My sister was a very patient model. Here is another portrait painting I did when we were both teenagers. She is pensively sitting on the couch, looking out the window, cautiously wondering what is next.
When I was seven, in 1962, I sat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. I could do this because my grandfather, Hugo L. Black, was the senior associate justice on the court at the time. To me, he was old, strong, a great Justice, and had the most amazing tennis ball shooting machine. The court itself was revered back then, even by those who hated the results reached. There was little talk of corruption, and when there was, the Justices resigned, as Abe Fortus did in 1969.
Elizabeth, Granddad’s second wife, and my step-grandmother, took me to the court and set up this photo. Photographs of the Supreme Court in session are not allowed. And this one would probably be prohibited now, too. But Elizabeth knew how to make it happen. She could get away with it. She knew everyone at the court.
The senior associate supreme court justice sits to the right of the chief justice. So, that chair, the fourth from the left, under the second column from the left, is where my Granddad and I sat. Earl Warren, the Chief Justice, would sit in the center. Either the red curtains were open, or they weren’t installed when the picture of me on the court was taken. I remember thinking it was cool, but the circular staircase was even better.
I was taken to the court by my Granddad’s second wife, Elizabeth DeMeritte, my step-grandmother. Elizabeth took care of everything. She arranged the trip, took the photographs, and created a scrapbook for me. All my siblings traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit her and Granddad. She directed this photo of me on the bench. I’m not sure about the clenched fist. Elizabeth probably told me to do that. I loved Elizabeth.
Everyone talked about my Granddad. He had the old and wrinkled gravitas. The person who placed me in that chair was Elizabeth. And she taught me to respect it.
I am both. This has both helped and hindered me throughout my life. Each interest has improved my ability to do the other. But doing both has deprived me of a sole focus. And not everyone accepts the possibility that I could be serious about the two.
In junior high school, I was given “interest” tests. Something like the Strong Interest Inventory. These tests asked a couple of hundred questions about my preferences for many different activities, like “Would you rather bake a cake or disect a frog?” or “Which would you choose between drawing a picture and setting up a lemonade stand?” My results were always consistent. I had two peak interests, Art and Math. My school counselors would then consult their guidebook and tell me, “Architecture. That’s it. Architecture is the only profession listed for people with an interest in both Art and Math.” That was – interesting, I thought.
I did not become an architect. I did make scale models of houses and buildings that I lived in, for no other reason than I liked to. But instead of architecture, I began painting, drawing, and sculpting and entering contests, doing shows, and trying to sell and market my art. As for math, I didn’t give that up either. I continued to study math, both in school and on my own. My studies took me to the “Foundation of Mathematics” and I spent a lot of time studying symbolic logic.
A few of my paying art customers, one in particular, a young lawyer who commissioned paintings to give to his wife, and paid me in one-hundred dollar bills, expressed concerns over my interest in mathematics. He wanted the paintings he purchased from me to increase in value and he worried that I would suddenly stop and become an engineer. A few years later, I did take a job that involved programming computers and he was very disappointed. “You became an engineer!” he scolded me. Apparently, I was not the first of the artists he had discovered who dropped the profession of art and became engineers – ruining the value of his investments in his eyes.
I did not give up art. But there have been times when I spent so many hours programming computers that I did very little painting or sculpture. And my drawings almost all related to my computer problems. Engineers and software development managers are understanding of artists among them. Many computer programmers in particular are involved in art, music, or other creative activity. But the pace of software development is very fast and accelerating. If you don’t spend your time studying the latest developments, you can quickly fall behind. So it’s hard to stay on the leading edge of software and pursue art on the side at the same time.
Still I can’t quit either one. And I don’t plan to. I am looking for ways to mix and combine them. And unlike the recommendations of the Interest Inventory tests, I think there are many, many ways it can be done. I’m looking for the right one.