Monday, February 21, 2005

WTF, Cezanne?

I got the lowest grade of my college career in Basic Painting. I took it because I thought it was a sure thing, an easy elective credit that would pad my senior-year GPA and let me relax a little during Rush quarter. Yeah right. Five painful critiques, a couple hundred dollars, and a few art building overnights later… a B+ and a painting of a peanut butter sandwich that ended up in the Dumpster (the painting, not the sandwich – well, probably the sandwich, too.)

For the record, I still hold that I’m as creative as any of those Art Theory and Practice snobs who take the same classes as the rest of us but call them “practicums” and who use “workshop” as a verb. I just had execution problems.

My relative failure at painting stems from the same thing that made me hate On the Road. You can’t expect someone to take an assignment like “paint three floating eggs on a background using only blue and orange” (real assignment) and be creative with it, just like you can’t expect someone to love a book about escapism and freedom from consequence when there are consequences to not reading it.

Anyway, I’ve decided I’m pretty much over the B+ and ready to give painting on my own terms a go. I need a creative outlet outside of work, and Mary didn’t seem to keen on my wanting to paint the apartment (she has a point about the heaviness of our furniture.)

So yesterday I headed to Michael’s, picked up some basics (I’ve toted my collection of half-full tubes of oils and acrylics from Evanston to Chicago to Colleyville to Dallas, just in case this fancy ever struck) and went home to construct a makeshift (and collapsible) studio on the back porch. (Side note: I’d never spent any time on that back porch until yesterday; it’s pretty spacious, but there’s nowhere on the porch that isn’t under the tree. That makes me nervous.)

I forgot how much prep-time painting requires. Of course, there’s the actual paint-mixing, but there’s also the change in attire – because, like all true artists, I can’t focus on keeping paint off my clothes – and the all-important Diet Cherry Coke positioning (must be within reach, but also far enough away from the brush-rinsing cup to avoid any dangerous ingestion mix-ups.) By the time I got set up, there was only going to be enough time to paint a background before it got dark out, but I forged ahead.

Who would’ve thought painting an 18x24 area a solid color could be so engrossing? For the hour or so I was outside, I didn’t think about work. I didn’t think about how my mom would be disappointed that I didn’t come home for the weekend. I didn’t even think about how fire ants were treating my bare toes like the cheapest all-you-can-eat buffet on the Las Vegas strip.

All I thought about was this: Once this glob of $2.99 student-grade lime green acrylic paint hits this canvas, I have exactly eight seconds to get it where I want it to be before it starts getting tacky.

For the most part, I didn’t get the paint where I wanted it within eight seconds. But I didn’t care. For the first time, this perfectionist, who’s used to snap-to-guides and gutter-widths and lines made perfectly straight by technology, didn’t care about blotches or brushstrokes or even the dirt that strategically maneuvered itself into my drying paint (hey, I’m down with mixed media.) I didn’t care because I realized something that would have helped me out last winter quarter when I was tearing my hair out trying to mimic in paint the floating egg I saw in my mind.

I didn’t care because I realized this: in a race with chemistry, intentions will almost always come in second.

So I threw intentions out. I thought I knew what the finished painting was going to look like – I am, after all, the girl who can’t start a project and then just leave it sitting, knowing it could be closer to conclusion. But now I have no idea how it will turn out. I know, I know, it’s a huge risk, right? I’m really living on the edge now. Living on the edge with a blotchy, lime green, dirt-flecked canvas and no expectations for a flawless finished product.

Who knows … maybe I’ll give the sophisticated sandwich genre another stab. Now that I don’t expect a masterpiece, I’m open to anything.