She’s standing in front a TV playing a creepy video of a gender neutral hair model with a dinosaur bone in front of it wrapped in birthday present wrapping paper. “What do you think of this piece?” Art is always a piece. Artists are never “popular”, they’re always “important”. Every piece by anyone moderately popular is important and must be taken seriously. This piece is by a student, so I’m not sure what the rules are here. Will I still be required to prostrate myself at the altar of artistic expression, or can I say what everyone is thinking?
I go for the latter, “It seems like the artist is just doing things at random and is making fun of video installation art.” Immediately the teacher gets visibly upset. I’m being cynical. I have no idea what I’m talking about. All the other true believers attack my statement. I have no right to be so cynical. I don’t know why this artist made this so I could be criticizing someone who was raped and this is their expression of their past experiences. I just stand there and take it, since I’m outnumbered 1 cynic to 12 true believers.
The teacher is looking at our paintings in a critique class and praising everyone. She’ll ask them why they painted this road, or that building, or their face, and the experienced students know the game. They effuse wildly about their personal connection to the subject. How deeply the construction cranes in the Dogpatch move them to tears and impact their life in deep meaningful ways. Before that this student was into a ceramic bird that changed her life forever. Another had pasted some flowers onto a photo of herself, but the real meaning was her ever changing views on feminism. Another talked for 20 minutes about how this trip to Muir woods changed her life in profound spiritual ways so her paintings of roads are an expression of her deeply moving experience.
The teacher comes to my paintings and asks me why I painted them. I say, “I wanted to practice noses.” She scowls at me and says, “It seems like you aren’t personally attached to your subject.” I confusedly pause then ask, “I’m not personally attached to my face?” She completely misses the absurdity in this question and fires back, “Yes, it seems you’re just painting it because it is there, not because you truly love it.” I look around all the other true believers are staring at me with a mixture of sadness and incredulity, except one. She’s rolling her eyes with a look of, “Sorry dude, she’s an idiot.”
I’m in a class billed as a figure class that will make me more expressive and find my “true” artist inside. I actually don’t care finding my true artistic expression. I just want to get more figure classes in, and this sounded like a lot of fun. The class would teach us to apply different techniques in a situation where a nude model would pose while different color lights are cast on them with music playing to set a mood. The teacher was also really nice and a very good painter so I figured I’d learn something.
During the class I’m just sucking ass and can’t figure out why. I’m trying to paint the figures but the music is distracting, the lights make no sense, and the teacher is constantly waffling between “be loose, don’t think” and “why isn’t that drawn correctly?” I try as hard as I can to satisfy both goals of not being accurate and also being accurate but it’s impossible. On the final day I realize that, given the models are all white skinned, then the crazy color lights mean there is zero flesh tones. Aha! Why the hell didn’t the teacher just tell me this? “Because you have to discover that for yourself.” Well then why am I paying you money?
About half way through the course I ask why we’re doing the lights and the sound. She says so we can’t think about what we’re doing. So I ask then why are we expected to be accurate in these conditions? She says if you’re really an artist it’ll be accurate. I ask if she does this with her paintings and she says, “Oh no, not at all.”