I teach science classes to college art students. At first blush that may seem an impossibility, but once you get past the purple hair, fear of math and multiple body piercings, you find them to be an endlessly fascinating source of irreverent observations and colorful stories. The following is an example…
You’ll never miss Amanita on a field trip. In the icy, spitting winds of early November, she’s the bleach-blond with the little toy open-toed shoes and short skirt, long white legs stumbling through the mud, miserable look on her face, freezing in a thin little excuse for a jacket. But let me qualify that – you’ll never miss Amanita if Amanita shows up, but she usually skips class so you’ll probably miss Amanita.
The assignment for the final project – the culmination of a semester’s work – was to identify an intersection of science and art and then describe it artistically. There were no real boundaries on the project and it would be self-graded by the students themselves, based upon their own sense of what constitutes a good effort. Amanita came into the final project sporting a 51% on her midterm and a 59% for her class work grade. She had missed so many classes that I stopped marking her absent. She REALLY needed to do well on this project.
When her turn came, she strolled proudly to the front of the class carefully carrying an object that appeared to be a cross between a Swiss coo-coo clock and some type of home-made religious relict from the Feast of Saint Umberto in Mexico City or Paloma, Italy. It resembled a large cigar box, painted in bright, fluorescent colors and coated with glitter. It was encased in a nest of interwoven sticks and branches.
Inside the box was what appeared to be a living room scene with tiny, miniature tables, chairs, rugs, wall paper and pictures constructed from found materials. Sitting in the chairs, KNITTING AND READING THE NEWSPAPER, were shed cicada exoskeletons (insect “skins”), painted and glittered. Tiny fake eye lashes had been applied to the cicadas, and little suits and dresses constructed from scraps of fabric. It was a scene of domestic glitterati cicada tranquility.
But there was more.
On the roof of the “house” there was an arrangement of tiny mouse skulls, also festooned with lashes and glitter, and with rhinestones embedded in their eye sockets. Their exact relationship to the cicadas was unclear but Amanita seemed convinced that they served an important function. Apparently the project would make no sense without them.
Her classmates and I assumed that this was some sort of a joke and that, at any moment, Amanita would burst out laughing and hollar “got ya goin’ there didn’t I?!” and then bring out her REAL project. But she never did. She just went on describing her little glitter box, pleased as punch and proud as hell.
She had the rock-solid certainty and confidence of someone who was positive that this project was going to bring her overall grade way up. Probably to at least a B… maybe even an A-.
She probably figured she wouldn’t even have to show up for the final.