The Shift From Tortured Artist to Magic Maker

I sit down in front of my canvas and weep.

The troubled voice of artistic self doubt has returned at full force: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know enough. Where am I going?

A graduate of contemporary art college education, I missed out on some classical art technique work, though I learned more general components to successful and powerful artistic expression.

Thirteen years post-graduation, however, I feel a burning need to fill in the gaps, especially now that I am teaching art. 

Teaching. Just hearing the word shoots little capsules of fear from my body. The profession I swore off for countless years. I couldn’t, wouldn’t teach. How could I explain what was barely explainable to myself? How could I transform into words a nonverbal process? 

But a random phone call job offer two years ago convinced me to try the one career path I was determined not to take. That year, for the first time, despite large waves of feeling inadequate, I guided high school students in art, and added adult monthly figure drawing classes in my home as well. From these last two years, my heart has endured countless internal brutal conversations from the pressures and expectations I put on myself as a teacher. The need to prove myself. To feel I know enough to teach enough. To do it the right way, as if there’s only one way.

Exhausting. 

Which is why I found myself, today, in my studio, in front of a developing canvas, crestfallen. I had no desire to implement techniques I prescribed to others. I just wanted to let loose, without thinking. The discomfort of internal crisis, arose. Can I preach and teach what I myself don’t want to do? Do I really know anything?

I select colors and brushstrokes at random. In no time, my emotional rampage on the canvas produces an ugly, ill composed mess. I take a breath, put my head down in my hands, and almost leave.

“Oh screw it,” I think.  “I’m just going to experiment, I hate it so much anyways.”

“Oh, screw it, I’ll just play” ; more magical art words were never heard. I try a little blue and then add some pink, and dab in some black. While pondering shapes and value shifts, a voice inside me cries out, “Oh, yes! Oh, this is interesting!” I add and add now faster, arms flying, create in the headspace of primordial thought. 

In the midst of this energetic swing, a painting truth returns to me: The knowledge that I need to know is not dependent on specific prescribed actions as much as an ability to convey how to move, adjust, work in the moment, and experience beauty. Once I return to the flowing dance that is lighthearted creation, all of this understanding returns to me. In this altered mindstate, I remember what I had forgotten under too much pressure.

I leave the studio after an hour of this dancing, no longer destitute. 

Four hours later and I’ve returned. The six students sit in front of me, blissfully ignorant to my teacher-artist identity freak out earlier. Tired from their days of running in so many different directions, they’re ready.

Once the model chooses her position, like a runner after the gun shoots off, there’s no space for my concerns any longer; I become as focused as a waterskier concentrating on the next wave at hand. 

My voice takes over, guiding the students in hushed tones to take their tensed minds and bodies elsewhere. Ideas arise in my mind to share with them. Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, and experimental cello pulse from the speaker.

I ricochet off of their every move; thinking, resonating, guiding, and watching.

The words line, value, composition, and yes hang suspended in the atmosphere. Surfing between conscious and subconsciousness, it’s a push and pull for me; a need to be sensitive to their every mood and impulse, yet to see beyond to what could be.

Two and a half hours later, dripping from the sweat of a 90 degree July night, we finish. We leave exhausted, satisfied, mesmerized by the communal magic spun from the latent abilities within us and the Godly thick, moldable, complicated air of creating creation. 

We had become a formidable unit. Now, opening the door to the cooler night air outside, the isolated works of art make contact with the universe outside of the safe place in which they were born. We say goodbye, separating back into two- teacher and student- yet still gasping, grateful, and accomplished, together. 

————————

These pieces were created in this week’s figure drawing class. All students had very little or no figure drawing experience prior to enrolling in the class. Some have been working with me for four sessions, once a month, others have been in class once a month for a year. I am beyond amazed by their magic.

Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash