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  • Writer's pictureFrank Romans

The Art Confiscation: the artist has left the building

It was a simple time. Oreo cookies appeared for the first time and George Orwell's 1984 informed us "Big brother is watching you." The post-war baby boom was in full swing and I joined their ranks in December 1949, following behind my sister who arrived in 1948. Ten years later our parents would add two more. Yes, they were simple times.

One of my earliest memories, from around 1954, is my first-grade class homework art assignment. Ms. Jefferies said we were to draw a picture from the theme of "Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go." For me, she may as well have asked for detailed schematic drawings of a nuclear reactor or the intricate design of the Hubble telescope. My poor artistic skills were about to become apparent and laid bare for all the world to see. To this day, I am only capable of drawing rudimentary stick figures, albeit poorly, and my lines are not straight whether or not a ruler is used.

As I toiled and agonized over the impossibility of this cruel and inhumane task, my dear father came home from work and tried to encourage and help me, but it was useless. Some brains just refuse to "art" and it is probably best if we just leave it alone. Now my dad was a pretty good artist except for feet and hands. He never mastered those for some unknown reason, but he could draw or sketch some pretty decent pictures. My memory of what transpired at the kitchen table is fuzzy, but I can make a fairly accurate guess. As the evening progressed, he likely became frustrated with my inability to grasp even the simplest of artsy steps, and as it got later my drawing started becoming his drawing as he probably just wanted to get it over with.

It was certainly a win for me. Now I had a wonderful drawing of a cabin in the woods with smoke billowing from the chimney, as a horse-drawn sleigh pulled a family toward grandma's house. It was perfect. All I had to do was turn it in tomorrow to Ms. Jefferies who would place a checkmark by my name, and all will be good.

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive." - Sir Walter Scott.

The next day at school, we busied ourselves with an assignment at our desks when Ms. Jefferies called my name. "Frankie, could you come here please?" Oh, no. What could this mean? Fear gripped me and I cautiously approached her desk. She said, "Frankie, tell me the truth. Did you draw this?" There must be a way out. Maybe she thought she had uncovered the next Norman Rockwell in her class. So I answered in the only way I could to evade discovery and punishment. "Yes," I lied. "Now Frankie, are you sure you drew this? You can tell me." This woman was relentless...badgering the witness, your honor. Never one to admit defeat, "Yes," I lied again.

She zeroed in for the kill. "I'll tell you what we'll do," she said. "I am so impressed, I would like you to go back to your desk and draw it for me again." She handed me a piece of construction paper and I returned to my seat. It was her Perry Mason moment. She had me. What could I do? It was entrapment of the worst sort, your honor. I stared at the paper for a long time, helpless to proceed. I was busted with no escape route. Finally, sheepishly, I approached. "Ms. Jefferies?" "Yes?" "I told you a story." We didn't say lie back then, we "told a story." I admitted my falsehood. She said, "Oh, and who did it?" I answered, "My daddy." That's right. I threw my poor father under the bus for the sin of trying to help his son. I don't remember what followed except the note sent home and my mother yelling at my father. I'm sure I received a punishment of some sort, or maybe they felt my humiliation was enough.

Karma visited me later in life when my own daughter had a writing assignment for school. Writing, unlike art, was something in which I possessed some skill. To make this shorter, let's just say I wrote it. The same problem I had with art, she was having with writing. Yes, I ended up doing the whole piece for her and she was supposed to rewrite it in her own words, using my paper as a guide. Well, you have probably guessed already, she simply put her name on my paper and handed it in, different handwriting and all. Busted and Karma.

Yeah, I know. It was a poor parenting decision. Don't judge. We both learned a valuable lesson and I don't believe I damaged her too badly. Today she has an MBA, a wonderful family, and is doing just fine. As for me, I'll stick with writing and leave art to the artists. As for the moral of the story, always tell the truth.

"He who once begins to tell falsehoods is obliged to tell others to make them appear true, and, sooner or later, they will get him into trouble." - The Monkey and the Dolphin.

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