Welcome. This blog site places before you a remarkable man, Charles Beck, an artist and teacher. This monthly series of stories begins by describing Charlie’s ways of being in the world, through my encounters with Charlie in the last decade of his life first as my colleague, then mentor and finally or rather for ever as my dearest friend. Year two of this blog expands to include my own hopefully and enduringly perspectives on art, on teaching and of a certain slant on life inflected by Charlie. ~ Peter London

Charlie's recruiting techniques for Advanced Painting

" . . . who we really are, are artists, with fire in ours eyes." ~ Charlie

As in the case of all teachers and their classes, the students who arrived in Charlie’s art classes came through the programming committee of the school. They appeared in class not because they were sent for by the art teacher nor as a consequence of any desire on the part of the student to enroll in an art class. Graduation requirements, teacher class loads, lunch room seating, and bus schedules were the main factors that determined who showed up for most art classes except for an occasional student’s choice of  upper division art electives. You taught who appeared. This was not entirely the case with Charlie. Charlie actively recruited students for two of his upper division art courses. The following account describes the recruiting techniques Charlie employed for his Advanced Painting course, the other course; Advanced Advertising Art and its recruiting techniques, will be described in the section entitled; “Charlie and the Art Conservation Squad.”

Not many students voluntarily signed up for the Advanced Painting course for a number of reasons. One reason was that we had not yet offered any Introductory or Intermediate Painting courses. Charlie assured the programming committee that the term “Advanced’ really didn’t actually mean advanced, and that anybody would be just fine taking it. And so a few kids did appear in the class. As might be expected, none of them would have had any prior art experiences. There still being plenty of places left in the class, and having exhausted possible admits from word of mouth to other teachers, Charlie did his own recruiting. He had two favorite places to find students for his Advanced Painting class. One recruitment center was the bench just outside the Dean’s Office. Here he would come upon students who had just had an exit interview with the dean and were on their way out of school, and now sitting on the bench waiting for a family member or guardian to pick them up. Others, their fate yet to be determined, and thus a bit more agitated, were waiting to see the dean for their exit interview.  In truth, these students and the Dean were already well acquainted. Charlie thought that these young men and women would make good prospects for his art class, reasoning that they really had not much else to loose; why not give Advanced Painting as a form of parole a chance. Nor would it be much of a bother to Charlie, for if things did not work out the paper work was already completed to have the students not only leave the class but leave the school. I accompanied Charlie on a number of these recruiting drives, and this is more or less the way Charlie conducted his interviews for possible admits.

Approaching the dean’s bench and noticing a possible recruit, Charlie would sit down next to the fellow (almost all were men), extend his hand, and say, Hello, son, my name is Charles Beck, and I am the Chairman of the Art Department here at John Bowne. The kid would look up from examining his shoes, or something stuck beneath his nails, lift his eyes, and say something like. “Hello.”  Many of these students already knew of Mr. Beck because many of their friends who were not thrown out of school were already in his Advanced Painting class. So Charlie would continue; I wonder if you have any space in your schedule
Peter London
for an art class? I could really use a few more students.  Interested? “I don’t do art Mr. Beck. I can’t draw noth’n!” Good, good, It’s much better that way, you don’t have any bad habits to get rid of. That’s the most important thing, starting fresh. “Mr. Beck, you just said this is an advanced art thing, and I don’t even know how to draw. So how you expect me to do somph’n in it when I don’t know how to do noth’n?” Listen,  son, you know why I put that name on the course, “Advanced?” to scare kids away who don’t have what it takes. You know, kids who are only interested in making that pretty kind of art, not the kind of art we do. “What sort of stuff do you do in there?” Now you got it, son, that’s just the kind of question we handle in that class.  It’s the biggie, Why do art, what the hell good does it do you? That kind of thing. “Mr. Beck, I don’t know what you’re talk’n about. Anyway, I’m being thrown out of school, so that’s that.” Now I want to tell you something son, I think you are just the kind of kid that I like, a kid who is on the ropes, looks like he is going to get knocked out of the ring. But, but, son, he is still in there, still has some fire left in his eyes. See, that same fire is the fire that’s in the eye of the true artist. Me, and Mr. London here, sure, we are teachers, I know, I know, but underneath, who we really are, are artists, with fire in ours eyes. Want to join us? It’s a hell of a fight, keeping that fire going when everything else seems to be trying to put it out. But, and I know you don’t know it yet, art is one of the ways some folks- like us – keep it going. “Mr. Beck, I really don’t know what you are talking about, fire and art and stuff like that, and anyway, like I said, they’re throwing me out of this place, so, you know, I’m out. That’s it for me.” Now listen, son, I think I can do something here for both of us. Suppose I go in there and talk to the dean, suppose I get him to let you stay in school and you take a few art classes with me and Mr. London here? “ A few?! A few art classes?” OK, OK, not a few, one, the Advanced Painting class. Let’s make it a trial period, say a couple of weeks. You like it, you stay, you don’t, out you go. It’s the big time in there son, just so you know that it won’t be easy. But I think you are going to be doing things you never thought you would be doing. “I know that’s the truth.” OK, so what do you say, I go into the dean, say you and I spoke, got everything worked out, and we get you into this art class? “Jeeze, he said he was going to call my mom to come pick me up, maybe he already did.” I’m going in there right now, tell him to call the whole thing off, tell him to call home and say it’s all been worked out, things are OK, don’t come. “Mr. Beck, no disrespect meant or noth’n but I think you just shitten me, and stuff you know? But, alright. Let’s see what happens.” Another free agent signed on.

Besides the Dean’s bench, Charlie had other productive recruiting grounds; he sought out truants behind the building where they huddled for a smoke, or in the boiler room or men’s room cutting class.  He invited kids to his classes that were thrown out of gym after being thrown out of shop on their way to being thrown out of school. Again, not all this hand picked crowd signed up on first being asked. Another time when I went along with him on one of his recruiting drives, we found some fellows in the basement playing cards. Mr. Beck walked up to them and said something like, Fellas, anyone interested in helping me out of a jam? I’ve been asked to make some posters for the basketball game this weekend and I’m short handed, Anyone got some time? A kid answered, “We don’t wan noth’n to do with that fuck’n basketball stuff and we don’t wan noth’n to do with this whole fuck’n school.” Jeez, said Charlie, sometimes I feel the same way. And they all laughed. But whadaya say, got some time? And a few times this sort of thing worked and a couple of kids would fold their cards, get up and go along with Charlie. Back in the art room, the Advanced Painting students could be seen hunched over their art work, making things that could only be described as astonishing. And there was Charlie hunched over the kids, seriously pointing out one thing or another about drawing and color and spelling.

Some time later, Charlie explained his recruiting techniques like this to me. “See, Peter, it’s really the same kind of thing as fly fishing. Sure there is a little bit about what choice of fly to select, but really its mostly in the presentation.”

~ Peter

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