I wish I’d paid more attention to Professor Vincent Hartgen’s lectures in art history class at the University of Maine.

Actually, it wasn’t that I was daydreaming; it’s just that it was an early morning class and I’m not a morning person. And I didn’t really see how early architecture and various painting styles would affect my life.

Certainly Professor Hartgen was knowledgeable, entertaining and passionate about his subject. In fact, one day I remember his jumping up on a desk and striking a pose. He was well known for his antics.

At college I’d go with my friends to campus art show openings. Walking around, I’d feel sophisticated and worldly, I guess as much as you can feel at 20.

After the Portland Art Museum was built, I started going to exhibits again. Walking around, I think to myself, “That’s pretty,” or “I like those pastels,” or “What on earth is that supposed to be?” I wish I could intelligently name which artists were Impressionists, pre-Raphaelites, Modernists. Instead I just focus on those pictures I like or those signed by an artist’s name I recognize.

Invariably behind me, it always seems, is an artsy couple discussing light, perspective, shade or interpretation in an intellectual manner.

At a gathering, wouldn’t it be nice to discuss the latest art exhibit instead of the latest sports scores? But then again, who would I discuss it with? Most of my friends are like me about art.

This April I went up to Rockland to The Farnsworth to see an exhibit, one of Victorian accessories and dress. Saying you’re been there hints of culture and class, both of which I’d like to have more of. Briefly I walked around a Wyeth exhibit. I wish I could differentiate between an N.C., Andrew and Jamie on my own.

Recently my friend Susan and I went on a vacation to Savannah, a city known for its diverse architectural styles. We took a few walking tours, and guides would point out “a Federal” or “a Greek Revival” house. We toured St. John the Baptist Cathedral and the Congregation Mickve Israel Synagogue. Looking up at those buildings, I could almost hear Professor Hartgen’s voice elaborating on spires and columns.

In the classroom, in a helpful mood, I sometimes suggest to my students that taking an art history class might be of benefit to them. When I look up to see some disenchanted expressions on their faces, I quickly move on.

Of course, that’s not to say I haven’t seen those same looks in my English class. Maybe they’ll take my suggestion, for now I have to educate myself.

I could check out the latest exhibits at the museum or maybe take out a book on art styles and study it. Maybe I’ll walk around Portland and look at old buildings to try to determine their styles.

Or I can take my own advice. I might try sitting in art history class again, a middle-aged — but more attentive — student this time.


– Special to the Telegram