David Byrne: How Did He Get Here?

1r38p20cWhile in NYC last week — a slight cultural change from Alaska — I was pleased to spot David Byrne at a Chelsea restaurant. And since he’s one of my alltime favorite artists, I nobly resisted the urge to get an autograph and instead checked out Byrne’s blog. It’s delightfully random — including his musings on Costa Rican snorkeling to food reviews to reports from his concerts–and along the way, we get insight into how Byrne built his own considerable talents. Here’s one where he talks about his artistic ignition.  

So, was art good for me? It got me out of gym class, that’s for sure. Working on these detailed and obsessive pictures took a lot of time, and the high school art teacher kindly sent a slip excusing me from gym. I made a bunch more of these pictures, and at some point they were “exhibited” in a display case in the school hallway. Probably due to their resemblance to record covers, they were deemed OK and even hip by some of the students, and I was cool for a day — which was pretty great for someone as shy as I, who managed to make this, and later music, a way to be in the world. So in this sense, art was certainly “good” for me at the time.

It’s a classic story of the artist as a young person– the shy kid who finds fulfillment through detailed, obsessive, time-consuming art. What I take away is a better appreciation of the unsung hero, the kind art teacher who broke the rules so shy David could paint. Without that sharp-eyed person — completely anonymous, their name apparently lost to history — would David Byrne have become David Byrne?