Growing up art, math, and music were three of my least favorite classes. One teacher in particular hated me, and I can still remember sitting in her class being close to tears because I had no idea how to go about starting a still life project of my own based on the fruit and whatever else she had assembled before class. I avoided art for many years and wrote it off as one of those things I'm just not good at, justifying that by telling myself that I could be an appreciator rather than a creator. When I was hospitalized; I was one of the fortunate people who was allowed to leave the unit for short periods of time. There were two men with the same name, and both contributed to the reintroduction of art into my life. When my children were younger I worked in our after school program, and rather than have the students do silly crafts that were more assembling pre-cut pieces than anything involoving the creative process, I would pull out the scrap bin and other art supplies, and try to have them come up with a project that was uniquely their own. One day I found some small plastic horses; and after our snack, I told the children that the horses needed an environment to live, and it was their job to come up with what they felt that the horses might like, want, and need.
While some of the students had very traditional ideas regarding stables and barns, some were willing to think beyond that. One boy in particular stands out in my mind. I felt like he wasn't really into the project and seemed kind of bored by it. Admittedly I hadn't put a ton of thought into it either, I went over and asked him about it, and he told me that the horses were running across a desert. We put the horses on top of his sheet of construction paper, and what hadn't seemed like much without the horses suddenly came to life. I took my oldest to an art therapist for a while, those were troublesome times in our household, and it makes me sad to think that so much heartache and hurt could have been avoided, but I had no way of knowing that back then. You can't give what you don't have, there is no way to transfer unknown knowledge to another except by accident. The psychiatric facility was healing and therapeutic in more ways than one. Our art instructor gave me a book and I wish I had hung onto it rather than passing it along to someone else. Perhaps one day I will lose that fear that hanging onto something will come back to injure me later, but for now, I still have it, and at least now I am more aware of it.
The other day I was at work when one of the guys who works in the shop came up to me and asked what he had to do to get a painting. I have no idea how many I have done or given away. Another guy at work wasn't thrilled with the piece I had done for him so I attempted to do something that was closer to what he wanted, and these two encounters taught me some lessons. The first is that for me, art is an intuitive process. I rarely sit down with anything other than a vague idea. Instead I pick out colors I like, or that remind me of someone, and really try to hone in on what I know or believe to be true about them. The process is rarely pretty, and one of my challenges is knowing when to stop, and knowing when something is working, and to stay with it rather than abandoning it for another direction. It helps to have feedback, even when what others are saying hurts my feelings. Initially I was a very careful person. I taped out geometric patterns and tried hard to paint inside of the lines. That didn't work well for me, and I've found that squeezing several colors out, blending a couple, and loading up my brush gives me variations that I wouldn't get from a solid color.
Art, to me, is about letting the rational brain rest and allowing myself to play around with paint while I 'think' through how I feel about a particular person's energy and the impact that they have on others. I dabbled for a while, then I had a life altering experience that I doubt anyone could have predicted. The concept of 'muse' has always seemed strange to me; but I have a better idea of what some might mean when they say that they were inspired by another. A necklace of mine broke years ago; I hate asking for help, but a friend of mine assured me that someone in the shop would help me, so I set my pride aside and I'm so glad that I did. The entire exchange probably lasted about four minutes, less than that perhaps, but it feels burned into my brain and scorched onto my soul. At the time I wasn't thinking about art at all. Then that weekend I was telling a friend that I was in a funk, and she suggested going to a coffee shop. I detest the smell, do not drink it, and thought this was well intentioned, but terrible advice. Without really thinking about anything, I was staring at the floor while I was standing in my kitchen, and I noticed the pattern on the mats in front of my stove and sink. I took several pictures, grabbed my things, and headed to the art studio.
Somewhere along the way I lost my nerve, and decided to do a painting for the woman who had suggested I get the necklace fixed in the first place. Then I did one for my friend who let me hang out with him during lunch. Those turned out okay, and then I felt bad, as if it wasn't really fair to the guy who had started this creative movement to be cut out of a gift. While I could have said that I didn't know him well, which was true, I believe that fear is a poor reason to avoid doing something. When he was fixing my necklace I had asked if he was left handed, I had no idea what I was doing, but I kept painting, and in the back of my mind I knew I had an escape if I needed it. If it didn't turn out, I wouldn't give it to him. I won't get into how giving it to him went; I've covered that elsewhere, something similar kept me from giving another guy the piece I had done for him. Once I got over the idea that people were more often than not appreciative and accepting, that really helped. Not everything turned out well, and if I had some advice to pass along, I would encourage people to keep going even if their initial efforts feel like steaming piles of inexpert garbage. My mom has the first painting I did and it looks like it could have come from a six or seven year old child of hers rather than a grown adult.
Everyone has their own artistic style, and yours isn't going to be universely loved, or appreciated, even by yourself. You can work really hard, and end up with a piece of shit finished product, other times you can spend ten minutes on a half-hearted effort and end up with a piece that is halfway decent. Sometimes I am bored by the things that I did and wonder if they need something else. Usually this ends poorly, but I have had it work for me. Experimenting is fun for me, but it brings other layers of frustration along with it. I tried doing a very large piece, and what had begun as a promising rainbow of intoxicating color ended up as an ugly mess, not even worthy of dropping off at a thrift store. I shoved it in my trunk and kind of forgot about it which leads me to my next point. The necklace fixer is an art instigator. All I have to do is stand next to the guy, or think about him, and ideas come to me. When I was showing this other guy the painting I hated, he said it wasn't too bad. I told him he sounded like my mom, and rather than back off, he went further. Why I didn't take what he said more seriously, I'm not really sure, but I was dismissive of it until the guy who wanted a different painting came to me about a new project.
There are times when I need permission to do things so I asked my art critic what he thought. He said it would be okay to paint over the piece he had praised, and I felt this surge of relief go through me. Incidentally, one of the reasons I trust him is because when I stand next to him, I can see all sorts of things I didn't before, and it is a totally wild and surreal experience. It's as if I have distance and perspective I lacked before. I painted the thing so one might suspect that I would know more about it than another person, and I've found that this is untrue which seems difficult to believe. Whatever I am feeling comes out in what I am working on, the best pieces come when I am relaxed, and in the zone. I'm not really thinking, there's sort of an automatic paint transfer, saying it's sloppy may give the wrong impression, careless isn't quite right either, but I really let the paints merge and blend and separate without putting a lot of thought into what I am doing. Long ago I had an interior decorating book that said my style was eclectic, and I feel that the term really applies here. I've started with a canvas of romantic reds and soft pinks and ended up with what I call dragon colors; scarlet, vermillion, cobalt, emerald. Those seemed like better choices as I went along.
I've had people send me YouTube videos, and recommend I take classes. I've poked around on the internet and stumbled on a few things while surfing, but, and this may just be how I learn; experience has been the best teacher. Until I am there with paints and a brush, I can't conceptualize what putting what I've seen into practice, my mind just doesn't work that way. Not long ago I sent someone an image of several sailboats, and there was a joke asking if I had painted that. Comments like that are helpful, as are seeing work that I've done hung on the wall. It is spectacularly unhelpful to hear criticism of the constructive variety partially because a lot of the time I have a vision in my mind that I am unable to transfer due to a lack of technical skills. I'm sure a class with the right teacher would help, but I'm impatient and hate waiting. I have spent quite a bit of money on art, but it almost always feels like an investment rather than a waste, even when things do not turn out the way I wished, or had planned. Change takes time; few are good right away. I read somewhere that; 'approval is a poisoned chalice', and I love that idea. I chose this title because rather than thinking of flirtation in the sense that an artist is wooing or courting someone, they are continually grappling and flirting with disaster.
'Competence breeds confidence'; is another line I read somewhere, and I agree with that as well. I started with family and friends, my mother said some harsh things that hurt my feelings. I've run into know it alls who have tried to tell me that how I'm approaching things is foolish, and a whole host of other things I disregarded despite there being some truth to what they are saying. Back in the days when I was first writing, I sucked at that too, and I'm sure there are those who would say I still suck at it. I really don't care what others think beyond a temporary sting or moment of deflated ego. Those experiences have a habit of keeping me in check. Motivation matters to me. I paint because I care, because I want to show the person who doesn't believe in her/himself that I see something of value, worth recording, preserving, it's a process of giving to those in a way that many don't. If you paint for praise, I wish you well. It's cathartic for me on the whole, and as long as my motivation remains wholesome, I'm going to keep at it. I'm proud of myself for being brave, for being a novice, some have suggested I try to sell things I've done, and maybe I will try that some day. But I want those pieces, however humble they might be, to go to good homes. They were created in love (with rare exceptions), and if love is an action verb, it comes in many colors for me.
tl;dr: I view art as a flirtation with competence, creativity, and skill; and find that surrendering to whatever emotional experiece I am having at the time helps me cope with the task of taking amorhous blobs of paint and attempting to turn them into something that resonates with others. This has been a ReQuest submission, and I thank you dear reader, for your time. I pray it has not been wasted.
- Thank you for fixing my necklace
- last Friday. It's hard for me to ask
- for me to ask for help because I am
- afraid that people will judge me for
- being unable, or unwilling to learn
- how to do things on my own. But
- the truth is that we all need help
- at some point in our lives. What
- do you need help with?
- Xoxo, Jessica J...