Sunday, January 30, 2011

Artistic Failures

It all started with the sequence packets. In second grade we had to do these exercises called "sequence packets". By doing these sequence packets, we were supposed to demonstrate that we understood cause and effect and how to sequence a series of events. The packets contained such questions as "Does spring come before or after winter?". My answer: both. Teacher's answer "You're wrong". This was one of the first times that "grown up" Dana emerged; defiant, arrogant and correct. I got in a fight with my teacher about this, and I found the whole event rather upsetting. So suffice it to say, I hated the sequence packets.

One day, during sequence packet time, we had to draw a picture in one of a series of boxes, illustrating "what happens next". I don't remember the sequence, but I do remember the anger I felt at being forced to do such a stupid assignment. I finished my drawing quickly and efficiently, illustrating a couple people. I lacked artistic skills, but my stick people, I felt did the job. It showed that I understood what happens next, which was, after all the point of the assignment.

The teacher saw it differently.

She looked at my drawing and told me I needed to go back and redraw it.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you're not done. See, these people don't even have hands or feet!"

"They don't need hands or feed" I said, logically. "They're not real".

"You need to go back to your desk and finish your drawing."

I could see that she was beyond reasoning, so I went back to my desk, shaking with anger, and tried to draw hands and feet with crayons, which you know, went well. I still to this day don't understand how you can draw hands or feet with crayons. No matter what, they end up looking like blobs, and not like hands or feet at all. And if we're going for realism, it was probably better for me to leave them off, honestly.

This incident started a hatred of art in my angry little girl heart. I began to associate it with nitpicky, hateful witches who couldn't see the forest through the trees. Drawing was the realm of the detail oriented and excessively rule bound; the kind of people who missed the point entirely and got hung up on things that didn't matter.

This frame of mind was only enhanced by an art project I was forced to endure in 3rd grade. In November we were coerced into making "Thanksgiving turkeys" in the most tedious and horrifying way possible. We made outlines of a turkey on a piece of white paper. AND THEN WE HAD TO FILL IN THE ENTIRE THING WITH LITTLE TINY SCRAPS OF CREPE PAPER. We were given massive amounts of multi colored crepe paper squares, which we were to wrap around the end of a pencil, making a little cup shape, and then we had to glue each little square to the paper. The ending result was supposed to be some kind of monstrous multicolored squishy paper turkey. I saw the finished project and thought it was really tacky, and not like something I wanted in my house. Plus we had turkeys on the farm, and I saw nothing particularly interesting or beautiful about them. Why turkeys? I had a bad attitude about the project. So I half-assed it.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to make a turkey out of tiny cup shaped crepe paper squares? Months. That's how long. It is tedious mind numbing work and the teacher who forced us to do it should probably be punished. I'm not going to say it was sweatshop labor. That's for the suits in Washington to decide. I'm just saying you know. There were similarities. When I finally finished, I beheld the disgustingly ugly partial birth abortion that was my hideous turkey and I nearly cried. All that work. All that suffering. For this.

For this.

My hatred of art grew and grew. Until one day, in the sixth grade, I went to a yard sale with my friend and her dad. I found there a large package of magazines titled "Art and Antiques". I began flipping through them, just curious.

And it blew my mind.

THIS was art? What were they making me do in school?

My eyes devoured each page, looking at gleaming white sculptures, disturbingly dark paintings, architecture so light and airy it made me feel like crying with delight. I could see that someone paid over $200,000 for an armoire at Southeby's. What was an armoire? I had to know. I had to know more! I begged my friend's dad to buy me the magazines, which he did, for 25 cents.

When I got home I holed myself up in my room with my treasure, absorbing not just the art, but the LIFESTYLE associated with it. Looking at the people featured in them, I just knew they had never, ever got into a fight over a pizza crust as I had recently done. Their clothes were elegant, their homes beautiful and refined. They attended charity auctions. They discussed "pieces". They found precious antiques while shopping for vintage clothing in atelier shops in Paris. I looked around at my clothes. My house. My life. And suddenly I felt an utter self loathing. I hated my life, my self. I was trash.

After moping around for a few days I decided that rather than mope, I would simply have to remedy the situation. But how? I couldn't afford any of the art and antiques in the magazine, and even if I could, I didn't live anywhere where you could buy anything like that. So. I would have to make my own art.

I asked my dad for paints, which made him angry, since that was far, far beyond our means. So I got my sad little stack of notebook paper and found some red, blue and yellow paints from an old toy in the closet. The paints were crappy and old, but I figured I could mix them together to make all kinds of colors and shades. I'd seen Bob Ross mix paints, and I felt I pretty much understood the technique. I gathered my notebook paper and my red, blue and yellow paints and went down to the creek to try my hand at nature painting. After an hour and several truly heinous paintings I stalked back up to the house, in tears, hating myself even more than I had. I was a failure.

I got the magazines out again. I needed to study them, I decided. Which yielded some interesting results. I discovered that great art doesn't require great technique; it requires great IDEAS. And I, after all, was an idea person. And thus I decided, I didn't want to be a Monet; I hated landscapes anyway! I was going to be a modern artist. I found some old pairs of shoes with holes in them and nailed them to my walls, to look like a ghost was walking up my walls (at least I thought so). I found some paper cups and covered them in wrapping paper. I suspended these from the ceiling, using different lengths of yarn. I cut out all my favorite pictures from the magazines and made collages that covered my closet doors. I bent coat hangers into interesting shapes and taped them to things. ART. I was an artist.

But when I was finally done, I realized that my room didn't look elegant. It didn't look like the inside of a museum. It just looked like a crazy person lived there. I gave up.

But then, as a high school senior, I took my very first ever trip to an art museum. The Seattle Art Museum to be exact. And suddenly I was in sixth grade again, feeling like an inadequate hick, and wanting so desperately to be better and do better. I decided then and there to major in art history when I went to college, which I did. I knew I was no artist, but I wanted this. I wanted this to be my life. I wanted to be one of the elegant, refined women in Art and Antiques who "acquired pieces".

But what I hadn't bargained on was the fact that art history majors have to take art classes too. My drawing class was horrible. Surrounded by truly talented drawers, I felt like the worst kind of class dunce. I didn't belong there. I sucked. Plus I was too tense to even make much of an effort. Was I supposed to draw the model's back acne? Because that was all I could focus on. No one else was drawing the acne. Was I a horrible person? Will the male model get angry if I draw his penis as small as it appears? Should I "enhance" it to make him feel better? Or would that be too obvious?

However, my final art class was a sculpture class. This I enjoyed, though I sucked at it. Our first assignment was to make an "imaginary friend" out of cardboard. My imaginary friend was awesome. I make a winged swing. It was a regular swing, but the ropes were attached to a smiling set of wings. Because wouldn't that be the coolest friend ever? Almost as good as a magic carpet.

My final project was to make a sculture from plaster of Paris. We were supposed to juxtapose two objects together, which did not belong together. I made a coffee mug, but instead of a handle, it had an electrical outlet. It was dangerous. Those things should never be put together. I still have it actually. It's the only piece of art I've ever done that I liked.

Of course, when I graduated I couldn't get a job in the art world, and wound up in finance of all things, working in the least creative, least elegant, most bland environment you can imagine. It's funny how things work out.

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