December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Dressing for imposters

By |2018-05-27T16:48:16+02:00May 25th, 2018|"American Girl"|
A buffet table can be a recipe for people whose only social currency is food.

fter six months, my Manhattan art class, “Drawing the Figure,” was coming to an end. Fellow students and I faced both trepidation and exhilaration as we attempted to sketch nude models onto blank sheets of paper. After months of work, our end-of-term concourse was at hand.

Our work would be on display in a local gallery. Wine and hors d’oeuvres would be served and our instructor would be available for casual conversation. I’d looked forward to the evening and made a special effort, dressed up, and came early.

When I got to the second floor gallery, I was thrilled to see my two drawings featured at the entrance. My classmates’ work hung nearby. It was exciting to see the range of expression and style around me.

My instructor Thomas approached me near the appetizer table and shook my hand. “Nice work,” he said, praising my progress since January.

I praised his teaching. “It makes all the difference,” I said.

After this short exchange I began mingling. Of the 15 or so people present I recognized only one, Ellen.

Asian and quiet, Ellen and I rarely spoke. Now, we toasted to our artistic journey. But where, I wondered, were rest of my classmates?

“I don’t recognize any of these people,” I told Ellen.

She didn’t either, guessing they might be students in another one of Thomas’ classes.

Could it really be that all these strangers were just scavengers off the street

Curiosity nagged at me. I stuck up a conversation with a casually dressed middle-aged man with wire-rimmed glasses parked by the array of chocolates on the buffet table.

I asked him if he was enjoying the show and whether he took classes from Thomas.

“No,” he replied casually. “I don’t take any classes here. I just came for the food “This” he now pointed at the table — “is some high-quality chocolate. You should try some.”

I was stunned. Showing no sign of embarrassment, he popped another chocolate truffle in his mouth.

At the same time, the word shamelessness popped into my head.

I gathered my thoughts. I told myself he must be a one-off. I’d try again.

I then approached a professionally dressed woman with smart glasses and a long necklace. I introduced myself and asked whether she knew an artist or the teacher.

“Oh no,” she replied nonchalantly. “I just came in to eat.” She then devoured a pancetta roll.

I was dumbfounded. Could it really be that all these strangers were just scavengers off the street?

I stood back and took in the scene from a new perspective. All was now clear. No one was paying the slightest attention to the art. The people were seagulls and the appetizer table a beach of potato chip leavings.

So much for the glamour of our big class concourse, I thought. I’d dressed for imposters. Finally, I’d had enough. I saw Thomas and waved goodbye, taking a final look at my drawings before heading for the door.

My feelings were mixed as I rode the subway home to Brooklyn. On the one hand I was proud. I also had bragging rights: My work had been displayed n a Manhattan gallery, something likely to impress my friends.

But shouldn’t I tell them the whole truth, the whole sad story?

I think not. If there’s one thing I learned from that night, it’s that imposters are plentiful. I don’t want to tempt fate.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.