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ROBERTA CARASSO

NEW YORK
SCHOOL STORY


I was not born an artist, but incredible people and circumstance moved my life in that direction.  How did I become an artist, an art writer and, now an art coach to a group of artists?  As a child, I loved to make things and was fascinated by how objects were put together.  My electrician/inventor, classical music-lover father, who was always thinking up ways to improve gadgetry, probably had something to do with it.

The first major influence was that we lived three blocks from the Brooklyn Museum.  It was a local museum with lots of old things like Early American paintings and furniture, and Egyptian mummies.  An eight year old child could go in alone, for free then, and, because I came often, the guards knew me and my brothers.  On very cold days, we went into the museum to keep warm and play among the plaster pyramids, and without knowing it, absorb the art.  I knew every work of art, every crevice of the museum, going several times each week for many years.  Besides, the museum hill was the best place for sledding.



Mark Rothko, installation view, MOCA Gallery
at the Pacific Design Center, 2006.










Hans Hofmann, "Frolocking," 1965,
oil on canvas, 73 1/2 x 61 1/4".










Willem de Koonig, "Montauk Highway,"
1955, oil on canvas, 72 x 66".
My second influence was that, at Brooklyn College, I had a gap in my schedule and blindly registered for a Drawing class.  Shy, a bit younger than most, I was sure I had made a mistake--the class was filled with kids who had been art majors in high school.  In walked a slightly chubby, baldish man, with brown glasses and a thick mustache.  He gave the lesson, as he would give every lesson, in a one or two sentence directive.  He said: “Draw something cubistic,” and left the room.  Not knowing what he meant, I drew nothing.  About forty minutes later, he returned and noticed my paper was empty.  He asked and I told him I didn’t know what cubistic meant.  In his usual abbreviated manner, he said something like cubes, inside, outside, on top of. . . .

I got to work and he returned, noticed my drawing and hung it up.  He said: this is a cubistic drawing.  This terse man was Mark Rothko, and from him I learned to love art.  Not drawing, or what I thought was drawing, making an image that looked like the real thing.  Rather, he made me realize that I could think abstractly and understand the structure of art, how colors, space, lines, and shapes are built.  The Drawing class was so thrilling for me that I took his Color class and became a Design major.  Mr. Rothko continued to teach in the same manner, giving quick two-liners and leaving the classroom, letting us struggle on our own.  He often became frustrated because few understood his terse abstract requests, like let the color hold the space.  But I seemed to understand; and on several occasions he asked me to explain the lesson to the others.  The biggest surprise for me was that after confronting abstraction, I found that I could draw realistically, even better than the commercial looking images many of my classmates produced.

And so I became an art major, studied with Ad Reinhardt, and a few other well-known Abstract Expressionists at Brooklyn College.  However, I had no idea that my teachers were famous or art historically important.  I received a BA, became a junior and senior high school art teacher, continued to paint, went on to earn a masters degree, studied with Robert Motherwell, and was torn between being an artist and being a wife.  One summer I drew with Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and he said that I was very talented, but being a woman, it would be difficult for me to gain a foothold in the art world.  By contrast, Estaban Vicente predicted that I would marry a businessman, have lots of children and soon forget about making art.  Both artists were right.  In Hofmann’s studio I met Wilhelm DeKooning’s assistant, who told DeKooning to accept me as a student.  I followed Vicente’s advice and married instead.

With the birth of our third son, I had to give up the little painting I did.  I found it impossible to make art and raise children.  Much happened before and after.  There were years as a program director of an art center, more years working in the computer field, taking up the violin, going every day to the Museum of Modern Art to collect and translate Pablo Picasso’s written poetry into English, obtaining a welding license to create steel sculptures, and writing a complicated doctoral dissertation on the stages of sculptural development, entitled: From Mud Pie to Masterpiece.  Then after graduation, living in California, someone thought I could write an art review.  When writing my first review for ArtScene, I counted every one of the 500 word limit.  One review led to another and before I knew it, I was known for my writing rather than for making art.

Looking back at some of the events that fueled my love of art, I suggest: give children, as I gave mine, art experiences regularly.  Let them soak up art and other disciplines rather than make learning an intellectual exercise.  Follow your heart’s desire, but be open to other possibilities.  Years with computer technology helped me realize, through programming and networking, the amazing structural possibilities of sculptural form and space.  Playing in a community orchestra, engaged in musical composition enlarged my understanding of visual composition.

In the uneven rhythms of life, there were times when I was closest to and distant from art.  I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing that compares to the thrill of seeing or creating that one helluva painting, drawing, sculpture or other visual art form.  I didn’t start out knowing it, but through the fortunate direction of my life, I know it now.