Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Art Department: Still Art

Who signs up a child for painting classes that involve capturing elaborate, formal still life compositions with oil paints? Please keep in mind that I am not talking about the 17th century, but mid-1950s. So, who would do such a thing? My mother. I was eight or nine; she was already a decade into working out her stuff through me.

Good thing I turned out to be artistically talented and already a compulsively neat child, because it could have been messy from the get-go. My art-related psycho mess would emerge years later, but back then everything was tidy inside and out, or appeared that way. My art smock rarely needed washing. I diligently cleaned my brushes and palette at the end of every class, a diligence that I now suspect probably had something to do with huffing turpentine.

Three oil paintings from that time were framed and hung in the family dining room. I hardly noticed them and rarely stopped to look at them. Whenever I did, I was stunned by how competent and adult they seemed. I could not imagine ever having painted them and knew I would never paint anything like them again; never did, although the discipline of starting with still life would endure.

My relationship with art started changing after I left home for Rochester Institute of Technology, where I started as an art major and dropped out as a mess. There's more to this story, when is there not? Stay tuned.

With the glorious clarity of hindsight, I'm seeing how my current wrestling with the angel of identity from the Art Department started long before my recent revelation at Holy Cross Monastery. Fast forward to last night when I finally pick up my new sketchbook, pens, and Inktense pencils.

It's 10:30 PM and I've finished reading Ann Patchett's book, Truth & Beauty. I absolutely know that drawing is the next right thing to do, because it's the next right place for me to go. I don't want to pile my words on top of the words I've just read, not yet anyway. Where to begin?

It has been years since I've sketched anything. For a change, I'm not being my usual hyperbolic self. Years of no drawing. Yet, I quickly discover that I do indeed know where to begin. Not with with oil paints, but with still life. Still art and life still and after all many many years, it's a start.

"Must start again somewhere and beginning with basics -- 
still life is life still after all these many many years."