Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Piss Off Your Art Teacher and Why It's Okay

A few weeks ago, my art teacher sent me this assignment via email since I was absent for class...
"Use news print or good 18x24” paper and make 3 different line drawings in response to 3 different pieces of music. Do not illustrate the lyrics, but rather interpret the musical tempo and rhythms of sound with abstract line. Think Jackson Pollock or Brice Marden."

In response, I submitted the above mixed media sketch for an art class assignment. Yes, it looks like a primitively done drawing that a child could have done, but I actually did put some thought and time into it. I spent 5 hours on this one drawing. (Yes, I know. If you haven't figured it out yet. This story is a tragedy....)

The three panels have consistent thought and represent three different places: (Left) Paris, (Middle) Mississippi River/ America, and the (Right) Mediterranean Beach. Each panel represents a place and a particular song. For Paris, I picked Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til you Get Enough." For the Mississippi, I picked the "Red Apple Rag," a competitive fiddle song that Jacob has been learning for the past year. For the Mediterranean Beach, I used Sebastian Tellier's "La Ritournelle." Each panel has blue in the middle to represent a body of water and is surrounded by warm tones. Each little shape of color represents something. For instance, the triangles on the far left represent the Louvre and also guitar picks. The white lines in the middle represent train tracks alluding to the railroad that was integral to commerce in Southern American history. The pink figures on the far right represent sea shells on a beach.

Anyway... it all made sense to me, and I actually enjoyed creating this art while listening to my three songs.... And that is where the joy actually ends for myself. I showed up to class, and I was the only person who submitted an illustrative narrative in color. It was a pretty embarrassing moment to present my art work and realize that everyone else's work was in black and white and completely abstract. I completely missed the point of the assignment. Yes, it was fun doing the assignment. But it was completely not okay to NOT DO WHAT I WAS TOLD. It was pretty much perceived as embarrassing, disruptive and disrespectful.

But this is how classy my teacher is. My teacher gracefully and patiently talked to me one on one outside of class. I probably should have been in tears. But, here's the thing about embarrassing moments: If you are not a prideful or egotistical person, a moment like this can be a valuable lesson.

It caused me to reflect on a lot of things and ask myself some important questions.

1. Why the hell did I submit such a jacked up interpretation of the assignment while everyone else understood it? - Duh, I wasn't in class when he gave the assignment and had to resort to email. So, yes, if you are given an art assignment via email, there will be a break down in communication. Next time I should ask for clarification.

2. Are you graceful enough to apologize? - When I realized that I messed up, I immediately apologized to my whole class and my teacher. Admitting you were wrong is tough especially when the easier route is to get bitchy, grouchy, and emo about it. Old people do this ALL the time! I remember claiming how misunderstood I was. But in the midst of that, I knew that I had to apologize. And the nice thing about it was people sympathized with me including my teacher.

3. How much of a priority is my art? - In order to be good at something, you have to make it a priority. This isn't the first endeavor I've ever took on. I know that it takes time, hard work and discipline - these are things that many teachers and mentors have taught me. At a very early age, I was taught this - ballet lessons starting at age four, piano lessons starting at age 6, and Lord knows the countless hours spent playing the ten pennies game when I was 16 years old. (* NOTE: See below for the explanation of the ten pennies game.) Creative arts is a balance between discipline and fun, and I am the first to admit that I often don't take it seriously enough for me to grow and to find joy in my work. I make excuses for myself - the biggest excuse is that I am too busy. Being good at something takes time, and am I willing enough to put in the time to grow and develop my creative side? Am I willing enough to accept that I need to be creative in order to be happy and fulfilled? Am I willing enough to take my practice of art serious?

4. What are the patterns in my life that keep me from growing? - I have to be truthful and accept the fact that art is hard work. It may not look like that to many people, especially in my past. Are there stories in my head that keep me from truly taking a leap of faith to believe that art is a worthy cause in my life.

*Note: The ten pennies game is a completely masochistic game that one of my private lesson teachers taught me. In high school, I had this obsession with playing my clarinet. I'd practice probably a good 20-30 hours a week. (Yes, I was THAT girl.) At some point, my parents and band director thought it was a good idea to have a fancy college professor at $60 per hour teach me instead of the private lesson teachers that the school provided. Basically, my abilities needed a new guru. So, he taught me the ten pennies game. If there was a technical piece of music that needed perfecting, he'd put ten pennies on the left of my music stand. If I played the piece of music right, I could move one of the ten pennies. You can move a penny every time you play it right. If you mess up once, you get to move ALL the pennies back. So, the goal of the game was to play a piece of music perfectly TEN times. Sigh... this probably has a lot to do with the kind of person I am today. Another big sigh....