Art Class (Berlin)

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Last week, I paid €15 for 2 hours’ worth of art class, my first ever. The class was taught by an Englishwoman named A., and there were 7 students, including me, plus the model, an Italian (I think) in her late 20s. We started with a wash – i.e. brushing a base of watercolor paint onto a thick sheet of paper. I was kind of confused about how we were supposed to do it. I guess I was only half-paying attention when the instructions were being given, and I’d hardly ever used paints before, so naturally mine came out the worst of the batch. I wanted to do it over again, but before I could say anything, the model was standing nude in the center of the room. She did a little stretch and got on the floor, sitting there with one foot under her ass, the knee of her other leg pulled into her chest, and her arms akimbo, reaching up to the sky. We had 8 minutes to draw her in that position, but my hand was shaking so much I could barely draw a straight line. I wasn’t used to drawing under the gun, I always took my time. Plus, I was terrified that my sketch would be as bad as my wash, and they’d figure me out. The old nightmare. Something left over from childhood. Embarrassing scenes from the baseball diamond, the schoolyard, the backs of cars and bars and social gatherings raced through my consciousness. I began to sweat.

4 minutes to go, the teacher announced.

I now had the general shape of a woman on the page, but the lines betrayed my trembling pencil. I glanced at my neighbor’s rendering. Good. Hers was just as bad. Schadenfreude is good.

We ended up doing four sketches of the Italian woman in four different poses and showed our best one for a group critique. Mine was somewhere in the middle, I guess. At least it wasn’t humiliating, that’s all I cared about. But why? Why was I so mortified about being humiliated? Did I not apply to myself the very words I was always preaching in my writing – that all is dust and shadow, and it’s a mistake to make much more out of life than the effort it took to create it…

Our last assignment of the night was to paint the figure of the Italian woman over the wash we had done. I needed a beer for that. Rothaus Pils was available for €1.50 a bottle. The teacher brought one to me. The bottle was freezing cold. I tilted it back. Nothing came out.

“It’s frozen,” I told the teacher.

She apologized, took the bottle and tried to replace it but it was the last one left. She gave it back to me. I warmed it with my hands and held the bottle high over my mouth. A drop landed on my tongue. It was something.

I began painting. Traced the form, messed up with the black watercolor, tried to correct with white and with charcoal, but before I knew it, time was up. The class was over. The poor girl on my paper looked nothing like the nude in the center of the room. It was a child’s rendering, hollow, insipid. But I didn’t care anymore. It wasn’t me that was on trial anymore, it was the class. Was it worth it? The teacher was great, and very kind, but the form seemed antiquated. Are there not YouTube videos out there that are just as informative, and free? Someone told me about a guy who built his house from the ground up using nothing but YouTube tutorials. Why can’t the same be done with drawing and painting? It can. 90% of the game is the development of the craft, but I don’t think people go to art classes just for that. They do it for the social benefits too, which, I must confess, I don’t give a rattus norvegicus’ derriere about.

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27 thoughts on “Art Class (Berlin)

  1. Haha. I love your stories so much Michael. Everything becomes thrilling. Even with the beer bottle, I was like, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT?? WILL HE BE ABLE TO DRINK OR NOT?? Haha. Great work 😀

    p.s. I am just like that when it comes to the anxiety of performing. I think it’s because we start caring too much what other people think. We just have to focus on doing what you want and, like you said, ‘not give a rattus norvegicus’ derriere’ about it.

    • Strangely enough, as I was writing this, I was thinking if anyone could relate to this it’d be you. We have the same anxiety issues. I’ve known it for a while. Thank you for your kind words, Mme Eva. 🙂

      • Haha that’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever told me on here Michael, I am glad you feel you have found a companion through all this. Keep on striving 💪

    • Hi Michael and Evana,

      Indeed, anxiety can be debilitating, especially if we had to perform in front of people or cameras.

      Sometimes I find that it can greatly help to concentrate or distil on the tasks at hand, and to figure out certain options or solutions. The canvas is indeed a kind of playground or sandpit for us to explore with colours, contours and textures, as I discussed in considerable detail in my special post at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/soundeagle-in-john-clinocks-art-rat-cafe/

      May you continue to paint and draw to your heart’s content!

  2. Really enjoyed this! Frozen beer?! Glad your survived it all. I do agree, there’s got to be a better way to learn. I can be far more creative when no ones watching… 😊

  3. ha-ha. I had a similar time once, re-inventing myself after a split-up 20 years ago. I don’t know why beginner’s drawing classes always go so fast… I’d be happy to work on one thing the entire hour plus. And for some reason, they then to use absurdly attractive models. I got lucky, just the head & face, portrait, no nudes. Charcoal. fun class.

    • Our model was attractive, but for some reason I didn’t see her in a sexual way at all. She could’ve been a towel rack for all I noticed. It was very strange. Thanks for coming by, Sir!

  4. You are a story-teller of note Mein Herr!
    I love it wenn Du aus dem Brunnen des Lebens schöpfst:
    “— that all is dust and shadow, and it’s a mistake to make much more out of life than the effort it took to create it…
    …the words sent me into a spiral of thought, realization and ossified, defenceless bedlam…
    Are many of us products of half-hearted lust affairs that should never have made it beyond the sheets of pudency?
    The sun is shining in wintry Africa, I need some warmth and light…
    Guten Tag Herr Powers!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mr Nothing. I am proud to have sent you on that spiral. I guess I’ve just read too many gloomy German philosophers in my day – that’s what sent me on it. But I love it. Schopenhauer may be a world-class pessimist, but his words lead up to the light, IMO:
      Guten Tag, Mein Herr!

    • I am not a painter, but I don’t think it’s out of my league. One mistake I made in my youth is I used to think anyone who could draw or paint was born with the talent. I didn’t see all the hard work that went into it. Art is a craft. Anyone (with enough hard work and determination) can become proficient at it. Glad you like this. 🙂

      • It IS a craft, provided you’re at least a bit talented.
        R.Federer was said to be extremely untalented when he started playing tennis and he should be better off playing soccer..look at where he is now. He surely knows what it feels like to be a God.

  5. Your language n stories are much engaging n opens up in an intimate feltness..dearest MP..it absolutely syncs with a reader..n a lot of lights on ur settings n lives on that fastest corner of globe ..wl watch out fr more from you:) thanks

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