Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confessions of an art student

I’m taking a watercolor class this term at the local arts center. It’s a low-key studio class without grades and with plenty of encouragement.

At the first of eight sessions, I found myself an outsider in the group, which has been taking and re-taking this class seemingly for years. Perhaps that is why this is called an "intermediate" class. I'm "in the middle" of a lot. Everyone is on a first-name basis (Barbara, Marilyn, Jeanne, Tricia, Meg etc.). All but two, Jack and me, are women.There’s talk about relatives, recent vacations and getting over the flu or worse. The one thing we share is time; all are on the retiring side of middle age.

If we weren’t painting, we might be knitting or sewing — or playing golf.

The main idea seems to be making sure everyone paints for at least three hours once a week. Without the class, we’d all be doing something else in our retirement.

Each week, at the start of the class, there’s a time to display our previous week’s painting for comments. The paintings are stunningly diverse, both in content, execution and technique.

I’ve tried to capture the amiable mood of the class above because it has so little to do with my thoughts about being “in class” again.

In the back of my head I hold on to the dark thought that there must be a grading curve, that my fellow classmates — gentle souls — are really dogged competitors. My work will be judged by the teacher and by the others and found to be either wonderful or sadly wanting. Who knows? I might even flunk.

I’ve been surprised that along with my brushes, paints and paper tablet I arrive with such guarded, defensive, almost aggressive feelings — that I still harbor a deep angst left over from years of schooling.

I think the problem resides in the word “class.” I know that some of the course descriptions at the art center use the word “workshop,” perhaps to avoid associations students have with “class.” But to me, “workshop” always conjures up Santa and his non-union elves. Not far away is the term “sweatshop.”

What goes on between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in our art center watercolor room is something else. But what? A meditation? A respite? An exploration? Discoveries? A gathering of congenial muses? A painting circle?

It’s all of these and whatever else we want it to be. The one thing I don’t want is a “class.”

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