My first real art encounter was in fourth grade. As usual, I’d either been too talkative or too helpful with others’ schoolwork and was sent to the library as punishment. Punishment! With my glasses on the end of my nose, pouring through a treasure of books I’d never be able to own, I was in heaven.

Sometimes there were piles of donations that hadn’t been gone through and catalogued yet. Someone must have donated my find – a big art history book on the Impressionists, filled with large photos of the great works.

Woman with a parasol, especially, but the entire book of paintings astounded me, for many reasons.

First, because it was as if they were painting nearsighted, the way I saw things without my glasses. They seemed alive, those paintings. Not like a photograph – Like they could move or dance or you could step into them and be in a magical world. And, they weren’t even trying to paint within any lines! It was messy! It was imperfect and they were proud of it.

And, for the first time, I understood that art could make you feel something. Wonder, joy, a connection with a long-dead artist, a sense that a person actually painted that woman, that umbrella! and that because it left you with such a good feeling, you sort of “knew” him and knew you would have liked each other.

The book was gone after that day. Perhaps someone decided it should be in the high school library instead, such a nice book, that gangly girl with the cat-eyes and messy braids is going to crumple the pages, the way she’s holding it so tightly…

Because I had to appease that inner urge to take drawing as far as I could, I found myself on the trajectory of hyper-realism and did that for many years. It started with my mother supplying me with beautiful new pencils and drawing tablets whenever I needed them. Even when we were broke.

It wasn’t until later that life showed me the lessons I learned in 4th grade were what I needed to follow: Paint what you see how you want to express it. Forget following the lines. Be messy. Make it alive.

I’m not an impressionist, by any means. But that book laid the foundation, and I am thankful to that unknown donor to this day.

I’d love to hear from you about your own art experiences!

Linda Ryan