Right Brain Redux: Day 10
Today's assignments were for Kev to write about a time he learned from failure, and Jess to write a 1-page story based on a random word from the dictionary. This is also Day 3 of the Stomach Virus Challenge.
Kevin: Out of every challenge we listed out and put in our jars, I think that this was the one I felt the least prepared to do. I sort of hoped I might dodge it, since we have more than 30 in the jars. I'm not always the best at looking at failures. I tend to concentrate of the successes. So examining my failures and looking for one that I learned from wasn't really easy or comfortable. But I think I found something I could share that helped me grow as an artist, and is still working on me. Really, the core lesson can apply to much more in life than just art.
In the Spring Semester of 1995, I was in my second semester of art school (3rd year of college). One of my classes that semester was a sculpture class/ 3 dimensional design. Now, right off the bat, everyone starts off with clay, because hey, it's sculpture, right? So I picked up my blob of clay and went to work.
It wasn't nearly as easy as some of the other guys made it look. To put it simply, I struggled on that first piece. I saw other pieces taking shape that made what I was doing look like I was in grade school working with play dough. So I went silly. What I sculpted was deliberately cartoonish so that I could, I thought, finish that first assignment without showcasing just how hopeless I felt I was at this. It ended up being more obvious than I thought.
The instructor told me I would have to step it up for my second piece, and that one of our minimum three pieces would have to be displayed in the art show at the end of the semester. I figured out real fast that I wasn't going to be able to phone this class in. My second piece took a little while to take shape. What I worked on for the next month just didn't measure up and the instructor let me know that it wasn't going to cut it unless I really buckled down and applied the techniques he was teaching.
Up to this point, I was sort of skating through the class, showing up enough not to affect my grade, or at least I thought so. I would make it there a little late most days and miss the demos and just spend the lab time working. So I got serious about the class and got some of my friends to show me some of what I'd missed. The instructor also gave me a little catch-up once he saw I was being serious. I ended up working on two pieces at once (to fulfill the minimum three requirement). One was a figure of a superhero I had created. The second was a corner of a rooftop that was to serve as a base for the figure. I worked on these two from about the midpoint of the semester all the way up until a week or two before the art show and end of the semester.
Then disaster struck. The drying racks for the clay work were on the walls over the kiln in the kiln room. Both of my pieces were spending the week drying so they could be glazed and fired in time for the show. Now, if you have a hollow void in a clay piece, you have to have a vent hole or something to let the air out during firing. Someone missed that class I guess. A Large piece that was being fired in the kiln exploded due to the air and moisture expanding inside of it. It blew the top clean off the kiln and collapsed the drying racks directly over the kiln. Both of my pieces were shattered.
I was devastated. I had really poured myself into those pieces after sort of brushing the class off as an easy pass early on. The instructor told me he'd give me credit for those pieces for my grade, but that I still had time to make something for the show. He was still going to hold me to that for part of my grade, and he was NOT going to accept my first piece. I panicked. It had taken me almost two months to create what had been destroyed. How was I going to do something else in less than two weeks?
Then he pointed out to me that the class was "Sculpture/ 3-Dimensonal Design", not "Clay". He asked if I worked in any other 3-dimensonal medium. I replied that the only thing I had ever done besides that was to make robots out of scrap vcrs when I was in the electronics program before art school.
He said, "Well, believe it or not, that's sculpture."
A light went on inside my head. I had been confining myself to my predetermined idea of what sculpture was. Clay, or failing that, carving something out of rock. With that statement, my mind opened to the realization that taking anything and shaping space to create an image fit the definition of sculpture. Ok, not that articulate at that time. But I did figure out that I needed to look beyond my preconceived notions about art. It's so much more than just painting pictures and carving clay. More than just literal interpretations of things. I'd had no formal art training before starting art school. Just what I'd seen on TV shows on PBS or read in books. I thought I knew everything.
And memories of that lesson are still teaching me. Just a couple of years ago, I had the chance to go to the High Museum in Atlanta and come face to face with some of the art that I understood the least. I had read about many of these artists, and of course studied them in school. Pictures in books or on screens can only convey so much of the true spirit inherent in these works. Being present with the full sized originals, being able to see every mark and line. Seeing videos of the process of some of the creators. Reading journals.
I will admit, some of them I still just didn't get. But there were artists I had never understood or even kind of made fun of that suddenly became much more clear what they were trying to say. It didn't happen all at once, not just "Oh, ok, I see it for myself and it makes sense." But as I looked and absorbed, I thought back to the lesson I learned almost twenty years earlier. And call me crazy, but suddenly I saw how a shovel could be a piece of art.
Suddenly I realized that it wasn't that this guy had just bought a shovel and signed it. He wasn't saying the shovel was his artwork. The full three-dimensional space that was marked off for the piece was the sculpture and by placing the shovel in the space, he had transformed it. It's still not my thing, but I won't make fun of it anymore. Sometimes, failures and disasters can continue to teach us long after the dust has settled in the kiln room.
Jessica: Write a 1-page story about the top right word on a random dictionary page.
(Kev) Our dictionary is packed up still. Jess found a random word generator site instead and used the word on the far right of the list of generated words. I feel that good writing manipulates your emotions whether it be a song or a story. It can lift you up, make you feel happy, melancholy, angry, uneasy, romantic. To tell a complete story within a single page and leave the reader with that new emotional state shows great skill. Before writing this, she told me she didn't feel like she was a good writer. I knew better, and here is proof.
“I’ve driven off a bridge many times. That’s how I generally do it.”
“Why a bridge you think?”
“I guess of all the times you probably didn’t need to lose control, that would be it… I never thought about why a bridge before. I’ve lost control of and veered off the shoulder too, you know, right before a bridge, but mostly it’s been bridges. I guess you have farther to fall that way.”
“Tell me what happened.”
“Mostly it’s been at night. The darkness and fear envelopes me. It hasn’t even finished happening, but I can’t breathe at all.”
“How many times has this happened?”
“All my life. As long as I can remember. Even when I was child, I knew what it felt like. Every detail of what it looked like to do it, to feel it. I knew the violence of the crash, the glass, the water, the intense panic.”
“Did you ever tell anyone?”
“No… wait, yes. Once.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“I’m remembering a day in elementary school.”
“You know those forms you fill out… What’s your favorite food? What do you want to be when you grow up? What scares you?”
“Ah, yes. What about them?”
“I knew exactly what to put for what scared me. I was very detailed in my explanation. It must have freaked her out, what I said. My teacher called me to her desk right before recess to discuss it. She said, ‘Is there anything you want to talk to me about? Is there anything bothering you?’”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘I drowned.’”