How My High School Art Teacher Changed My Life
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How My High School Art Teacher Changed My Life

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How My High School Art Teacher Changed My Life
A world of Film

Valentine's Day 2011: Kayla walked into her art classroom. I graduated high school five years ago, but that day, though small, is engrained in my mind.

The bottom floor of Dexter high school is split into two wings. To the south, the well-lit science wing that lets out to the pond and woods. Behind the science classroom, the woods were thick and lovely, and the popular rumor was that the location scout of the Twilight franchise was considering our woods for filming the next movie. Our high school had been used for two movies already (another story for another time, but David Schwimmer was my first boss).

The north facing hallway was dark and windowless. Cave-like. Much more like the stereotype of high school than the actuality of the high school. This was the home of vocational and art classrooms.

My art teacher was a slight woman with short curls and dappled skin. She insisted her students call her by here first name, Autumn, which is why I cannot recall her last name. But she was the daughter of my guidance counselor. The first day of class, she greeted me with a smile and said "My dad told me so much about you. I'm so excited to have you in my class."

I scoffed at that response, because she had no idea that I have very little talent in the visual arts. Like I can barely rock a stick figure on a good day. But thankfully, Autumn made art easy and accessible to even some one like me. With her help, I was able to do everything from emulate Georgia O'Keefe

to creating screen print pop art a là Andy Warhol. Autumn was deep into social justice and the idea that art can speak to us. We learned about artists in multiple mediums and from various backgrounds. Under her guidance, the hallways of a small town Americana high school were transformed into canvasses. Every hallway in my alma mater has a mural or artistic tribute. She may not have been my favorite teacher and this may not have been my favorite subject, but in one trimester of school, Autumn made a profound impact.

For Valentine's Day 2011, Autumn decided we would watch a movie while working on art projects. A movie about love, she says. We assumed she would show us a romantic comedy of some sort. My friend Mark and I speculated what she would show us. I mentioned the Princess Bride, which is a movie about romance, but also adventure and redemption and the ugly side of humanity. Mark, consequently, claimed to hate that movie, but I still don't necessarily believe him.

So a recently single Kayla walks into her art classroom. It was probably snowing. It was definitely cold. And Autumn, all 5'1 of her, stands up and announces the movie.

"I thought it over. And I really think we should watch Whip it," she said.

Whip it, in case you don't know, is a movie about roller derby, not romance. There is a small romance in the movie, but (Spoilers) it ends pretty unceremoniously, because the object of affection is pretty much a noncommittal jerk. It stars Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, and Ellen Page. If you haven't seen it, please watch it, if for no other reason than Autumn's description of it.

"I want us to watch a movie about love. But I realized that the most important love is self-love. That's what this movie is all about. About loving and accepting yourself. Which I hope you all do this Valentine's Day." Then she started the movie.

I was struck by her words. And as we watched the movie, I realized that I needed to work loving myself and choosing the things that bring me joy. I am still working on it, but that day has stayed with me all this time.

That's how, in a few words, my high school art teacher changed my worldview entirely. (She also got me to fall in love with Roller Derby).

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