Art and Illustration in College

I spent a summer at Rhode Island School of Design studying painting and was accepted to their undergraduate program but enrolled instead at Princeton in fall 1984, as the letter below recalls.  

Freshman fall I hand-colored Audubon prints:

There was only a small community of studio artists at the university then, and we spent much time in the art building, which had not yet been refurbished.  This was 30 years before the university's much-heralded push for "more green-haired students," artists included, and the construction of a huge Arts Campus.

My own juvenile artwork varied between representationalism, which the painting faculty (Greenbergian modernists all) regarded as mere "illustration," and attempts at emulating the Surrealism I was studying in art history courses.   


I filled many notebooks with drawings of nature, compiled on long walks through the fields and forests that one could reach from campus.  Close studies of old trees owed something to Andrew Wyeth, whom at 18 I dared call my favorite painter--how my professor laughed at that, explaining that he was an illustrator.  Later I wrote about Wyeth in my book, "The Brandywine:  An Intimate Portrait."

I did a kind of scientific study of the forest south of campus, comparing its extent to nineteenth-century records and worrying that it was vanishing.  Years later the university administration awoke to ecology, and I was pleased that this study proved valuable in a 2015 historical analysis by professors there--a baseline for comparing today's conditions to those of 30 years ago.