This past spring Phyllis Straus, long time academic advisor in the FSU department of art, passed away. I received an FSU College of Visual Arts alumni e mail about it this summer.
I did not know Phyllis very well, and only met with her a handful of times. But she was an imperative part of my journey as an artist.
When I dropped music as my major after one semester of my freshman year, I decided to take a photography class. They offered "Photography for non-art majors." This was me. I had no major. I took it, enjoyed it, and with the confidence of my professor writing "You're good" on my final project, wanted to move forward.
Somehow I ended up in Phylis' office. To take any more art classes, I needed to see an advisor in the art department. Her office was like a studio and a museum and a think tank all rolled into one. I told her I wanted to take another photography class. She said I had to officially be an art major to take any more photo classes.
I felt overwhelmed. I'm sure she could see this on my face.
She shrugged, and said, matter of factly, "Just declare art as your major. Take another photography class. Here, I'll put you in two other art classes."
I left her office as an art major and thus became myself. Found many of my gifts and the things in this life I can get behind. Learned about God my creator through creativity...moving my pencil on a piece of paper and standing over chemicals in a darkroom. (The above photograph is the first I ever developed in Photo 1 class.)
I finished in art. I never changed my major again.
Phyllis, though just doing her daily grind of a job, pushed me to take a few more photographs. She had no real idea how frozen that made me feel. She made it seem like it was the most natural thing in the world. She encouraged me by acting as though moving forward was a breeze. Nothing to get anxious about. Just keep working. Inability was not an issue.
In thinking about this, I have realized something. I can be this to my kids. My little students who need a push every once in a while. A push to use their gifts and a push to move forward as if it's the most natural thing in the world to leave your comfort zone and head into the unknown. And not just my own kids. I'm also starting up art class again next week.
Let's make art. Let's move forward. You don't think much about it, you just do it. Thanks, Phyllis, for making those official changes on your computer screen. For making me an art major. For being an inspiration and working with your hands. I hope I can do the same.