The Art School Dance – A Memoir, by John Froy
“Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards” (Kierkegaard).
In John Froy’s evocative memoir of his art school years, we do not have the luxury of “understanding backwards”. Reconstructed from old diaries and letters, and written in the present tense, we endure with him the lostness, the self-mistrust, the confusion of those painful years between the ages of 18 and 22. We ‘look over his shoulder’, as it were, and ponder the hand that life has dealt him, with all its complications and compensations. Complications: divorced parents – two homes – stepfamilies – a mother whose struggles with alcohol and depression find strong echoes in John himself. Compensations: a deep love of nature (particularly the landscape of his beloved summer home, Colham) – gardening – birdwatching – and the unsung heroes who help him through those early difficult years – his rock-like, kindly step-father Frank, who ensures stability and routine even when family relationships become chaotic and terrifying, and his tutor/counsellor at Falmouth School of Art, Lionel, with the twinkling eyes, who encourages him to look deep into “the wellspring” – his childhood, and write down his daily and past-remembered experience.
The memoir is also a chronicle of the times, with their brand new freedom to hitch-hike around Europe, throw oneself into sexual relationships, sample mood-altering drugs … the reader who also lived through the 60s and 70s is drawn to compare his or her own experience. And to compare it with the present, also: what would today’s teenagers make of the books John surrounds himself with, and the hours and hours he spends on his art, looking intently and with deep seriousness at what is before him, and trying to record it?
Here is a rare opportunity to absorb oneself for a while in another person’s inner and outer life – in this case, that of the art student John Froy, as, in fear and trembling, he finds his way towards his future self – the adult he will become.