Art School in Florence: The First Weeks

The first week of school in Florence was over-whelming given the fact that I was jet-lagged and refused to stop wearing high heels despite the cobblestone and my frequent falls. By then, I’d become aquinted with my room-mates, and we formed a sort of friendship based on a lack of other options. There was Mindy, a woman of around sixty-five who told everyone she was thirty-five, a painter, the recipient of the schools scholarship and was given a full-ride. Then, there was Amy the southern bell who talked fast, walked fast, and seemed to be full-on addicted to some form of upper I desperately wanted. There was Click, a small girl from South Africa, a film-maker, who spoke a mix of ghetto and educated, british english. And another girl who was sort of a non-factor and not really worth mentioning, not because I didn’t like her, but because really it was like living with a ghost. Ghost shared a room with Click.

On the first day of class we were a dozen or so in the graduate program. We were asked to give a presentation explaining our previous artwork. I’d painted here and there, but I didn’t have a body of artwork and I certainly didn’t have photos of any of it. I wasn’t even aware that it might be a good idea to take photos of artwork. I’d only ever done it for fun while drunk. All of the students took their turns, many who, I was surprised, didn’t have a bachelors degree in art either. Some however, did and they were scary. When it was my turn I walked up to the front of the room, and waved to everyone. I’m really shy and I overcompensate by acting like I don’t care. “So, I used to paint, with oil and acrylic. My laptop exploded so I don’t have images, but I can tell you about the work. Sometimes I painted animals with human heads in sexual positions. I’m really interested in sex and sexuality, my thesis in college was on sexual fluidity. I write. Uhm…yeeep”. And then I took my seat. Everyone was staring at me as though I’d just said I had sex with my mother.

Our professor stood up in front of the class and assigned the task of choosing our “major professor”, the human who would guide us throughout the year. Then he looked at me, and in broken English with flailing hand gestures said, “But not you Misty, I a choose one for you bee-cose I can a see you’re like a fire, and you need someone who put out your fire”. I didn’t think giving a poor presentation made me appear aggressive, however clearly to this man it did. Though, from the looks of him it was easy to see he was a nervous person. He held his body in the shape of an “S” with his head bent down, his spined curved with his pelvis forward, and his knees bent. He talked with his hands while simultaneosly bending his knees. He moved and bounced like a puppet.

Later that day I discovered that my major professor was Serbian, and famed for making students cry. “Perfect,” I thought, “just what I need.” Though, Amy had him for a class and refered to him as “brilliant”, which helped to erase my picture of him as a sort of war criminal. I’d made an appointment with him and took to the library. I spent a few days before our meeting trying to understand as much about contemporary art as I possibly could. My knowledge was limited to everything before the seventeenth century which would not be helpful, unless I planned on recreating (destroying) Da Vinci work. I was immediately drawn to Sophie Calle who was also a writer, and seemed to be a little crazy. Which was exactly what I needed.

When I met my major professor it was obvious where his famed reputation came from, he was intense and extremely bold. His eyes were very serious and always locked on a target, he was overly confident, and spoke with a harsh yugoslavian accent. He was intelligent, true, but  I was able to follow him. This seemed to please him and he would smile with his mouth when I responded to his obscure references to things like Kant, or Sybil of Cumae. He agreed to be my professor and somehow I felt very accomplished. He seemed like the type who hated the general population, though I would later discover he was rather sweet and altruistic in his own scary way.

That night I stayed in the studio until three a.m. printing references to work from and making long lists for ideas and inspiration. If I would have known then, what I know now, I would have outsourced my projects to India, and become a sort of Damien Hirst  of globalization. Live and learn. Instead, stupidly, I tried to do my art work myself. For the next few weeks everything I saw, smelled, felt, or heard was a potential installation. “Look! Dog shit! I could do something with dog shit! Mastorbation! I like that! I could do something with that! Gypsies! I could do a photo documentary on gypsies!” I was unbearably clueless, and have no idea how anyone put up with me.

I’d also taken to insomnia and drinking my weight in alcohol almost every night. It wasn’t accidental. Since my brother had past away exactly one year prior to my arrival in Italy, I wasn’t emotionally stable. I was also lonely, and anxious which only fueled the  need for some form of escape even more. Somehow, I would drag a random school-mate out with me until five a.m., sleep for three hours and be in class in the morning. Luckily, my earliest class was Fresco, with Mario and Luigi (no shit). They had a coffee maker in the classroom so I was able to load up on caffeine while sketching out paintings in our sand mixture. Luigi was very quiet and was rarely in the studio, but Mario was extremely lively. He loved to talk, and I spent the morning inhaling my coffee, the earthy smells of the Fresco workshop, and laughing at Mario’s naive way of speaking exactly what was on his mind. “I make the sex with my girlfriend. Then my mamma call me, I love my mamma but I want her to make dead”, I’d try not to laugh, “that’s not nice Mario”. He’d gesture wildly as though he were carrying heavy rocks in front of his groin area and say, “but she a always breakin my a balls!”. After I few months I’d learn that professors in Europe basically say, and do whatever they want with little respect of propriety. I have to say, I kind of learned to love it.

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