Thursday, February 28, 2008

frustrated artist

If ever I've liked to imagine myself as an 'artist', it's been as a writer or poet. While I don't rate myself too highly as either, I've put most of my creative energy into writing. I've learned more or less what I can expect of myself, what I will be satisfied with, and how to make hard work pay off. But all this changed when I switched mediums.

Over the last couple of years my writing has been almost completely academic. I spend so much time at the computer writing papers and reports that even though I miss creative writing it's hard to want to spend a few more hours with the same tools. Perhaps this is why I've done so much knitting in the last few years - a frustration for lack of creative outlet. And while I consider knitting to be creative, it's hard to knit a masterpiece. There is some sense of satisfaction, but not quite the same pride.

Then for Christmas V gave me a choice of either cello or painting lessons. A new opportunity for a creative outlet. I chose painting and signed up for an intro class at the Ottawa School of Art. I wasn't expecting to become Van Gogh or Renoir, but I was looking forward to a new artistic medium.

Although the somewhat-deaf instructor is more interested reminiscing about painting holidays and talking about people who have admired his work, he does get us to paint things we might not have otherwise chosen - fake fruit, a snow-filled back yard, green glass bottles... and our selves.

When it came to the self-portrait, his only advice was 'get a mirror' (he's really not so big on instructing). So I got a book from the library and on the weekend sat down in front the mirror with the book, my canvas and paints, and struggled to put to canvas what was staring warily at me.

She and I squinted, frowned and grimaced at each other all weekend. I peered at the unevenness of her skin tone, the oddly long space between her nose and mouth... and could that be the beginning of jowls on her cheeks? Staring so closely at myself, and fighting with the paint, was more frustrating than creatively satisfying.

When I brought my painting to class the instructor said, "It looks like a battle has been fought." That was the most insightful thing I've heard him say yet.

In his opinion this 'battle' was successfully won. He thought the painting showed intelligence and diligence.

Maybe I just don't know how to take a compliment. Or maybe there is just a certain kind of compliment I want to hear: raw talent, artistic ability.

Diligence, skill in battle - those aren't exactly the characteristics of the artist I wish I was.