I Failed Art Class
I was told in elementary school that I was probably not an artist.
No, my teacher didn’t explicitly say that. But the grades I got on art projects were always low. I remember creating a painting once about people who looked like mushrooms living in the woods. I thought it was interesting, and clearly it was since it’s memorable to me years later. The title was “Save the Mushrooms” and I’m not exactly sure why. I got a C-, and I can’t remember the reason for that either.
The way that art class worked was that the teacher would model some kind of artistic technique (paper mache, water colors, pastels, etc) and we would try and make some kind of art based on what she was doing. I’d try really hard, but my hands wouldn’t coordinate, or my paint would be too watery, or my paper mache wouldn’t stick or my toothpick structure would fall apart before I was even finished. I don’t know what my issue was exactly, but it was clear to me that I didn’t have much artistic talent.
What they didn’t teach us is what I had to learn later, which is that you can’t teach art.
That art is the result of intuition, inspiration, observation, and bravery. And you can’t teach those things. Just like learning how to sleep when you’re an infant, no one can actually teach you how to do these things; you can only try to create an environment where these types of habits flourish. And you can model them. So I didn’t learn much in her class. I still can’t draw to this day. And what I learned when I published my first book Closer to the Surface, which is a collection of poetry and paintings is that you don’t need to be a technical artist to produce art. You can just do it. You don’t need permission because permission destroys good art. Think about every monumental piece of art ever and the crowds of naysayers that had to be shunned in order for the artist to change the world.
But there was one thing I learned from art class.
When my report came home, it always said something along the lines of how I was still struggling to produce art that made sense with whatever confines she had given the class, but that I was “very helpful.”
And helpful I was.
It was the only lesson from art class that I took with me, and it was a simple one: how to clean up small bits of things. I use this skill anytime something shatters, or any time there are so many small pieces that it’s hard to pick up by hand and there’s no vacuum nearby.
You roll a piece of sticky tape around your fingers, so it’s in a loop and the sticky part is on the outside… and then you press your fingers with the tape wrapped around it down into the mess. The little pieces will stick to the tape, and you can replace the tape when its full.
It’s saved my neck many times. The lesson I learned is that you can’t teach art. You can only teach a process, but the process isn’t the point. I’m not an artist because I connected the dots or picked up tiny pieces off the floor with tape.
I’m an artist because I decide that I am.