Art school was everything it was expected to be; full of all the most eccentric-self-indulgent weirdos that one could handle. I tended to be more conservative in dress, aside from the glitter. I loved sparkles but I was still quieter than the general art school population. I had already gone through my goth, dark lipstick, green hair, pink hair, pot head faze in high school. Somehow, I made it to college, and now my education had a tab. I decided I would try not to waste anymore time or money. I immersed myself in the experience, eager to learn.
Most of my teachers were cool, but because of the curriculum, I was forced to take introductory courses. The assignments were very rigid and structured, and I didn’t do rigid or structured. We had one project which was based on Paint By Numbers. We had to first create an outline of our face, carefully divide it in the same way they divide topographical maps, number the various altitudes, and paint accordingly. I had to redo mine three times. I just couldn’t stay in the lines no matter how hard I tried.
Another project we had, required us to make a painting and then replicate 3 times using not paint. I did a picture of Jesus, and then replicated it three times using different mediums. The first time I used peanut butter and chocolate sauce. The second painting was made of crackers and jam. And the third version consisted of jam and honey. When I got to class that day my teacher announced that we would be speaking about our project as if we were doing a real gallery show; that we would have to give explanations as to our purpose for choosing the various non-paint mediums. Say what? Since I usually failed to follow instructions, and didn’t even know about these directions (or where I could find them), I started to panic. I got up to the board and pointed to my picture of Jesus,
“This is a portrait of Jesus,” the class stared back at me unimpressed. “In the first version I used honey to represent the land of milk in honey spoken about in the Bible and how it is promised.” I hope they are buying this… “The one made of crackers and jam is a reference to….the wafers and wine that one receives in church,” good save Hayley! “And the one I did in chocolate sauce and peanut butter clearly represents…” …shit…. I was stuck…no, wait, “ it clearly represents the hypocrisy that is our modern day Easter, a holiday that is suppose to be about Jesus’ resurrection after death but is more so overshadowed by candy.”
Both my professor and peers applauded my deep conceptualization of the project as I walked back to my seat.
Not all my art school experiences were that bravo. I had one teacher announce the first day of class that no one was going to get an “A.” Oh really? I was up for the challenge, buddy. Then he went on to tell us that we should buy all the $18 paint brushes we could get our hands on while we still have access to our parent’s bank accounts. What a pig, I thought, and looked around the room to see if the other students shared my disgust, but was met with their glazed over faces. For one, if I had the opportunity to partake in the familial pillaging he spoke of I certainly wouldn’t. I bought my brushes at Walmart in 5 packs which usually ran me a little over $3 and I hadn’t bought new ones in years. I suppose I could’ve used some new brushes, but never would I fathom taking advantage of my parents who were taking out loans to pay for my college education as was I. He was pitiful.
At the end of the semester, I had gotten the opportunity to see some of his work, and to put it nicely, it was bland. You see, I am a true believer that a real artist, can make beautiful work out of nothing, with sub-par supplies, even without paint. Real art takes talent, and is not something an $18 or even a $50 brush can buy.
I saw the movie “Art School Confidential” and it portrayed art school in the same way most people stereo type it: individually styled, mohawked people who sit around doodling on any 2D or even 3D surface in a 10 foot radius that occasionally have to paint nude models. My father asked me if it was really like the movie. I thought for a moment and said yes. It was exactly like the movie. I remember the first day that we drew nude models in art school, everyone nervously chatted, awaiting the inevitable, everyone but me. As a teenager I spent Wednesday nights getting high and going to the local Carousel Museum, where they had figure modeling for $7. I will never forget one model in particular, an elderly man. When he took his break, in lieu putting his robe back on, he walked over to where I was sitting and proceeded to have a conversation with me as he lifted a pitcher of water off the table and proceeded to pour it into a cup. Since he was standing and I was sitting, his junk was directly at my eye level. Nothing could faze me after that, or at least that’s what I thought.
One day our new model walked in and disrobed. She had the tightest curliest black hair in a big pony tail on the top of her head, puffs of underarm hair to match. She was anything but anatomically proportional, and I could tell by her appearance and the clothes she left in that she was homeless. There was something distasteful about the whole thing; a homeless person forced into nude modeling for $12 an hour because she had no other options.
It is an extremely delicate type of modeling. The nude models I know personally were either exhibitionists or actors who used it as a means of training to become more confortable with stage fright, certainly none of them were homeless. I felt wrong drawing her, because even though she was clearly just after the pay check, she was being exploited. She wasn’t the best model and didn’t seem like she wanted to be there. A model without their heart in it was difficult to work with, similarly difficult were the nervous models. The unfeeling and nervous model’s emotions were often translated to shallow or nonexistent on the page.
I really enjoyed painting nudes. The last art professor I had encouraged my interest in the subject, and even said to me “You could make money selling your paintings some day.” At that time in my life I was just taking an painting class as an elective to finish my Studio Art minor. I had long since become an Art School Drop Out. I was shocked by what he said, it was something that I had always suspected but didn’t believe. It had never been validated by anyone outside myself.
In the end, my $18 paintbrush professor was kind enough to give me a “B” regardless of the concentrated effort that I put into his boring art assignments. He was a drawing czar, wrongly appointed to his position of power, a TA-ship that was wasted on someone too self indulgent to actually step away from his ego to teach. But my painting teacher had validated me. I felt bad over the years, dropping out of art school and all, although I secretly had a suspicion that I didn’t need art school to be an artist. And now, suddenly, with my painting teacher’s simple phrase, “You can make money doing this some day,” I didn’t care anymore. I no longer regretted dropping out of art school. It’s truly amazing what an impact kind words can make. What my professor said that day had magically canceled out an entire life’s worth of negative art teacher experiences (and nasty comments). After what he said, that I might be able to sell some of my paintings without a degree, I finally felt proud to call myself an art school drop out!