Monday, 10 November 2008

Match-stick Cats & Dogs

It’s week three of my 6 week Art Course (7 if you include the free session at the start). I’m standing at my easel with a piece of graphite in my hand and it’s all I can do to stop myself just putting it down and walking out.

Three weeks in and the best drawing I’ve managed so far looks like a cross between Gollum from Lord Of The Rings and a demented Jelly Baby. Art is something that I want so badly to be good at that it’s now actively stopping me from achieving.

I look at the piece of paper and The Cloud comes down a bit thicker. The truth is that The Cloud and I are old friends – as a rather unpleasant side-affect of a food allergy I am prone to periods of dark depression from which I find it hard to see a way out : I know that I am doing this to myself, but find it almost impossible to stop.

The start of this week’s class has been another stressful experience: I can’t seem to relax into things and the so-called warm-up exercises are only making things worse: you get three minutes to draw a figure without looking at the paper, or to draw without taking your pencil from the paper, or to shade in only the shadows. At the end of which MPL (Mad Penguin Lady – my loopy but lovely Dutch art teacher with a Penguin obsession) asks us to do a round of the room and “look at what everyone else has done” – I know before I even start that everyone else’s will look like one of Rembrandt’s cast-offs whilst mine will look like it was drawn by a five year old.

MPL is probably one of the best teachers I’ve had – she’s very encouraging and patient (both of which you need to be with someone like me who keeps asking the same question again and again until he’s absolutely sure he’s understood it in his own way), and knows when to back off…but she doesn’t understand.

When she comes over she talks about perspective: she says to relax and not to look at the whole – to break things down – here is the head, here is the foot, think of the body as like a triangle…I understand exactly what she means: but I just can’t find a way to see it for myself. Why am I measuring myself against everyone else she asks: I want to reply that it’s because my efforts are simply not good enough for my own happiness.

That’s when The Cloud is at it’s worst and I’m just standing there feeling like I just want to go home. On some unconscious level I guess I’m remembering the words of everyone in my life who’s never expected me to achieve at anything. My parents for starters: they’ve always treated me well, but were too busy being happy for me to be average as long as I was happy to notice that I was unhappy precisely because I was average and wanted so much more: my teachers (actual quote from my Art Teacher at school: “I’m not entering you for the exam because I can’t be bothered with the paperwork and you probably won’t pass”- after having not bothered to teach me anything) and people to this day (including myself if I’m really honest) who seem all too keen to give up on me.

What always gets to me the most is that I want so desperately to improve myself, but every step of the way I feel like I’m fighting to learn: like when I had to keep asking my maths teacher the same question again and again and again until I could put it into a context I could understand. I don’t know: maybe it’s their failings as teachers, maybe it’s true that the best time to teach someone something is when you’ve just learned it yourself – before you’ve forgotten that it takes effort and is not second nature?

And then…I don’t know…something seemed to change: some tiny part of me, a part that still has the guts to stand up and fight, must have kicked in. I’ve had another class since and still can’t tell you what’s changed but suddenly my pictures are looking…well…almost human anyway. True, the legs are still like tree-trunks and I haven’t attempted the face yet…but finally I’ve gone home with something I felt able to show to others.

The worry now is: what happens when I forget again? I have no idea what it is I’m seeing or doing differently, nor why these pictures have worked when the earlier ones haven’t? I guess I just have to learn to relax a bit more…

And, with The Cloud gone for the moment, I’m able to see the funny side again: so I take one of my pictures around and show my parents. My dad, who tries (bless him), looks at the picture from various angles and hands it back with his Best Supportive Expression: “Hmm” he says, “the eyes are quite far apart…”

Er…Dad…those aren’t the eyes…
...anyway - and for anyone still feeling depressed: the man once said: do I listen to rock n roll because I am depressed, or am I depressed because I listen to rock n roll?
Good music: enjoy: feel better


This Brazen Teacher said...

I really liked this post. Of course I teach Art- but I also liked the "realness" of it. You reminded me how my students are feeling. It can sometimes be easy to get frustrated when a kiddo just insists they're "dumb at Art"

An FYI: you'll "forget" again for sure. And probably "get it back" and "forget" a dozen more times before you start to realize that you're "getting it" for longer and longer. That's all I have to offer on the subject however- I think what makes rock is that the rest is just so damn mysterious ;-)

Cheers Pix!

This Brazen Teacher said...

"what makes ART rock..."

I can never get through a post without one typo... and who has time for proofreading...

Michael said...

This is a wise post. I was uncertain where it was going when you surprised me with day things got better for no good reason.

I go through the same process. Fall in the hole, crawl out, fall in the hole, crawl out. If only I could understand the ingrained habit that blinds me to the hole (and the whole) in the first place, then maybe I could step around and avoid it.

It's good to know I'm not the only one.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

TBT - thanks: it's good to have feedback from a teacher on this one! Art is one of those things that i've been passionate about for a while now, but it's only recently i've had the nerve to try it again.

Michael - i wasn't sure where it was going at first myself! The hole is indeed deep my friend - i wish i knew a way to avoid it: or at least had a handy ladder for when i fall!

Lydia said...

I'm proud of you for taking another course from MPL and for this honest expression of artistic angst. My younger sis is an accomplished artist, a natural talent, and so I never even tried. Isn't it great to have remarks/validation from an art teacher here?
Even in the midst of feeling depressed you still can be so hilarious by relaying the comment by your dad in the way you did! Also, I think your observations about your parents are really astute, very rich.
The rendition of "Suicide is Painless" was great, although I've felt differently about the song itself since the suicide of my cousin in the 1980s. He was only 27. Just look at all the fun he missed out on in the years since. It is fun, isn't it? No? Well, sometimes...

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - thanks. The irony of the MSP version of "suicide" is that shortly after recording it (rhytmn guitarist) Richey James vanished (presumed dead) and has not been seen since.

I posted the link because a) it's a great song and b) the irony of the fact that it was from a comedy show always got to me! But - yes - there is a part of me that always wonders at the sentiment.

It's difficult when someone else you know is mega-talented: sometimes its hard to remember that just because we have to struggle doesn't mean we can't excel also :)

pohanginapete said...

It's taken me a very long time to relax enough to realise creative endeavours aren't, in themselves, competitive. Very occasionally it still takes a conscious effort to remind myself of that, usually when I come across someone who's photographed the same subject as me but seems to have captured the quality and feel I couldn't manage in my photo. But then, I remind myself that the other photo isn't the same as mine, and that it enriches the world for its viewers.

I doubt any work of art can be perfect, nor will any be utterly without merit. Seeing what's good about an art work is a matter of choice (and practice). It shouldn't preclude recognising what might be improved, but making that choice — and applying to one's own work as well as that of others — is a wonderful antidote for envy and despair.

I assume that's your work at the top of the post? I find the colours fascinating because I'd never have thought to have used them for a person, yet the way you've used them works very well indeed. There's something beautifully relaxed about the pose and how you've portrayed it, too.

Honour said...

Ah, Pixie man. Maybe because you're being so honest about the learning process ... getting to the root of it all ... struggling with the cause instead of the process itself that helps you to finally enjoy the process. Who knows how or why the brain works the way it does? the more I delve into psychology, the more I realize there's a huge biochemical nature to it -- and whatever we do to make things "move" (art, writing, music) -- hell, acupuncture! -- just keep it moving. That's all you can do. The process will teach you. You just have to surrender to it.

( ha ha wise words from someone who has been in your situation many a time ...)

I honor your honesty and your struggle. It's what makes me happy to be in this good world of ours - gives me hope in other people -- and makes me glad I read your blog.

p.s. the art looks great!

raccoonlover1963 said...

I always hated taking art class in school. I knew I was no good at it and after all, why should I do something I'm no good at?! My younger son, Michael, however, is very good at drawing.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

pete - yes, the picture is the best one i've done on the course so far. It's not so much envy of others as my own personal desire to do something i'm pleased with - but yes, everyone's interpretation is valid.

Honour - thanks and good advice: i will keep in mind your words about surrendering to the process.

Lisa - don't put yourself down. Its a shame your art teacher didn't encourage your photography - because believe me you have a natural eye for an artisit image.

Buddha said...

The creative process is very complex and to be quite honest I have no idea how it works. I have to be in a good mood to be creative and I have to be creative in order to be in a good mood. So sometimes I'm on a roll sometime it feels like pulling teeth.
Is it going to get better? I don't know. I guess we all have to be less critical of our work and just try to have fun with it.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Bhudda - maybe Paula Abdul was right: two steps forward, one step back and all that!

Confidence slumped again last night as i just wasn't able to get things how i wanted - to the point where i came home really depressed.

However, this morning looking back i know (somewhere down beneath the doubts) that it's just another step to climb

Anonymous said...


I think I've said this before, but my experience in school was quite the opposite. My teachers were very was the other kids who outcasted me and critiqued things of mine (actually, it was just my clothes).

But anyway, I think you have to take your conscious mind out of it. What goes into perfecting things is also technique and habits. Try perfecting small curves or straight lines or a head or legs or whatever.

As long as you keep comparing yourself to other great artists, of course you are going to look at your own work and feel bad. But you must remember that they also started at the same stage you did. They weren't just born great. Those things take practice and training.

And can depression really be a form of food allergy?

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samuria - i know what you mean about relaxing the conscious mind. Someone's recommended a book to me called Drawing With The Right Side Of The Brain which is designed to do just that.

And yes - a food allergy can cause depression. I'm not sure of the science involved, but my basic understanding is that because i don't get certain types of food my body is therefore lacking in those elements. Another fun side of the allergy is i'm more suceptible to flu and stomach cancer