Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life can be Harsch. But Harsch Was Good.

I scoff at most of society's views of self awareness. It is amusing how even the smallest slight of tongue can offend. This is a generation of the entitiled, the politically-correct. Heaven forbid someone utter a word that might hurt another's feelings.

Let me relate to you how I overcame the entire 'hurt feelings' phenomenon. It is also how I learned how to overcome and accept criticism, grow as a human being, become a better artist and mutter 'fuck you' under my breath.

I was in college studying graphic arts. At the time, way back in 1983, there were very few schools that offered comprehensive graphic arts programs. I had to choose between going to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York or staying in North Carolina and going to Randolph Technical College. Let's just say, RTC was close to home. Whether I made the right decision or not I'll never know. But, the decision I made made me into who I am.....

Wait. Perhaps I should think about this for a moment .

In any case, enter Henry Harsch, the lead instructor of the Graphics program. A frenetic man with a lazy eye, glowing talent, crazy beard and passion for constructive criticism.

Without going into detail about 'ol Harsch, I learned from him the value of not taking oneself too seriously. Each week we would be given assignments.... life drawings, perspective drawings, mock advertisements, whatever. And, each week, we would pin our assignments to a board in the classroom for both student critique and the ever-dreaded 'Harsh critique'. Peer critique is easy. No one wants to crack on a friend's work too bad. We're all friends. Besides, inevitably, somebody wants to get laid by someone else in the class.... but the Harsh Critique..... that was another story.

From the back of the room strode Henry. Head cocked to the side, eyeing the dynamics of the piece of art pinned to the wall.

"What the hell is this supposed to be?" "The perspective is off!" "This has been done a million times!" "No originality!" "Why did you even decide to come to this program? Did you know that we have auto body classes?"

And the worst? The absolute worst? What sticks with me the most, what made me into a stronger person, although this never happened to me, was seeing him walk to the board, grab someone's work, their long hours, and throw it to the floor, stomp on it with both feet, twist on it like he was Chubby Checker until it was a mangled piece of shredded wheat.

That type of criticism will either make you or break you. Seeing that type of criticism will either piss you off or make you appreciate that there is no perfection, not in anyone, neither the critic nor the receiver of the criticism. Yet, the lesson learned is that life's a hard bitch of a thing.

It's a lesson lost on most of today's society. Oddly enough, in one of my first 'real' jobs, I sold penny stocks for a fly-by-night firm. Do you know how many penny stocks that you have to sell to make a buck? Guess why I don't sell penny stocks and haven't since 1987? Yet, I learned humility selling penny stocks. How? Funny thing.... The manager of the office where I worked looked like a Lou Ferrigno wannabe who drove a pretty sweet 'Vette and sat in his office pruning his eyebrows and brushing his hair most of the day. Yet, every now and then, someone would hit it big in the bullpen and get a decent sale. This is where the humility came in because it happened to me a couple of times.

Woohoo! A sale! Cue the 'Rocky' theme and jump up on the desk in the middle of the bullpen. Pumping the fists as if youv'e just climbed the steps to the art museum in Philadelphia, youve just won the lottery, and won the admiration of your peers while looking like the biggest freaking fool on the planet.

So, in one fell swoop, I've given you humiliation, embarrassment, growth, appreciation, self-awareness and the not so blatant mention that it's good to explore life and avenues that might not fit you but may just interest you.

Life might shit on you from time to time but it's gonna rain eventually and when it does, just stand outside naked and start over. And never take a Harsch too seriously.

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