Last night, I remembered why I didn’t like art class at school.
I was standing in my art class with a load of paints, a choice of pictures and a giant big wobbly easel, having just been given a pep-talk on Impressionism.
I had NO CLUE what I was doing. I’ve barely painted since poster-paint. In fact, other than last week’s art class (when we pretended the acrylics were watercolours) I’d never painted in acrylics. I had a decent idea of how to make green (how to make different greens was more mysterious) but greys and so on seemed an utter impossibility. The promised tutorial on colour theory had not materialised.
And I remembered. This WTF feeling (I wouldn’t have called it that at 13. I was very proper.) was exactly why I didn’t like art class at school. That thing of just being sat down (well, at my current art class, stood up) and told, “Draw!” “Paint!”
It’s a bit like being taken into a dance class in a new style, shown a dance for 5 minutes and then told to improvise.
I had thought that the reason I didn’t keep on with art at school was that I was too perfectionist. And I’m sure that that played into my feelings about art as a teenager. It was very difficult for me to accept that you’re never going to get a perfect flesh tone with poster-paint and just go with what I had. I didn’t like the idea that I could draw something that wasn’t in the picture or model or still-life that I was drawing from, or I could change it or distort it or leave it out. I was very uncomfortable with drawing anything out of my head (I still am).
I was excited to come back to art having somewhat addressed my perfectionism. I won’t say that it doesn’t come back to get me at times, but now I post first writing drafts on the internet knowing that they need work, every single week. I am the worst person in my pilates class and when I started knitting I was a bit of a disaster (I still have a remarkably ungainly purl). I take hundreds of photos with absolutely no technical skill whatsoever. I have learnt to enjoy things that I don’t do well.
I had just not accounted for the on-the-spotness of the art class. As a teenager, I was still interested in art after I gave up art classes. But I could circle round something. Get a book, try a couple of things out, do a sketch, abandon it, do another one, add some colour washes, not get the effect I wanted, go work on another piece of paper for a while, come back when it got better. And I ended up much more interested in calligraphy and Celtic knotwork, which, while artistic in themselves, are very different skills.
I did produce a half-done “Impressionist” painting last night. Here it is:
The lamp is floating in mid air because the ivy on the lamppost never got done. I floundered a lot in distinguishing greens from greens, background from foreground. I don’t think it was the right picture. I had a decent go, I guess.
But I’m not sure this teaching method works so well with me for art. Maybe I just need to have a go in my own house, a book in front of me, figuring it out. Just like when I was a teenager.