Why I didn’t like art class at school (and am not so sure about it now)

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.

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6 Responses to Why I didn’t like art class at school (and am not so sure about it now)

  1. Wow–it is very interesting to get another person’s perspective of art classes. Very interesting. I know it is super hard–I still struggle with it constantly, but it is important to try to work past the perfectionist and allow for mistakes–it is cliche to say, but that is how you learn. Once I let myself be bad and make ugly art, I learn what works and what doesn’t and then I can apply those techniques to make something quality later on. I wish you all the best in trying to find fun and make the most of your art class.:)

  2. Thanks, you are channelling Julia Cameron there! I really appreciate her emphasis on making bad art.
    It’s interesting, the “throw in the deep end” sort of teaching works really well with me for writing, for example. In my writing group, we just get a prompt and go, in the knowledge that you’ll have to read out whatever you’ve written to everyone else in half an hour’s time! But in writing, I already have some technical vocabulary. In art, I know so little, I just feel utterly confused.
    The class is certainly helping me identify what I would like to learn next: I’m thinking maybe a photography class to work on composition and colour and light, and a beginner’s drawing class to learn the basics.

    • I know, right?! I realized that as I was posting it, that my response sounded very “artist’s way”. I know what you mean though, I am sort of the opposite, you can throw me in to art and I will go and go, but with other things, I need a lot more direction or I am just lost, and don’t even know where to start.

      • You’ve got me thinking about a few things there. I think I may have to do another post! I think we all have our own natural “languages” – mine are writing and maths – and then we have things we’ve become fluent at over time (I’d say dance and music – they come pretty automatically but they took many many years of work for that to happen). Then we have things that are totally foreign to us and we need to start from the baby babble stage!

  3. Pingback: My child self reflects on poetry | blurofwoodsmoke

  4. Pingback: I freaking love collage. Can I do collage every week? | blurofwoodsmoke

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