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.