ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And now we're going to hear from one of the superstar artists who's participating in the Turnaround Arts Initiative. Chuck Close is best known for large-scale portraits of faces. He did one of President Clinton where the president's face is constructed from a mosaic of different-colored fragments. Growing up in Oregon, Chuck Close struggled academically and he was grateful that some teachers let him learn through his artwork.
CHUCK CLOSE: In the 7th grade, I made a 20-foot long mural of the Lewis and Clark Trail while we were studying that in history because I knew I wasn't going to be able to spit back the names and the dates and all that stuff on a test. The interesting thing is, to make that mural, I had to do research. So I was, in essence, dealing with material but not in a way that school wanted me to.
So I got through life because most of my teachers were responsive to my efforts to do it my way instead of the traditional way. So while I'm busily getting Ds in everything, I was doing very well in art and music. And every kid, no matter how learning disabled or how many problems he or she has, deserves a chance to feel special and you have to have something that you can excel in.
And if you don't, you're going to drop out of school.
SIEGEL: That's artist Chuck Close, who's working with students at Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, Connecticut as part of the Turnaround Arts Initiative. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.