By Rose Platt
New York, New York, USA
Recently, a friend mentioned that he was having trouble sketching costumes for a performance he was helping to put on. I gave him the best advice I’ve ever heard on the subject: “Draw what you see, not what you expect to see.” Hearing myself say this got me thinking about the first time I heard it.
I was a seventh grader at Hunter College High School in New York City. My art teacher was a woman named Ana Bozzo, a tiny lady with a wonderful smile and a habit of speaking to herself in her native language (which I believe was Spanish).
Most of my classmates, being at the usual maturity levels for 13-year-olds, dismissed her as a crazy old woman who wasn’t even bright enough to learn English properly, so how could she possibly be intelligent enough to teach them? But something — I’m not sure what, as I wasn’t terribly mature myself — made me look at her a little bit more closely. Maybe it was her undeniable artistic talent, or my own experiences with being dismissed by my peers. Whatever it was, I’m glad it was there, because otherwise I would have missed out on a great deal.
Ms. Bozzo was the faculty adviser for a group of students dedicated to humanitarian causes. She gave tirelessly of herself, and hid from everyone the news that she was slowly dying so that no one could make her stop working and doing the things she loved. She would take us out to Central Park and have us draw the fallen leaves, and that was where she told us in her soft, accented voice to “Draw what you see, not what you expect to see.” That year, my drawing skill was immeasurably changed for the better, and when she had to stop teaching in the spring because of her advancing illness, I know I wasn’t the only one who missed her. She died later that year, and was mourned by everyone who had taken the time to get to know her.
In retrospect, I suspect she wasn’t just giving us artistic advice that day in the park: she was dropping a hint in front of all the seventh graders who giggled behind their hands when she was thinking aloud in her own language, or caught up in the beauty of the world and of art. “When you look at the world,” I think of her saying, “don’t settle for what you expect to see. See what is there. See things for what they are.” I count myself very lucky that I had the chance to see her for the lovely person, remarkable educator, and incredibly kind soul that she was, and not the easily dismissed “crazy woman” that my classmates saw because, sadly, it was all that they expected to see. It’s a very rare teacher who goes on teaching even after she dies. But if anyone could do it, it would be Ana Bozzo.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.