When I was four years old, I told everyone that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I loved art. I have vivid memories of going to art museums when I was little. And I was even thrilled by the exhibits of local high school students displayed at our local mall.
But somewhere along the way, I began to shift my way out of wanting to be an artist to other creative careers. Maybe it was the whole “starving artist” that scared me. For years, I wanted to go into advertising. This week when David told us about meeting Tom Hanks at Paper Source, I considered that he probably never gets the following comment from fans. “I decided that I wanted to go into advertising after I saw “The Man with One Red Shoe” at the movies with my grandma.” Good thing I wasn’t there. It might have really thrown him for a loop.
I remember taking art classes in elementary school. One summer, there was a drawing class at the library. I took it with my cousins and I remember the teacher adding shading on a candle that did not thrill me. I took art very seriously. So seriously that somehow I managed to throw up every year that we had pottery day at Five Yesterdays in Old Salem. I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not. Was I just nervous? Four summers in a row, only on pottery day, I threw up. One year in front of the entire summer group of all 100 kids. How awful.
In our school system, you had to take band or art. You signed up for band your final year of elementary school, which was the sixth grade. If you took art, you rotated through a series of other classes like shop, typing, home economics, etc. But as my father put it, the kids who were on the college track took band. So there I pounded away on the percussive instruments in the back of the band room for five years. It was fine. I guess that I liked it. But I never loved it enough to spend countless hours practicing or studying other famous drummers. And I never threw up before a band concert.
My senior year of college, I had a huge argument with my dad and I signed up for art after quitting band. We went to Disney World my eleventh grade year and that was the big incentive to stay in the band. I really wish that I had a more sophisticated story – but this was it. I signed up for the basic art class, which I loved. I did not create any spell-binding pieces as a result of the class. But I loved it nonetheless.
When I went to UNC for undergrad, my very first class was an Intro to 2D Art, which is basically drawing in black and white. I am not a very black and white person. I like big, bright colors. I know that you are supposed to start with the basics, but I was intimidated. And that was before the professor went into “Despite what you make think, this is not an easy class” lecture. After about 20 minutes of how he was probably going to give all of us a C, I decided that I had to drop this class. I had never made a C before. I just remember him saying, “I am average in basketball. So I would get a C in basketball.” I am not sure why that analogy burned itself in my memory. But it scared me. I even remember the walk home. Why didn’t I at least wait until I went to my other five classes before I dropped it?
Unfortunately, I became pretty comfortable with getting a C. I didn’t make all C’s, but they were probably more frequent than my A’s. When I finally decided that I needed to give art another try, I made an A. Then my spring semester I made an A-, even though I was in a pretty rigorous class along with an Honors Art student. I know that I was not necessarily graded in comparison to this student, but it was a real eye opener for me.
So not attending art school or majoring in art is my great regret. All of those stupid pre-business classes were a total waste of time. I even went to graduate school with the hopes of taking art and design classes, but I only ended up studying artists. All of the studio classes were in the middle of the day and too long for someone who was also working full-time. I ended up writing an academic paper on why art and creativity are important to life-long learning, along with a book about six artists and how they became artists. I essentially spent four years figuring out how people became artists and explaining why it was inevitable. In my final presentation, it was couched as a young adult book. But this was a book for me. I wanted to know how these people became great artists by simply following a thread that began in their childhood, just like me.
This summer I overindulged in business books from the library and totally burned myself out. By the time we left for vacation, I was completely craving art. I didn’t want to work on another web page or think of another paper project or come up with a plan for another subscriber or more press coverage. I was done. It was almost like last year when I just wanted to write and filled three notebooks in six weeks.
While on vacation, we went to Pearl Paint in NYC’s Chinatown and I stocked up on pencil leads for my big fat pencil. I had to have one after I saw Richard Serra using something similar in a sketch book. When I went in the five story building, I climbed the stairs and went from room to room looking for what might work. I wanted a waxy crayon insert and I didn’t know what to call it. Then in one room, this woman pulled out a stack from behind the counter. She called them magical. It was almost like I had found some secret potion.
We left and went to a super cute coffee shop around the corner. I had to immediately open my leads to make sure they fit in my pencil. I felt a bit like Henry when he buys a new pair of sneakers and loses some little piece of decorative plastic in the parking lot. Perfect. This is just what I wanted and now I had at least enough to survive me well through my thirties.
So one morning on my walk, I promised to devote more time to making art. I think that I have wanted to be everything that skirts around being an artist, except an artist. And I don’t know why. This weekend I finally went to my first event as an artist. Someone asked me if I was looking for places to show my work. I don’t know if I am ready for that. But when another followed up with an email to say that I didn’t have much art on my web site, I promptly put up some pictures of items I have been working on this fall. (Well actually, not all of these are from this fall.)
Since September, I have been taking both acrylics and Chinese Brush Painting here in my neighborhood. That is at least five hours a week I have devoted to painting. I sat down to make a schedule of practicing my CBP at home another 15 hours. So far that hasn’t happened. Although I have checked out a ton of books from the library to continue practicing my Chinese Brush Painting and Sumi-e, which is a direct descendant of Chinese Brush Painting.
Every artist started from somewhere. I think that the following comment sunk in when Dana, my acrylics teacher, told another student, “Your work would drastically improve, too, if you worked on it every day for six years.” Wow. So now it is time for me to get to work.