Florence, Day 5: What Can One Day Teach You? And Other Reflections on Life and Learning

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The sun rose on a warm and glorious day in Tuscany. After sleeping more (much-needed) hours than I can count, I woke up good as new, excited and ready to work outside in Florence. What can I learn today?

My mentor here in Italy is Enrico, a kind and patient teacher — thankfully, because, well, my prior training and the rules of Italy are different. For example, when I studied art in Mexico, my teacher would say, “Now that you are done looking, close your eyes and think how you feel. I don’t care so much what you see as how you feel about it. Now paint that.” I suspect if it were not for that very long and extremely well-established art history here, Italians with all of their wild, impassioned ways would be like this.

You see, Mexico does not have Michelangelo to live up to. But as my winemaker friends have explained to me, when you’ve been doing things a certain way for literally hundreds of years, you do it a certain way. There is only one way to make a Chianti, a Brunello, a Barolo. And so it is with art.

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My local winemaker friends say they have a freedom that a winemaker in Italy or other well-established regions don’t: They can experiment. And so it is with me.

I have to convince Enrico that it’s perfectly OK for me to leave that unsightly pillar out of my drawing, or forget about the big wall to my left, blocking my view of the city. He says, “But it is there.” Still, he’s patient with me; he’s very talented and kind, so I pay attention.

I, for my part, came here in a large part for the discipline. How do they teach art where they have been masters for so very long? So I stretch my comfort zone. I do as I’m told (mostly), and I’m growing. I’m using my pencil more than I have since college, and I’m slowing down. It’s relaxing on one hand, uncomfortable on the other. But isn’t the old saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”?

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