Growing Pains — The Autobiography of Emily Carr


Emily Carr

Arbutus Tree, Emily Carr

I HAD ADVANCED FROM the drawing of casts and was now painting "still life" under the ogling eye of the French Professor. I was afraid of him, not of his harsh criticisms but of his ogle-eyes, jet black pupils rolling in huge whites, like shoe buttons touring round soup-plates. He said to me, "You have good colour-sense. Let me see your eyes, their colour."  The way he ogled down into my eyes made me squirm; nor did it seem to me necessary that he should require to look so often into my "colour-sense."  He was powerful and enormous, one dare not refuse. His criticism most often was, "scrape, repaint."  Three times that morning he had stood behind my easel and roared, "Scrape!" When he came the fourth time and said it again, my face went red.

"I have, and I have, and I have!" I shouted.

"Then scrape again!" I dashed my palette knife down the canvas and wiped the grey ooze on my paint rag.

In great gobbing paint splashes I hurled the study of tawny ragged chrysanthemums onto the canvas again. Why must he stand at my elbow watching—grinning?  The moment he was gone I slammed shut my paintbox, gathered up my dirty brushes, rushed from the room.

"Finished?" asked my neighbor.

"Finished with scraping for that old beast." She saw my angry tears.  The Professor came back and found my place empty. "Where is the little Canadian?"

"Gone home mad!"

"Poor youngster, too bad, too bad! But look there!" He pointed to my study—"Capital! Spirit! Colour! It has to be tormented out of the girl, though. Make her mad, and she can paint."  The hard-faced woman student, the one who ordered birds for her still-life studies to be smothered so that blood should not soil their plumage, the student we called "Wooden-heart," spoke from her easel in the corner.

"Professor, you are very hard on that young Canadian girl!"

"Hard?" The Professor shrugged, spread his palms. "Art—the girl has 'makings.' It takes red-hot fury to dig 'em up. If I'm harsh it's for her own good. More often than not worth while things hurt. Art's worth while."

Again he shrugged.

Art Theory