A good friend and colleague of mine lost her husband, Bill, about a month ago. Shortly after the funeral and as a final tribute to his life, the members of the community were invited to his studio to reflect on that life and to see the most magnificent paintings of a dedicated and talented artist.
He had been sick these past 12 years and thus his daily struggles. None of this seemed to matter, however, for by steps that were painfully slow, and by the chair that had to be wheeled, he was in that studio every day, all day: driven.
This brought to mind a movie that I once saw about a French painter, whose name escapes me, and how in his 80s he had to have his paint brush tied to his hands in order to nourish that incessant drive to paint. At the end of the day, the ladies assisting him would soak his hands because of the painful suffering from his crippling arthritis.
What was that, I mean, in these men? I know I have never experienced such dedication, being all over the place in my thoughts and actions. But for Bill’s wife, Glendora, the answer was simple: “It was who he was from birth to his final hour.” Thus, he was born with a talent that he recognized and honored in spite of life’s drawbacks, limitations and superficial demands.
There is that saying, too, that, “What’s bred in the bones will come out in the flesh.” What was bred in Bill Cooper’s bones came out in his paintings: vivid in color, startling in contrasts, exciting in themes and all revealing the true nature of his love of life and humanity. When asked once why he consistently sold his works so cheaply, he had a simple answer: He wanted to make it possible for his works to hang on the walls of all the community of souls who could little afford their true value. Beauty, he always believed, should be available and cherished by all regardless of one’s station in life.
Whenever I hear stories about the lives of people like Bill who made that critical decision to be themselves, to do their love and to live their lives fully in the pursuit of why they were born, I marvel. Those teachers who have exacted such transpersonal enlightenments will always create the most illuminating environments for student development and creativity.
How many of us have managed such a grasp on our lives as well as the lives of others? Not I, certainly, at least not in the beginning. In my fledgling years as a career counselor and like so many of my fellow counselors, I was quite astute in the needs of employers, the future of the hottest fields and the salaries paid by each. Helping students to get a grasp on life and living was less important than filling the economic demands of our competitive society.
In contemporary terms, little has changed. However, for me and as time went by, I came finally to realize that beneath the veneer of interest tests and college grades there beat the hearts and souls of students with particular needs; and, more importantly, that the individual as student should at all times be the beginning and objective of all educational practices.
Those who teach the arts come closest to this ideal. Bill’s character then, as an art unto itself, encouraged his fostering and attending to the individual students’ abilities and talents that he knew to be so necessary in the years to follow. I wonder how many ever returned to verify the integrity in his efforts?