David Bruce: The Coolest People in the Arts — Education

Education

• If you want a great education, study under people who really know their stuff. After graduating from art school, Judy Chicago noticed that art galleries featured work that was highly polished and highly crafted. She wanted to learn to do that, and she remembered what sculptor John Chamberlain had often advised her: “What I should do is go to auto-body school. Those are the guys who really know how to paint.” Ms. Chicago did exactly that. Her class consisted of herself and 250 men. She says, “I learned not only how to spray-paint, but about respect for the object — that I was actually creating a physical object.” For her final examination, she spray-painted a Chevrolet truck.

• Near the end of Ted Shawn’s life, Norbert Vesak visited him. Mr. Shawn told him, “Remember, I always said that my heart always beats in 3/4 time? Well, now I even walk in 3/4 time.” Mr. Shawn then used the furniture to help support himself as he walked across the room, saying, “You see? Chair, two, three / Table, two, three / Doorway, two, three / Banister, two, three.” Years later, Mr. Vesak saw Katherine Hepburn in the playWest Side Waltz: A Play in ¾ Time. At the end of the play, Ms. Hepburn’s character used a walker to get across a room — “clunk, two, three / clunk, two, three” — and she pointed out that now she even walks in waltz time!

• Dance teacher Nicolas Legat once saw dance pupil Jack Spurgeon writing down something after class, and he was astonished to learn that Mr. Spurgeon was writing out the complete dance lesson he had just been through. Mr. Legat shook his head and said, “You should never write down classes; just keep creating them.” By the way, Mr. Legat made jokes while teaching ballet. Sometimes, a pupil would perform several pirouettes and shower onlookers with drops of sweat. At such times, Mr. Legat would recommend an umbrella.

• Ballerina Patricia Bowman worked with choreographer/dancer Léonide Massine, but he made her angry because he kept talking about Alexandra Danilova and how she did certain steps. When Ms. Bowman finally met Ms. Danilova, she joked and said she hated her, because Mr. Massine had kept talking about how she did certain steps. Ms. Danilova replied that when she worked with Mr. Massine, all he could talk about was how Ms. Bowman had done certain steps — “Patsy did this, and Patsy did that! So, I hate you, too!”

• While in Paris, young Mary Garden looked for a good singing teacher, but they seemed to be in short supply as many of the teachers she considered had freak methods, including one man who asked her to open the front of her dress as she sang — perhaps to study the way she breathed. But one day she and her mentor, Mrs. Duff, visited Professor Trabadello, who told her, “Sing for me in a normal, natural way — as if you were singing by yourself at home.” Hearing this, Ms. Garden turned to Mrs. Duff and said, “This is my teacher.”

• Lilli Lehmann taught the young Geraldine Farrar. Once, to test her pupil’s character, she asked her to show up for a lesson at 6 a.m. Ms. Farrar did show up, with only three hours sleep following her performance the previous night. By the way, Ms. Lehmann and Lillian Nordica once left the Metropolitan Opera at the same time on a rainy day. Ms. Lehmann looked at Ms. Nordica’s carriage, then revealed her boots and said, “You ride? I walk,” before setting out into the rain.

• When jazz musician Duke Ellington was very young, his mother used to surreptitiously follow him to school to make sure he was safe. Mr. Ellington said in later life, “She didn’t think I saw her, but I did.” In addition, when school ended, she would be waiting for him at the school door so she could walk him home.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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THE COOLEST PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

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