Some thirty years ago I opened a shop for prints and posters in Cambridge in King’s Parade. A wonderful site. Every now and then I held exhibitions for new artists whose works I liked. As a result the shop became enormously popular. My customers said “Why can’t I find such an interesting collection anywhere else?” The answer to that was clear. I only ever bought work that I liked myself. Whenever a rep came to show me his wares I would look through his books very quickly since I always knew at once when I liked something and when I didn’t. It got to the point when I badly wanted to paint again. I began to feel that I could paint well if I could find the right teacher.
Sadly, I had to give up my business for reasons that had nothing to do with me. However this,was one of those blessings in disguise that Jung called synchronicity. Much as I had enjoyed my three shops which enabled me to help bring up our three children, I felt it was time for a change. I had always wanted to be a psychotherapist and I set myself up in private practice.
Once again I had made a choice that I badly needed and I soon began to enjoy my new career and earn money. Now was the time for me to find a good art teacher. I saw an article in The Daily Telegraph about a man who had achieved remarkable results as Head of Art in a well-known public school in Wiltshire. He wanted to retire early to teach older people privately. I wrote off to him straight away and so did some 400 other people. I regularly went for art lessons with a remarkably able teacher. over a period of five years. I had always believed I could be an artist if I could ever find a good teacher. I was right.
Robin would sometimes run a weekly course away from his base. He chose to do one in Cambridge to give his students the chance to paint some beautiful views and architecture. Of course I went.
Our easels were set up in a room in one of the colleges. After a while I went out to get myself a drink. Outside in an adjacent smaller room than ours sat a solitary lady painting. Following my usual habit of wanting to know what was going on around me, I asked her if she was one of us. She looked up at me with a face that reminded me of a stuck-insider. She just said “Yes.” Curious as ever I said “Why aren’t you painting with us?” A pause. “Well I came in late.”
“You have a foreign accent. Would you mind telling me where you come from?”
She frowned and said “I come from Germany. “Why do you ask so many questions?” I felt that she didn’t want to tell me. After another pause I said “Why did you come to England?” Her face tightened up a few notches. “Well, I am Jewish”. Her words were delivered in as much of an aggressive way as she could manage.
Now I had got my answer and understood why she guarded her privacy. Like most of the rest of us she was old enough to have had to get away from Germany in time. “I am getting a cup of tea. May I get one for you too, or coffee if you prefer?” We drank together and she softened. We had a pleasant chat and her manner changed.
I was pleased that she opened up to me. It was worth the trouble. The more I start a conversation with one of these outsiders the more confident I feel. When you meet a stranger and speak to him or her first you never know what will happen and what locked doors may open. My research is not all reading and studying at home, I keep my eyes and ears open in all kinds of places I learn more and more about people and I know not to hold back when I see something interesting. Research isn’t only reading and thinking it is also learning from everyday experiences with other people.