. [Gestures to the studio] But somehow this kind of room made sense for them. You can be whoever you want to be in class. That’s fine. We’re gonna roll with it. We’re gonna find a way to do something you’re gonna be proud of.
The goal is hopefully that they think a little deeper, they react to things a little bit more, they treasure things a little bit more than they used to. That’s what I want, more than the techniques. I don’t really care so much about that. I want them to change the way they think and the way they look at things. I just want to change their mind. I want to give them a new perspective of things. The art’s just kind of the cool bonus.
The kids inspire me. I know that sounds probably pretty cheesy, but it’s true. It’s their spirit. That’s what wakes me up. That’s what keeps me coming. I look forward to seeing what they’re doing and their ideas. And they’re just amazing. Who would ever think that a sixteen year old or an eighteen year old mind would be this dynamic and just incredible, but God, people- there are so many amazing things in us.
            We as human beings- we want to explore the moon; we want to know what all our limitations are. I’m that kind of person too. I’ve always been very aware of where my boundaries are. I like to just pound all over them and step on them and stretch myself very far. I feel much more comfortable when I’m uncomfortable, when I’m a little bit vulnerable. I’m a curious person and I’m constantly improving. I think that approach kind of filters into my students too. Painting is kind of like learning how to ride a bike. You just suck at it at first. It’s an unnatural thing. You hold a pen or a pencil your whole life and it feels very different. [Picks up pencil and presses it to the table] When you push the pencil down on the paper, it touches the paper and it doesn’t move. It’s sturdy. A brush moves. It gives. It’s a completely different tool than we’ve spent fifteen years of our life using. It takes a kind of fearlessness. It takes some tenacity to take on that brush because it’s definitely not a pen or a pencil. I love it. I love those people that go for it. It’s a comfort in your own skin. It’s a confidence.
            Wisdom is really important too. You don’t learn it till you’re older. It’s a passion. It’s a desire. Life experience and wisdom and learning things, you can’t make up for it. You have to want to do well at it. I think you put in the work ahead of time.
I don’t believe in a block. I always hear people say that [they’re] ‘waiting on inspiration.’ Like God’s gonna come down and hit you in the head and say, “Here ya go! Thanks for being patient!” That’s bullshit. That’s fake. I think artists, we don’t turn it off. It’s a way of living. Being an artist is changing the way you see things. That’s what being an artist is. The making of art, that’s the thing you do to get it out of your head. It’s probably that I would end up in an insane asylum with all these ideas and visions and colors and things in my head. They have to get out at some point. It’s how you live your life. Being an artist is how you see things.
It’s a transcendent language of sorts. Images are the most powerful thing on the planet. It predates television, everything like that. Before there was CNN coverage of the royal wedding, there were paintings done of royal coronations. Before there was HGTV taking us on House Hunters International, there were people painting landscapes of exotic locations. Before we could even speak, people were drawing images of buffalo on caves. To me art is, probably, one of the most powerful things, something that’s worth learning. I think that’s what it is more than anything.
There’s something powerful about having this thing in your mind, being able to bring that thing to life and having other people be able to see it and react to it. I just kind of experience things. My wife calls it my compost heap. I spent a long time building that. It’s this decaying mush of all these things you’ve seen in your life and the people you’ve interacted with and the clothing that you’ve touched and movies you’ve scene and sounds you’d heard and somehow it all stews in this compost heap. Then somehow, it recycles itself into something beautiful. That can only come from you. That’s your compost heap. Nobody’s is the same. And that’s why there’s no such thing as totally original. It doesn’t matter where you take things from; it’s where you take things to. I’ve found that happy place. It does take time. And practice. I’m still probably not where it’s going to end up being. But I’m feeling it. Finally.
I want to get those ideas out. They’re too cool to me. I think that’s what keeps me going. The ideas don’t stop. I don’t think they ever will. Sometimes that’s the cause of some of my stress too. Sometimes that’s a very time consuming process. It’s just like any other creative person; there’s so many barriers you have to fight through. There’s an internal struggle that’s both maddening and addicting about it too. The very thing I love about it is also the thing that scares the hell out of me. [Cracks a smile] Art is a son of a bitch. It’s so tender and lovely. Its like- I love it. And I hate it. But I love it.
Again going back to I got into this job, I think not so much just for me to make artists in the world, just to leave pieces of myself all over in people; And them in turn with me. They’ve helped shape me, those people. Hopefully what I’m doing is opening them up to this bigger than thing that exists between us, something that some people choose to just not pay that much attention to. What we’re really doing is we’re drawing as people. I think people are important in people’s life and art is just one thing that really brings us together.

No comments:

Post a Comment