One day I woke up with this idea for a self-portrait, on raw canvas, with pencil, and a solid red background. It was so clear in my head. And I just sat down and did it.
Why red? I have no idea. Like I said, it was just this idea that suddenly came into my head. Perhaps I had a dream the night before involving the colour red, but I don’t remember.
I think I look kind of afraid or concerned in the picture, which, apparently, is often how I look to other people. People would come up to me and say:
“you look really concerned — don’t worry!”
“Are you nervous? You look really nervous.”
“Are you OK? You look worried.”
Then I would think to myself, am I worried? I don’t feel worried. Should I be worried?
Before this, making art feels somewhat like an obligation. I should make more art, since I graduated from art school and all. And I do enjoy the process once I get started. But then art school was what gave me the idea that what I make will never be considered art.
To my carefully soldered then painted glass pieces from broken bottles, my teacher said, “that’s really meditative and all, but I’m looking for more ideas, and I’m disappointed.”
So I tested out more ideas. I couldn’t find more glass to break at the moment, so I sketched on acetate. To that, a fellow classmate said during a critique, “I don’t care for these straight-out-of-the-tube colours and stuff.”
And my teacher’s reasons for deducting marks on my final artist statement/thesis, “it’s well-written, but you should have referenced more artists who’ve done similar things as you, like so-and-so, or so-and-so.”
Yes, I need accomplished artists to validate what I make, because just on their own my art and my stories behind them aren’t good enough. I need to name-drop, that’s what it is.
Well, I don’t know how to name-drop. I only know what I like. I like to make things, but if that’s what the “art world” is like then I don’t like it and I don’t want to be part of it. So I still paint, less often than I’d like, because it remains a struggle, with the above comments plus many more coming back to me with every line and every brushstroke I make.
Maybe it’s true. I’m just not good enough to be an artist. And I don’t handle criticism very well. I know that about myself. I’m working on that.
(Now, that is not to say that I don’t enjoy any of the art school experience. There’re still lots of good memories and many valuable lessons learned. I met many good friends with whom I’m still in contact. And I met Mike. So I will always be thankful for those years.)
Then recently, through one of the blogs I read I came across the work of Barbara Cole, a Toronto-based, self-taught photographer. I was immediately drawn to the watery, painterly quality of her photographs. Then I looked through her Toronto Series and read the artist’s statement. And I cried. I was so moved. It was so honestly written. So plain, so unpretentious, and so beautiful.
Somehow, reading that, made it OK to paint again. It was strange. But it was after reading that one statement that I painted the self-portrait. I mean, I didn’t make up excuses or find other things to do or put it off, I just went and painted it.
Ideally, I would like it to be hung a bit away from the wall, so the fringed edges of the canvas cast a fringed shadow.
I stuck it on the thermostat to take the photo but I can’t leave it there permanently so the painting is stored between books on the bookshelf now. But I had some fun with it before putting it away :D
Should’ve stuck my hand out to take the picture… oh well.
So, is it art? Absolutely. But only recently have I come to that conclusion. I run art groups sometimes, and I always tell the participants that anyone can make art and everyone is creative in their own ways. So why can’t I believe that about myself?
I realize that this post is less than cheerful, which is unusual, so thank you for bearing with me! It’s just one of those days. But at the end of the day I’m happy about what I made and I will find ways to do better.