• Eric O'Dell

Journal Life: Opening Bell


In 1989, I started keeping a journal when I was a student at Mercer University. While on sabbatical in the fall of 2019, I put those journals in order (there’s over 50, mostly hardbound, 11 x 9 inches). They are full of lists, notes from classes, designs for t-shirts, thoughts about artwork, notes on books, art ideas- there’s bad poetry, memories of important events, and even dreams I recalled the morning after. The image is from the first journal, first page, featuring some notes from a stagecraft class. I was a work-study tech in Mercer’s Theater, and my boss was the instructor, the amazing and now retired Marian Zielinski. I dropped the class as a student, but persevered as a theater tech where I learned important practical and efficient skills that I still use in the studio. If you are an art student, you should seriously consider this theater experience, it is invaluable (and be tougher than me, do not drop the class).

Revisiting my journals has helped me connect some dots. Three years after this entry, I found this from my first week or two as a very young, very naïve MFA studio art student at Florida State University:

12:00 EST, Midnight- Night that Hurricane Andrew hits Louisiana- I am or have been watching Ted Koppel. The days, the early days at Florida State, have been frustrating. I have studio space, supplies, a little time- NO SUBJECT. I have been trying to dredge up vision- The desire is there, it is now a necessary frustration- A handful of ideas that are driving me insane-

(August 1992)

This may seem disconnected, it’s not. Though spending my first semester of grad school in a furious flailing with a headful of distractions, there was grace- Trevor Bell. A world-class painter (for real), he ran the program. In front of his work I was dumbstruck, in his studio inspired, and in his presence utterly exposed. You could not hide from him, he could see you and the work, as one. And that fall, most critical for me, he was patient.

Early in the second semester, I wrote this:

January 25, [1993] 7:45pm

After the crit with Trevor…

He’s good, damn good. The first person who ever told me it is time to stand and deliver.

Trevor told me sink my teeth in. He used the imagery of a stage- the canvas- and a simple table, maybe a chair- what would I bring to the scene? What would personally knock me out? I’m staring at a house-lit stage and I am the prop-man. No, I am the actor, writer, director, producer, light[ing], scenery, the whole show. Welcome to the big time. We’re just a garage band, what would I bring…

Go through the subject- through the subject…

Art is tough, we tend to be hard on ourselves and easily distracted. My mind can be like a lint trap on a forever spinning dryer. I think Trevor knew this in general, and let me work my way through it in specific. A stage.. get up on it, stand-up on it, deliver. I needed that stark, simple placement. Being on stage is not a vicarious thing, you have to inhabit that space, be in it. It was not droppable, and soon after this critique I could feel my teeth engaging. More on that later.

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