I am a charter member in the Jamie Franki Fan Club. Jamie is an artist of whom you’ve probably never heard, and yet there is a very good chance you have a piece of his recent work. Turn out your pockets and gather up all your change. Do you have one of the new Jefferson 1800 nickels? Do you have one of the 2005 American Bison nickels? If you do, you have a Jamie Franki piece right in your hot little hand. Pretty neat, huh?
Jamie was on my short list of Very Cool People before his work earned a place on our country’s currency, and when that hard-earned, spotlight-winning success occurred it was wonderful to watch. Good things couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. In addition to being a terrific artist and professor of art, Jamie is, plain and simple, a good person. He’s ethical, funny, kind, and encourages the best in people. He also has good hair.
In Jamie’s Senior Seminar class, UNCC’s mandatory class where fledgling artbirds ready themselves to find their wings, Jamie regularly brought in a variety of working artists as guest speakers. As a student, the visiting artists’ cumulative success both encouraged me and discouraged me. There is a life in art! That’ll never be me! Listening to those artists speak, I also secretly hoped someday to be one of those working artists Jamie invited back to speak to his class. That would be a milestone in success; a mark of earning the respect of a man I admire as an artist and a person. I think I already had it at that point, but being asked back would further stroke my vanity.
Can I tell you how insanely awesome it was when Jamie invited me to speak to his class? Oh yes he did! Shut up, he did!
Visiting Jamie’s class on Monday night was a lot like being a rock star, but better, and it’s taken me a few days to chew on it. I hope, in answering the students’ and Jamie’s questions, that I was encouraging and gave the students something to think about. But I hadn’t expected that they would do the same for me.
Writing letters of wisdom to one’s young self is an idea which pops up frequently in self-help columns and on Oprah, but I’ve always felt that letters to our older, more frazzled and more compromised selves would hold just as much importance. Letters to the future, written in that moment when we know everything, when we see things less in shades of gray and more in black and white. There is a purity and a value to that young adult moment of passionate beliefs, and a shot of that purity when we’ve become weighted down by our adult compromises and muddied and muddled in our adult shades of gray might help us remember who we set out to be, and why.
As they commented and questioned, the students didn’t realize that their words served as a barometer and a compass to me, measuring where I am now, and reminding me of where I set out to go. Reflected in their idealistic young artists’ eyes, I realized I’m more passionate about my art, more driven to produce great work than I had really acknowledged. I love my materials. Love. Them. I love what I do and why I do it. When I spoke of working for over eighty hours on a custom piece for which I only charged $400, simply because I wasn’t stopping until I had it right, damn it? Jamie high-fived me: it was the right artistic move to make, even if it was a lousy business decision.
Was speaking to Jamie’s students a bit of a rush? Sure! But it unexpectedly served as a critique of me as an artist, and I really needed that. I’m right where I wanted to be, and that blows me away.
Thank you Jamie Franki and your UNCC Senior Seminar class for inviting me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.