Chuck Close: Everyone deserves a right to feel special

The very first time I went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York when I was 18, I happened upon a retrospective of Chuck Close's work. I was stunned, awed and utterly moved. Huge portraits, magical and captivating. I felt proud to be an artist and more proud to be a person, alive and able to experience being moved so profoundly. Later on, I learned that Chuck Close is also a fascinating person who has overcome adversity and pain. He is a champion of young artists everywhere. Here he talks about arts education and school. - Laura
Chuck Close: I think it was three art classes or three music classes a week. From kindergarten through high school. And I have to say that this was a really poor mill-town, Everett, where I moved after Tacoma. I do think that one of the worst things that’s happened in America, if I can rant and make a speech, is teaching for testing and making getting the scores up the most important thing that schools can do. It takes creativity out of the hands of teachers. But it also means that schools are going to divert money from the arts and put it into remedial education—the three r’s, because that’s what their job depends on, getting those scores up. And everyone deserves a right to feel special. Everyone deserves a right to find something that they’re good at and for people like me who are learning disabled, if I hadn’t had art and music, I would have dropped out of school.
I always said, if I hadn’t gone to Yale, I would have gone to jail. I’m a product of open enrollment. I did not take algebra, geometry, physics, or chemistry. I took bone-head general math and science, with all the kids in the bib overalls who just came off the farm and had never put on shoes before—we were in this room together. But, they had open enrollment in a junior college in my hometown. They took every taxpayer’s son or daughter.

Well they gave me—this is before SATs, thank god—the University of Washington had a great predictor test which every kid in high school in the state of Washington took, and it predicted my grades in everything. It predicted an F in art, by the way, and the only thing in which I was predicted to get a D was nursing. And god knows I’ve had enough nursing in my life since then. But it’s something that I feel very passionate about. The opportunities that I had. Because if you don't have a chance to find out what your skills are because you’ve never been given an opportunity to take courses, then you don’t get the mentors and you don’t get the teachers who are excited about what you’re doing and pulling for you. You don’t get the scholarships, you don’t get the pats on the head, the things that make you feel worthwhile as a human being and successful as a student.