I don’t know at what age I began to look at the comic strips, the funnies so-called. I think my first coherent artistic ambition was to become a cartoonist. It was also the era in which the early Disney films were coming out—the animated shorts plus Snow White. Snow White came out, I think, in 1937, when I was five.
Anyway, all this imagery—these bouncy creatures, irrepressible little animations without any of the Depression worries that filled my household—all this seemed to offer real escape from my life into a better world.
My mother—she was another only child, raised on a farm—had artistic ambitions, literary ones. The local public schools offered art instruction in those days; there was no question of art not being one of the subjects you were taught. Depression or not, school budgets kept it in the curriculum. Not like now.
In addition to that, we happened to live across the street from the only artist in Shillington, a man called Clint Shilling; he was descended from the Shilling who created the town. At my mother’s request, Clint gave me some lessons when I was about eleven or twelve. All this was instructive.
It was instructive to try to look at something in terms of line and color. I remember one lesson—and I’ve written about this, and I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already put in print—where Clint put an egg in the sun on a piece of white paper and said to paint what I was seeing.
What he could see was a little rainbow at the edge of the shadow of the egg, which I couldn’t see until he pointed it out. That art lesson has stuck with me maybe more than any I’ve had since. The rainbow at the edge of the shadow of the egg. You can find it in a poem of mine called "Midpoint."
March 20, 2009
The Rainbow at the Edge of the Shadow of the Egg
From an interview at neh.gov, Updike talks about his early ambition to be a visual artist.