Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Falling down (and getting up again)

A typical day in Studio Art class:

    It's 1:20 pm. The sun is shining (for once) and carelessly leaks through the large windows that make up the entire right wall of the studio. We all sit on rolling, black stools in pairs at brown-topped desks as long and wide as bathtubs. Each of us has a piece of wood. 

   The project: Turn a piece of wood into a sculpture. 
   I entered the project as an optimist. There were endless possibilities for my log: I could turn it into a small ballet dancer or sand it and paint it with tribal prints. I could shape it into a fish and make scales out of shiny duct tape. I could make an abstract, organic shape. 
   Well, I thought I could. So, I proposed my ideas to my professor, an artist with a strong, futuristic approach to his aesthetic, grey mustache and pony tail, and endless supply of 90's jeans and button-up shirts. He drives a truck, lives in the woods, and watches t.v. in his free time. "No," my professor retorted. "How's that for an answer!" 
   I felt uninspired. As other students in my class whipped up praise-worthy sculptures that I never would have though to create (they just were not any where near the realm of my personal aesthetic), I had a piece of wood. After a few days of torturous frustration, much usage of power tools, and a plethora of rejected ideas, I made a little piece I personally enjoyed. I'd created a ring out of wire, covered it in golden duct tape, and set it into the wood so just a half-moon showed. Then, I painted the baby log in bright, aqua shades. Like the other praiseworthy pieces, it was not too busy. 
    He came to inspect it. At his first glance upon my creation, he frowned, his eye brows furrowing together. He froze in this expression for a while until he finally said, "It's so... sloppy." I didn't reply. "Look... the edges. They're rough. Here! *points at the left of my sculpture* Here! *to the wire circle I'd spent a day deciding to execute* Here! *to the place I'd mixed the nicest shade of aqua I could muster*" I didn't say anything. "We'll see how to fix it later. 
    So, I tried making another sculpture. This second log I received was tougher than the last one. Unlike the first, which let its bark fall apart at a whim, the second was solid. I stuck a few nails into it, hoping to create a crocheted strand of rope to connect all the dots in a ladder-like pattern. In midst of crocheting yarn, my professor came over to critique the beginnings of a sculpture I thought both he and I would enjoy. Once again, I was faced with complete rejection. "You can't just ignore this," he roared, tracing the split through the middle of the log running straight from its top to its bottom. "And these, why did you put these here?" He pointed at the small nails I'd fastidiously hammered into the pattern I'd planned in my mind. Before I could answer, he proclaimed, "It's arbitrary!" He took the tiny crochet ladder in my hands. "I like this," he inspected it in his old, rubbery hands. "These knots," it was crochet, "are something no one else has done before. What if," he began. He always says "what if" before announcing his you-have-to-do-this criticism. "You took this, and," he placed the string into the hole in the log. I thought the idea was too stupid. Too easy. I wanted to do something actually creative. Something I believed in. I wanted to create something in my own aesthetic. Not his. 
    Two weeks ago, we'd had a painting unit. I'd painted my heart out, shading in still-lives and creating an image of a dancing skeleton. He told me to sharpie the crap out of them, because that's how his aesthetic is. He like hard, heavy outlines. I don't. I hate hard, heavy outlines. 
     "I got an A-," I told my friend, Dan, who's also in art class. 
     "That's it?" he replied. "But you're a painter..." 
      It doesn't matter how good I am. It matters how well I fit my professor's aesthetic ideas. I can't take it anymore. 
      He stared at the tiny crocheted loops. "You can just use this whole roll of string!" 
      I snapped. He left, I took the ball of string, and I went out into the hallway. I heaved out a sob. Some people just leaving a class next door glanced by, but none of them paid any attention. Good. I hid in the art lounge around the sculpture section and ran my fingers over the ball of string. I'd taken paper towels from the bathroom and, after every minute or so, had to hide my face, to hide the tears streaming down. I needed to calm down. I began crocheting a long chain. Because that's what my professor said I could do. I couldn't create anything I wanted, but I could use this entire roll of yarn. So, that's what I attempted to do for a good half-an-hour. I didn't go back to class because I was just so profusely angry. I've never been so angry before. I knew I shouldn't take his criticisms personally. He wasn't criticizing me; it's my art he was criticizing. But my art is a part of me. So the criticisms hurt more than they ever should. 
    The crocheted strand grew as long as my arm, and I couldn't stop. I couldn't go back. I never wanted to go back to that stupid class. I never felt so suffocated artistically, so blatantly controlled and forced to create "art" I didn't believe in. What kind of art is that? It's not art. It's just... an object. A picture. A something without meaning other than getting it done and pleasing the professor. 
   If I didn't complete studio art, I'd never be able to be an art major. It's a prerequisite. But I didn't care anymore. I hate studio art class! I hate it! I've never hated anything so damn much. 
   I had two feet of crocheted string and a ball of yarn in my hands when my studio art professor came around the corner... with my entire class. They all just kind of looked at me confusedly. There's where I went. I tried to hide in the back. I still felt like crying. I'd never wanted to cry so much. I hated this. I hated it. 
   "Are you okay?" Brianna asked. 
   "No," I started crying. It wasn't pretty. The rest of our class, oblivious, walked on to admire the sculptures created by the actual sculpture class. Meghan stayed too. 
   "Oh," Meghan said sympathetically. 
   "I just-" I sounded like an idiot. "I can't- he hates- my sculptures," and that was the end of all coherency. The waterworks exploded, and it was embarrassing. Brianna and Meghan both awkwardly tried to hug me.
   "If this is about this class, don't worry about it," Brianna said. "He ALWAYS tells me no."
   Meghan replied, "Yeah, like, he tells me to do one thing, and I'm like... well, I don't want to do that."
    "Yeah. He tells me to do things all the time, and I'm just like... 'No.'"
    "Sometimes, I really want to make something I want to make, but he just doesn't want me to. It's pretty annoying."
    "But really," Brianna whispered. "He's just a fat, old man. He's stubborn. He only wants what he likes. You're such a good artist."
     The art class swung back around to meet us. We ended up back in the studio. 
     I sat at my desk with my twine. 
     "I tell you these things to challenge you," my professor said as he came up to me. "When I say something's ugly or needs work, you shouldn't take it personally. You're a really good painter. You drew that still life- You're creative. You're a creative, young woman, and I'm just here to help. Cheer up." A pause. "What classes are you taking next year?" 
     "I want to take a painting class."
     "Good. You're a painter. I'll talk to Linette. You know, I showed her your paintings. She looked at them, and said, 'Wow. She's a painter,' and she said that to 3 people. You'll do great. It doesn't end here." 

Quitting my job

When I came to college, my financial aid came with a work study grant. I was pretty excited. I spent the first few weeks applying for what would be my first job. On Colgate's job website, there were random positions listed: "Lifeguard at Boathouse," "Mascot," "Sports Assistant." Finally, I saw a title that piqued my interest: "Library LASR Assistant." I immediately applied. I'd volunteered at the library for two years of high school, so this was right up my alley. My friends Gian and Andy had applied also. We took our interviews one right after the other, and we were all hired. First semester, I had a similar shift as each of them. Working was pretty fun. I mainly straightened books meaning I'd go around the stacks (shelves) and bring all the books to the front of the shelf and make them look neat and "flushed." When I'd get bored, I'd troll over to Gian and we'd listen to Ke$ha's Timber on repeat as I helped him with his task of cleaning or try to scare Andy as he straightened the gay books (pun intended). Second semester, I spent more time doing LASR stuff. The LASR machine holds all the books, DVDs, records, and what-not in the archives. I was known as the person who used two step-stools to reach the auditing machine and a liability seeing as I always managed to unintentionally break the LASR robot. My co-worker, Kayla convinced me it wasn't my fault. She said the robot's arms which carried the metal book boxes were attached to a head up above the ceiling that we couldn't see, and the head was very tempermental. My boss, Joe, from around upstate New York was really cool. He had a candy dish and let me eat all the tootsie rolls and dove chocolates, brought me coffee, and played Christian rock pandora from the desktop computer as I audited books. We'd have random conversations about the Statue of Liberty, his daughters, and my ballet class. One time, when I was straightening books, he saw me try to balance one of the books on my head. "I almost wet my pants when I saw you do that," he told me. I'd really grown attached to my job. So when I walked into the LASR room today, and Joe smiled and greeted me with "Angel!" as usual, my heart kind of sank. "How are you?" he asked.
     "Uh... I actually came to ask something."
     "Yeah, you seem distracted."
     I took a breath. "I think I need to stop working. My Chem grades are pretty bad, and I don't know.. if I can handle it anymore. But I don't know if I'm allowed to quit."He looked sympathetic.
    "You can quit. You didn't come to college so you could get a job. You came so that you can get educated and make it.. out there in the real world."
    I nodded. "I'm so sorry. You guys have trained me so much, and I really appreciate it. Like, I can use the LASR."
    "It's okay. If you don't think you can handle it, well, make sure you email Lisa (the head lady of LASR) and tell her you talked to me."
    "Okay. I will."
    "Bye Angel. Have a good week, if I don't see you later."
    "You too... see you around. Bye."