I was at secondary school, in art class, when the teacher asked who knows about modern art. No one budged or made a sound. It was apparent that none of the other pupils knew, only me.
Like the idiot I was, I eagerly put my hand up. ‘Ok Robert, let’s hear it.’ The art teacher was like that, gruff, to the point and somewhat impatient with idiots.
I said modern art was all swirls and dots, like a brainstorm in a tea mug.
The class roared with laughter, but the teacher was not amused. He made me stand for an entire 10 minutes as he explained modern art, in all its forms, is the art of today.
It took him 10 minutes to make that point, which mostly went over my head because I felt embarrassed, intimidated and bullied, just for making an effort.
In all the subjects at school, art, as in painting and drawing, was one of my favourites. I didn’t need to know much to paint, and whether it turned out to be a total mess or something meaningful, I was free to create without constraint.
Many pots of paint and stiffened paint brushes later, my painting skills are limited to interior decorating, which is, according to clients, better than professional.
My dad was artistic. He could draw and paint better than me, and his skill at embroidery was mesmerising.
I think I got my artistic streak from him, although mine comes through in other ways, like the decorating, garden planning and design and being in love with colour and simplicity.
My writing started at the same time as the art class incident. I got first prize for writing about the school Christmas dinner: a shiny sixpenny piece in old English currency.
Two years ago I started to write more seriously. ‘Seriously’ meaning I would allocate time to write. For me, it is like art class all over again. I can be as ‘creative’ as I like and need no one’s permission.
Yet lurking somewhere in my conscience, self-doubt waits for someone ready to make me stand for 10 minutes, as they explain writing needs to be much more than swirls and dots and a brainstorm in a tea mug.