Monday, June 20, 2011

Is the Grass Greener on the Other Side?

The school year ended more than a week ago. I have survived another year of budget cuts, professional setbacks and conflicts, hundreds of papers, countless immature attitudes and apathy, and final assessments. It was a successful year. Every August, I groan at the obstacles that I know I will face, but for now, I have two months to finally focus on something that is annually sacrificed while I focus on the development of young minds: me.

After overcoming my first year of teaching, most things come easy now. I have learned that, with time and patience, a task is not that difficult. I have plenty of time on my hands to do whatever I wish to do—decorate my apartment, write my novel, read some books, brush up on my photography, practice playing the cello, or take a dance lesson. I’ve always felt creative sparks inside me, so I’ve always known I was an “artist.” When I started photography, reading instructions from a manual and experimenting with f/stops and shutter speeds on a film camera was easy. It took me a month to understand the basic concept and I became comfortable with the process. When learned the cello in ninth grade, I learned to read music and apply my fingers to a fingerboard. That was easy. When I took a swing dance lesson, the steps came easy, and someone said I had natural rhythm. I think it was because I was good at following instructions and because I had a musical background. Although I have not mastered any of these talents, having the basic concept and knowledge has encouraged me to do better. I'm competent enough, and if I wish to pursue those skills, I know I can do it. I hesitate to call myself an artist in those fields because I'm not passionate about them, nor am I constantly trying to better myself in those fields.

Recently, I’ve been feeling incompetent, and it’s because of my writing. Why did my artistry take shape in writing? This is the question that has always left me feeling mixed about writing's relevancy as an artform. People say I’m good at writing, but I don’t really consider mastering the English language a gift. Maybe the manipulation of words is a craft, if I decided to write poetry, a song, or a story, but those activities fall by the wayside when I teach. Writing is so ingrained into my professional life that it has become part work for me. There are days when I enjoy spilling words onto paper, and there are times when it seems like such a chore that I dread doing it. I wish my creative spark ignited a different talent—specifically drawing.

I have so many images in my head, but they never truly come to life for me when I use words. Words are insufficient and incapable of depicting the scenes and landscapes, of giving a face to a character, of breathing action into a swordfight, or of creating awe into magic spells. Words slow me down. My hand can never keep up when I’m trying to describe gods torturing mortals, but my hand is incompetent when I’m trying to draw what torture looks like. It’s because my palette is an English lexicon that trying to use a set of shapes, lines, and colors is like using a different toolbox. I know the remedy for this incompetency is just to keep practicing, but this is daunting. I usually grasp concepts and skills within two months, less than that sometimes. With drawing, I'm starting from the ground. And I'm not talking about "hit the ground running;" I'm just on the ground.

I read comics, and I secretly wish that I could have drawn super heroes. I look at architecture, and I secretly wish I could have drafted the layout. I see a room, and I secretly wish I could have been the interior designer. I buy art books, but they frustrate me—I’m a perfectionist, and people look like aliens under my fingers. I go to museums to be inspired, but great painting make me feel that insignificant and that incompetent. I gaze upon messy paintings that look awesome, and I am awestruck at the perfect chaos rendered on canvas. A rainbow of emotions shock, surprise, or disgust me as colors and images flood my visual perceptions. Recently, I saw an exhibition on woodworking and wood-design, and I was just blown away at the geometric structures that a table can take, or the way a chest of drawers can curvaceously wave like crests of the ocean waters. Maple, pine, and oak are just trees. I never thought a swan-like coat hanger made with oak could be so graceful, or a vanity table with maple inlays could be so elegant.

I don’t really consider myself an artist because I don’t produce anything beautiful. If I were a true artist, I would be painting or sculpting or woodworking. If I were a musician, I would be composing and making music—classical or electronic. But as a writer… where’s the unique product? Words get trapped in books, and books have had the same physical structure for centuries. Words look the same, regardless of font and font size. Ideas aren’t beautiful; they’re just words. I wish I could create and produce something tangible that can be immediately appreciated or instantly reactive without having to think about it. I wish my ideas could be beautiful.

If writing is thinking, then I think I’m tired of thinking. I need to think in a different way, maybe in pictures.


Anonymous said...

The essential question is then, can you train in artistry or does it just come naturally? If the latter, and you don't feel you have it in writing or visual arts, maybe you have it elsewhere. And maybe you don't have it.

Everyone has a different vocation in life, and I can't say that the artistic vocation isn't compelling and enviable (the grass IS always greener, to answer), but why not look at it as a hobby rather than a vocation?

Your piece here seems to suggest you won't be satisfied with yourself artistically unless you have a clear artistic vocation. That is setting the bar too high (but incidentally, probably this is the bar that great artists set for themselves because they feel it this way, and they reach it). So maybe you are a great artist. :)

But all the while learn, develop, adapt, improve, excel, and then repeat: learn, develop, adapt, improve, excel. Why does it need to be toward an end?

[BTW, there are some very artful lines in this post of yours, no joke.]


august said...

I'm not necessarily looking for an artistic vocation. I just wish I could draw better and more realistically. I know it's just a matter of practice and patience, but I don't have the patience to be patient anymore. I can practice, but I'm definitely impatient if I don't get it right within the first few tries.

And it's true: I'm not satisfied with myself artistically. I want to be able to write AND draw, but right now, I can only write.

Which lines were artful, by the way?

Anonymous said...

I liked the "I read comics..." paragraph especially. -DG