Painting Chinese by Herbert Kohl
A couple of days ago I finished this book by Herbert Kohl called “Painting Chinese-A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth.” This book is about an aging man who lived in San Francisco and had been a teacher for many years. From the time he was 65 until age 70 he “created and directed a teacher education program at the University of San Francisco based on the idea of integrating issues of social justice throughout the curriculum, hoping to bring young idealistic people into public school teaching and to fortify them with the skills and stamina to make their dreams practical realities.” (pg. 3) His program was successful and had helped thirty students. After four years, much to his dismay, the university cut the program.
However, during the last year of that job, he wandered the streets of San Francisco gravitating toward Clement Street which was predominantly “Mainland and Taiwanese Chinese and Koreans with a mix of Asian Americans…” (pg. 4) One day during one of his daily walks in that neighborhood he stumbled across a sign that said “JOSEPH FINE ARTS SCHOOL.” The school taught classes in sculpture, calligraphy, drawing, and painting. Herbert was a painter himself who had become bored with what he was doing on his own. He went in to find Joseph Fine and inquire about the classes.
He found out that Joseph’s last name was really Yan. He and his wife Janny taught classes there in all of the mediums the sign had listed. Then feeling sheepish, Herbert realized his blunder…there was not a “Joseph Fine” as he had thought. “It was the Joseph Fine Arts School.” (Page 6) He decided to enroll.
Herbert’s first semester was a drawing class where he learned a great deal under Joseph’s patient and encouraging tutelage. After he completed his first class he asked Joseph if he could take a painting class, and Joseph said yes, but he would have to start in a beginner class. Much to Herbert’s surprise he found himself in a classroom of small children on the first day of his new painting class. There were two five-year-olds, two seven-year-olds, and one six-year old. It felt strange to Herbert at first to find out he was the only adult in the class, but as time went on he felt more comfortable. Herbert had taught elementary school for many years before he was at the college so he loved getting to be around small children again. It made him feel like a child himself in his old adult body. However, he did have to learn to restrain himself from helping the children whenever it seemed like they were struggling with something. A couple of times he naturally tried to since he was used to teaching small children, but all it took was one stern look from Joseph to tell him it wasn’t his place. Herbert learned to respect Joseph and his place as the instructor. He learned to be a student again and loved it.
I could go on and on about this wonderful little book; instead, I would encourage you to read it for yourself especially if you are an aging person like I am. I am 55, my youngest child is a senior in high school, and I am looking forward to my latter years in life much more than I have in a long time.
I want to learn to paint well with Chinese brushes and learn Asian calligraphy. I have my new brushes now and my new book. Today I tried doing the beginnings of Asian calligraphy with my Chinese brushes and ink. Wow, it is really difficult! I plan to stick with it as long as I can, though.
I admit I sometimes feel bored in life, but I have learned that as long as there is breath in me, I will never stop trying to learn something new. Learning brings growth. Growth brings maturity. And hopefully, the maturity I gain will be able to be passed on to others as I age.
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug! 🙂