Painting the Pandemic

October 29, 2020
Grady Trexler

As a first-year student going into college during a global pandemic, I wasn’t sure what to expect when it was time to choose classes. There were seemingly infinite options: comparative literature, philosophy, math, science, gender studies, anthropology, all of them interesting. Having no college experience, it was hard to choose. 

One kind of class that I knew I wanted to take was a freshman seminar. These classes are small (10 to 15 students) and focus on a particular topic for close study. I applied for and got selected to take part in FRS 173, the First Year Painting Seminar. Instead of learning how to paint, we would be looking at the mechanics of painting: colors, textures, shapes and supports.

I had never painted before, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to learn a new skill, and express myself through a new medium, one which I was very uncomfortable with but very interested in. I also thought it would be cool to get into an art studio at Princeton, because otherwise, I doubted that I would ever see the inside of an artist’s working space.

Once it was announced that Princeton would be going fully virtual, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But soon enough, some packages began arriving at my door. My entryway became filled with boxes and boxes of art supplies: canvas, paints, brushes, mixes tools, gesso and  watercolor paper. The class was still going to be taught, albeit on a virtual basis, and I’d certainly get to paint  even if my classmates only saw me via Zoom.

We’re now about halfway through the semester, and my weekly three-hour painting seminar is the highlight of almost every week. I was apprehensive about taking a visual arts class virtually, especially coming in with no experience, but it has been stress relieving and a valuable creative outlet for me. I entered the worlds of both painting and college as a newcomer at around the same time, and the two mesh very well. It’s been exciting and impactful to create with other first years, all of us together in our painterly endeavor, even if miles apart.

So far, we’ve painted ketchup bottles, sunflowers, tin foil, sketches from other artists. Will I become a great painter? Probably not. I’ve made my peace with this fact. But will I keep painting after the class is over? That seems pretty likely.