Although she was not directly a co-author or editor of any written work that I was involved in, my high school art teacher Dorothy Ives taught me how to position images in relation to one another, and edit any creative work for its holistic balance and originality.
She banned fashionable cliches from her classroom at William A. Wirt School in the Indiana Dunes, and told her students never to buy any photographically or digitally reproduced art (for it wasn’t by her definition “art”), but only original works.
But she also took me through one of the most rigorous scientific investigations I’ve ever been engaged in, one I devote an entire chapter to in my little book Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, Milkweed Editions.
When I told her I wanted to quit her art class because I found out I was color-blind and therefore could not paint anything that any color-normal person would care to see, she angrily replied, “What idiot told you that color-blind persons cannot be great artists? Stay in my class, and for the rest of the semester, “We will find out what your personal color wheel is, and how that can help you paint unique artworks.”
Less than a week later, she arrived in class with 14 technical books on loan from Indiana University about the science of color-blindness. We co-designed different experiments so that I could get over using the word “red” for something different that I saw compared to my color-normal peers.
“All you have really, is a linguistic problem to overcome; what you call red, is not what others call red.. But now, that alone will never stop you from being an original artist, it will help you.”
I swear, if every person who was ever told they were disabled in some way had the gift of a teacher like Dorothy Ives, there would be tens of thousands more greatest artists and scientists in our society, because they would have come to trust we they uniquely see in the world, not what is considered “the norm.”
In the years after Dorothy retired from teaching high school art, I would still visit her as a friend. She became an honored guest curator of the textile collections at the Chicago Art Institute, and was internationally known for her uncannily accurate restorations of the fibers and colors in historic classic weavings from the Middle East.
As her students learned, she fiercely believed that the art of seeing mattered to the quality of our entire lives. Bless Dorothy.