October 25, 2011

Dr. Terry Clark: A Memory in the Arts I Can't Forget

The Alamo by Terry Clark
by Terry Clark

I can’t remember not being around art.

Old black and white photos picture me sitting at a table, pencil or paint brush in hand. I got in trouble in school for not drawing in the lines, and for drawing U-boats and WWII fighter planes when I should have been taking notes.

I could draw, but I was not “an artist.”

That was Dad, a one-legged survivor of jumping a freight train, who made his living as a draftsman and devoted his life to drawing precise portraits of people and painting vibrant oil landscapes. Dad was the artist—he could draw before he could walk in dirt poor Comanche, Oklahoma. He just could not NOT draw or paint, and that’s my definition of an artist.

I had a small portion of his talent and was simply trying to do what I saw my Dad do almost every day. But that didn’t make me an “artist.”

But art is infectious. I believe all those years of watching him work, of being around framed art and sketches on every wall infused me with more than talent. I think it taught me to see, to see beauty and learn composition. It influenced my work as a photographer, and helped me over the years become a pretty good journalist and teacher—I liked to think that I painted pictures with words.

But that didn’t make me an “artist.”

Then about 10 years ago, I began taking watercolor lessons, and found therapy for my type-AAA, first born personality. I didn’t know then most people call it the most difficult of art mediums, but being able to draw helped me survive. And since my Dad had done very few watercolors, I wasn’t competing with him, the artist. I was learning humility and patience and more.

Since then, thanks to good teachers and a lot of work and mistakes, I’ve exhibited and sold paintings in Santa Fe and Oklahoma City, but I still didn’t think of myself as an “artist.”

After all, it is just therapy, a diversion, something I do instead of work, and compared to some of my teachers and my Dad’s work, still not up to the quality I grew up around.

Then one day in San Antonio, I went down to the Alamo, wanting to try to paint it. There was no place to sit, so I plopped down on the ground, unpacked a small try of watercolors, a pad of paper, a couple of brushes, and a bottle of water.

It was a warm, sunshiny day and the crowds were coming and going. You don’t have much time to paint watercolors, so I sketched a brief outline and began work.

I was almost done when a line of chattering grade school children came by with their teacher. Two or three of the little ones gathered around to see what I was doing.

“Oh look,” said one, “an artist.”

That painting now proudly hangs in the home of a favorite cousin in East Texas. On every wall of our house--in addition to photographs and some of my Dad’s paintings--hang Clark watercolors.


Dr. Terry M. Clark is director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and professor of journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma where he was journalism chairman for 19 years. He teaches writing, editing, photography and blogging courses.

Clark has 20 years experience with newspapers, including owning the award-winning Waurika News-Democrat from 1974 to 1986. As a free-lance journalist, Clark’s journalism has been published in Persimmon Hill, Oklahoma Today, Editor and Publisher, the Oklahoma Publisher, the Oklahoma Observer and Publishers Auxiliary. He writes a monthly column “Clark’s Critique” for the Oklahoma Press Association Oklahoma Publisher and conducts workshops for Oklahoma professional journalists and writers. His radio show, Coffee with Clark, on KCSC-FM, morphed into his blog, Coffee with Clark, which won the state best writing award. He has won numerous statewide awards in writing, photography and editing. His research interests focus on community journalism and his hobbies include watercolor landscape painting.

A member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, and 2011 recipient of the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award, Clark earned a doctorate degree in mass communication from Oklahoma State University, a Master of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Iowa, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Central Oklahoma.

His watercolor paintings—featuring landscapes from the Southwest and Great Plains--are exhibited in Adelante! Gallery in Paseo. His blog also features photography and his artwork: http://clarkcoffee.blogspot.com