"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Drawing Class Ego Busting

I want to thank everyone who contacted me about what color to use on the binding on the baby quilt.  The consensus seems to be dark blue.  I believe I have enough of that so once I get a few other things off my plate over the next couple of days, I hope to get to work on it.  Right now, I am scurrying to finish a little nature quilt for a friend that I am determined to send out, on time, in tomorrow's mail.  I am at the binding stage, a fate worse than death, if you ask me.  And tomorrow, I have an all day Continuing Education Class concerning school law that I am really looking forward to. 

I've mentioned that I'm taking a drawing class on Tuesday mornings (and a painting class on Thursday mornings).  I've enjoyed watching the youngsters as much as I've enjoyed the classes.  The drawing class darling, an extremely talented and lovely young woman, has captured the attention of one of the class geeks (and at their age, most of them are a bit geeky but I find that rather endearing).  I almost hate to stop to speak to her because he is stuck to her like glue and the last thing I want to do is interrupt the course of true love.  I'm being a bit facetious.  I don't see this going anywhere.  I watch her smile and be pleasant but her body language is shutting down around him, screaming, "don't get so close - I need air!"  He, of course, isn't seeing that.  I have never understood why male geeks aim so high.  If they pursued the girls who weren't tens - perhaps a 7 or an 8, even -they might even have a chance.  But most bypass those gals and reach for the stars.  Must be something in the male psyche. 

One of the young ladies comes in chronically late, stomping as if she is angry, and wearing multiple layers of clothes despite this hot Oklahoma summer.   She seems at war with the world although if you talk to her, she mainly just seems to be really stressed.  She clearly feels picked on and spends a lot of energy badmouthing other students and teachers, trying to rally people to her "side," even though we don't even know the people she is castigating.  Her demeanor is such that people around her rapidly begin reeking their own stress hormones and you can almost see a cloud of tension and unhappiness.  I want to tell her to ratchet it down a bit, take a yoga class, for the love of heaven, or perhaps engage in biking or swimming to pull off that negative energy.  I am afraid she'd deck me.  Beneath the stress, she seems like a nice young woman. 

As a lawyer, I am used to being challenged before my peers, beginning first in law school and, daily, in court.  It's no big deal.  Not personal.  It was painful to grow that thick skin as a law student but most of us made progress.  Where I went to school, the professor would call on you, you'd stand the entire class (at least in some of the classes) and he or she would drill you on a case or cases to the very minutia of a court decision.  Some of those court decisions were more than fifty pages long in tiny font.  You had to know it all.  Some of these classes were an hour and a half long and it could be humiliating (and exhausting) when you messed up or missed an issue.  God forbid you didn't do your homework.  They call it the Socratic method and it is a traditional law school teaching method.  Not all lawschools do that, anymore, but back when I went, it was standard.   And you couldn't "win," if an instructor didn't want you to.  No sooner would you rebut one point than the professor would spin up different facts and demand you address how a court should have decided them.

As horrifying as that might sound to many, some of us grew to love the style and enjoy the intellectual back and forth.  You have to really have a love for the law and a strong personality to not be overwhelmed by it, however.  It is like a bootcamp experience and contributes to my having a lot of respect for my fellow members of the bar unless/until they show themselves to be idiots. 

Contrast that with last week's art class assignment:  The teacher set up a table in the center of the room that was covered with a white table cloth and had four paper bags on top.  Because we were all in a Polish firing squad arrangement, each person was looking at the four bags from a different angle.  We drew the bags using black charcoal and white chalk.  Very therapeutic!

I don't know about you, but when I think of art students, I think of kids who are mainly engaged in a feel good type endeavor where a teacher, beginning in preschool, wanders from student to student with a cookie, a smile and enthusiastic praise.  There is no "wrong" art, after all.  It is all about the process and none of us are liable to end up being a new da Vinci.   Or Norman Rockwell.

As an aside - Husband, the engineer,  points out that Norman Rockwell drew things that looked real and got a steady paycheck for it - according to him, the only worthwhile artist!

I assumed a lot of these students went into art because they enjoyed being praised and really wanted to hide out from the real world  - unlike engineering and nursing students.  And frankly, I still think that is largely true.  And as a tough lawyer, I confess to a certain snooty sense of superiority that I never hid out.  It isn't malignant, but it is there. 

So it was with some surprise, today, when our professor sent us into the classroom instead of the studio.  Today, he was going to critique our drawings of paper bags. 

As my husband is fond of saying, What the f---?  Over???

Pardon his French.

The professor started out with the class darling's drawing, which was excellent.  He used it as a model of what we should have been achieving.  Her drawing was head and shoulders above the rest of ours.  I couldn't decide whether to laugh at my own sad attempt or hang my head in shame.  WHO KNEW the art students were being put through the emotional ringer on something that was as personal as their own interpretation of  paper bags?  And YEARS before the law students ever had to stand up to public scrutiny?  I mean, this is a first year class so you have teenagers in there.  Many of them have next to no "successes" under their belts to fall back on when they feel emotionally naked and publically criticized.   Honestly, I had no idea. 

It was abundantly cool, however.  Made me have a lot more respect for the field of art academia than I had, before. 

I am being indoctrinated!  Or maybe, as my grand mother used to say, "You learn something new, everyday."

My drawing was near the bottom of the stack so I had the chance to see many other drawings, first.  He didn't fly through the drawings.  Oh no.  He made point after point after point - mainly about mistakes or errors.  And I have to give credit to him that he did it in a way that was helpful, kind and fair.  I have not been sure what kind of professor he is going to turn out to be but this is clearly one of his strengths.  He'd insisted before he started that any comments by students would be delivered in a respectful manner but anytime you open that door you run a risk that some socially maladjusted cretin will hammer someone just because they get the opportunity.  Happily, the students adopted the tone he was aiming for and any criticisms made were delivered kindly and constructively. 

Predictably, Ms. Angry Girl got her back up when it came time to discuss her drawing.  She received what I thought was very mild criticism and felt the need to defend her drawing.  She'd not completed the full drawing (she left it about half blank - probably came in late and didn't have time).  He commented that it lacked balance as a result.  In response, she insisted that the balance was "Perfect."  She added that she had an obligation to defend the drawing since no one else would and she was the person who "knew" it best. 

The critiques were quite helpful to me.  When I was drawing, I was lost in my own world, not looking around, not looking at the drawings of other people and, importantly, not standing back and looking at my own piece.  In fact, when it came time for my own critique, he hung it up on the board and it didn't even register, at first, that it was mine.  I quickly noticed the layout of the bags but frankly, I wouldn't have even noticed the thing as mine, otherwise.  I am not sure what that says about my emotional attachment to this drawing.  Well, let's get real.  It says this is a red headed stepchild in my heart. 

I will share it - believe me, I take no pride in it other that I learned a lot while doing it.  And I am fairly certain the next one will be better, which was my goal. 
I won't repeat the critique I got in class (which was way too mild but the points made were spot on) other than to say that the professor started off with saying the drawing did a good job on the fabric.  Yeah, baby!!!  He said just the right thing to sooth my aching ego.  

It is completely awful and those don't even look like bags but I honestly learned a lot from doing it.  I can't promise I will post another drawing in a later post.  If I get too attached to it, I might not be able to take the emotional pain that comes from putting something out there for public critique.  Funny, I don't even think of my quilts that way.  I suppose it is because I do them, mainly, for me. 

Off to sit out on the patio with Husband and the girls and a glass of wine.  Then I have that binding to attach.

I need a drink first...

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


Amanda karol said...

I like you bags! and I LOVE the fabric comment! Too funny!

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a typical art class to me. It will make you a better artist in the end. And it sounds a lot easier to deal with than what you went through in law school.

Crazy for Art said...

I think your drawing is pretty good for a first timer. I too have taken an art class or two and it is really harder work than anyone thinks. A friend of mine who has an art degree told stories of scalding crits and drawings of sheets of paper on their table. Then at the end of the semester they cut up all their previous assignments. I guess it didn't pay to be too attached! Luckily it sounds like you have a really good professor.

Penny said...

I was surprised at how tough (but fair!) the professor was and it made me realize how easy it is to fall into a mindset based on no more than a theory - not facts. I never even talked to someone who had taken an art class! I guess I thought college art classes were just like the ones they have in elementary school.

Stephanie D. said...

Dang! I think it's a great drawing, and I believe it's the shading that impresses me most.

You'd have gotten an A from me.