Friday, November 9, 2007

Week Ten - November 9, 2007

Week Ten at the Art Centre.

I started off the week unwisely – on Sunday I went to the matinee showing of Klimt as a reward for all of the work done all weekend on assignments for Art History. Saturday had me back in Mirvish Village shooting five video segments (until my 2 Gig card was full) so we’d have something to insert in the Power Point presentation for Thursday’s class. Also I’d completed the printing in colour of all of the images, the final drafts of the text pieces and had put all of it together as a website and as a poster for the Appropriated Art assignment. I even started research for the assignment on legal issues and art. OK – pat on the back and go to a movie.

Arghhh – what a poor choice of movies! John Malkovich is always a weird man to watch but in this poorly patched together mess of a film he was totally unable to rise above the murky swamp of ill-conceived production values. I’m not sure what to blame it on other than script, direction and editing. At times the lighting was interesting in that it had somewhat of a sepia-toned period feeling and a few of the set pieces and costumes were suitably extravagant but the sense of a man as an artist (as well as being a letch and a madman) seemed totally missing.

After the movie I dashed over to Midoco to replace the bottle of paint thinner that drooled into the plastic bag last week. Happily the thinner all stayed in the bag and didn’t go elsewhere but it was beyond salvaging. Fortunately I had bought a small bottle so it didn’t bankrupt me to replace it.

Monday I was back with the star-grabbing angel on my lino block – and I continued to carve based on the test printing. We had a supply teacher who, praise be, was experienced as a print maker so we were able to get feedback and advice. I sat beside C. who is at about the same stage I am with his block – doing testing and more carving and putting off the inevitable when we have to clear the decks, roll up our sleeves and get going with the many prints due for this project. When I got home I tried an experiment that sort of worked. In two places where I had cut off a little bit of lino I needed for the design, I dabbed on some rubber cement. The chemical reaction caused the lino to melt a little so I mixed the melted lino with the glue to build up a small ridge where the lino bit needed to be. The fumes from the glue were pretty potent – I can see why this stuff needs to be used with caution.

After class, two of my presentation partners, M and F came home with me so we could decide which of the additional images that F took in Mirvish Village we’d add to our presentation. F found a way to get her images onto a CD so I could access them. After they left I spent the rest of the afternoon resizing them and placing them in the Bonus Section of the slide show. I wasn’t prepared to redo the presentation in order to put them in the body of the piece – too much time spent on this already. And besides, I teach on Monday evenings and I had to leave to attend my class.

Tuesday is the toughest day for me to get motivated to go to school. I realize this resistance is because I don’t enjoy painting class. The studies of still life are so incredibly uninspiring and unattractive to me but perhaps that’s the challenge – to be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear so to speak. This week, I got out my oil paints and initiated my palette for the first time. I could see soon enough that I need to buy Titanium White in bulk – I went through nearly half of the tube.

I carefully blocked in the shapes with different colours and managed to get everything pretty well covered. Too neat! Too controlled! Looked like paint by numbers. The teacher came by and got across two big ideas – 1. that I needed to be moving the brush in all directions vigorously and 2. that all parts of the painting would have all of the colours present. Reluctantly at first and then with gusto, I felt the liberating effect of those instructions. I began to do a real free-fall on the canvas, and managed to use up almost every scrap of paint on the palette by the end of the session. I got the impression that I was on the right track at last.

There’s an addenda to the oil painting class that didn’t come until much later at home. At bedtime I looked down and noticed that my right foot’s pale pink house slippers had a greenish tinge. Viridian green. Being the clever detective I traced the origin. Not only had I spattered the t-shirt with green but I’d managed to get a dollop of it on my shoe. That had transferred to my sock and the hem of my slacks. So now I have Tuesday clothing (not the slipper but the rest of the outfit).

The next morning I got green fingers when I tied the shoe laces on the right shoe. So – on went the rubber gloves so I could remove the lace and put in a new one after scrubbing the rest of the shoe. Hi-diddily-dee – the artist’s life for me.

Back to Tuesday – I went to sculpting studio in the afternoon and spent half of the time chit chatting with G. as we worked on our metal project. I like it that we are allowed to talk to each other as we are working. This is only true in sculpting class and in printmaking. In the other classes, talking amongst ourselves is discouraged as being distracting and I do think there are times when it certainly is important to concentrate solely on the work at hand. My block was soaking while I polished and picked at the wax models and I spent the rest of the class marking my block and cutting into it to mark where I will be carving. I noticed that the base of the block is much grainier and softer, the top much more compact and more resistant to carving. If I had noticed this sooner, I might have reversed the block so that the base of the piece was stronger. Too late for this one but perhaps there will be another block in my future. I do find the grainer part similar in feel to carve as the fire brick sculpture I did in my last sculpting class a few years ago.

Wednesday laundry and I had a much needed massage. I get a massage every other week and the two therapists are a good balance. Once a month I go to C. for shiatsu massage while B. does Swedish style. This week was B. we talk as she works on me. She is a painter (acrylics) we always have lots to talk about regarding our various projects. She’d just come back from two weeks in England and showed me her many photographs taken on the trip. A couple of the shots will make wonderful subjects for her paintings.

Thursday and Art History class. I didn’t bring my complete Appropriation project in after all. I wrote to the instructor to ask if I could bring it in early (before the deadline) or if he preferred I wait until the due date. He wrote back “I am indifferent.” I found that statement to be rather alienating. I asked D. (a classmate) what he thought of that kind of response and he said I was over-reacting, that it simply meant it was up to me and that the teacher didn’t care one way or another if I brought in the work. I interpreted the message more personally to mean the teacher is indifferent to me and my work. I suppose I’m being overly sensitive.

So it was the big day for our field trip presentations. One of our team was late so we hung back waiting for her. We listened as the teacher raved about the wonderful work done by another adult class of his. One of our teams was having problems with their presentation as it had been done in Power Point 2007 and the MAC laptop only has PPT 2003. As software is not backwards compatible, the file could not be recognized. However, the teacher got out his own personal laptop, a SonyVaio, and D. was able to rescue the images and get on with all but the video they’d taped. I really liked the feeling of togetherness emanating from this team. They all spoke extemporaneously and with a really positive attitude about the experience so that the missing video and the fact that they’d only captured the essence of one building did nothing to dilute the strength of an excellent presentation.

The next group to present seemed a little less connected (as a group) but they clearly enjoyed the trip. Their presentation was on DVD so we looked to the TV set for the show. There were some terrific images but I found it distracting to follow because of the special effects like water ripples and some of the transitions between slides at times upstaged the images themselves. What I liked least however was the sound – the music was catchy and appropriately urban but the volume so loud that it seemed to overwhelm the show.

Our group was last to present. We each had scripts to refer to and we did our talking before the slide show. There was a little nervousness and I think the presentation suffered from the lack of spontaneity and the inability to get the video segment to run. After several attempts I had to give it up. The teacher made a point of asking me to practice on the MAC though I sincerely believe that the video didn’t run because of the lack of power and a decent video card in the MAC. We weren’t able to use the SonyVaio.

I have to say however, that what was most difficult to take in this experience was the lack of attention we got to these presentations considering all of the work that went into them. While we were presenting, the teacher was back behind his desk facing away from the projection screen. He looked very busy with something – like squirrels get when intent on digging up nuts they buried. He only occasionally looked up at the slide shows and after each presentation he said “great” each time with a little less enthusiasm and finally with what amounted to a sense of relief as if to say, “ok– that’s done now we can move on and I can get to that Etruscan slide show I want to show in this class today”. Perhaps I’m being unfair in my analysis of this response but I do think that the least a teacher can do is really watch the work (as a member of the audience) and give a little feedback. I really like this teacher but at times I get the feeling he is not very happy about having to teach us.

Sculpting class in the afternoon started with E’s presentation on surrealism and it was quite well done – as well it was short and to the point. I was impressed with the images that he got from the Metro Reference library. I wasn’t aware that you could check out pictures from there. The teacher gave us a detailed demonstration of attaching the cup and vents to the wax models but I’m still not at that stage. I need to pour my cup and vents but that part of the studio was quite busy with others were closer to needing them than I am. I decided to continue the work on my wax models at home after I getting some advice about them from the teacher.

I spent the rest of the class working on my carving. I sat next to C. again (as in printmaking) and we had a good time bantering and laughing as we worked. C. kept teasing D. about what happened in painting class on Tuesday. D. came with a piece of paper to paint on, and he told the teacher that he thought it was canvas paper. Well the teacher was definitely not amused – he doesn’t even like the canvas sheeting that you cut off a roll but prefers we use stretched canvas or canvas boards. D. ended up losing the whole period waiting for gesso to dry on an old canvas board the teacher found for him. But back to the sculpting work at hand, I felt as if I made some headway though I am still not at the polishing and refining stage with this piece. The shapes are coming along, evolving somewhat from the ones shaped in the maquette.

I stayed busy through the evening and kept checking my email to learn if we had class or not for Friday. The answer – yes – a shorter period but yes.

And it’s Friday once again. Ten whole weeks! Today in class, we got handouts to do with drawing shapes. Also there were some really good illustrations of how to draw from manikins to get the proper proportions on physical forms. We began by drawing cylinders and blocks to get a sense of proportion and shading of shapes. Then we drew a manikin and we have to draw 4 human figures based on manikins to complete the assignment. We got back our portfolios and marks for the drawings we submitted. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive such positive comments. I felt well and truly validated about attending art school for the first time really.

Reflecting on this, I know as a teacher how difficult it is to give out judgments on students’ work. When I am teaching and doing evaluations it is only my opinion and my point of view and I suffer over the marking each and every time it is due. In recent years, it has gotten a little less painful due to my asking students for a rationale for the mark they believe they deserve for their work in the course. This helps me determine my mark as I decide if I agree with what they have said about themselves. Although as adults we often claim that we are not so motivated by marks as by other goals when we take courses, I see that we are not immune to the effect they have on us.

If we feel we have been undervalued, we get a bit whiny and petulant and want to know exactly why we haven’t received more recognition for all of our hard work. If we get what we feel we deserve we are OK and move on in comfort and if we get better than we imagined we were going to receive, there is a celebratory sense of jubilation - oh boy we did something good!

After the short class, M treated E and me to coffees at Second Cup and we had a lovely time deconstructing the week that was and getting to know each other better. I got to see the proposed itinerary for the New York trip – at least the one that was to be if they were going by bus. Now it seems that if they can get enough money collected they plan to go by train – a much more comfortable option it seems to me. They have a wonderful list of sights to see including the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan and the Modern – I’m envious as hell but the timing is not the best for me – considering my health issues and the 42 term papers my students will be handing in to me at the end of the month, it just makes sense to give the trip a pass.

We also discussed who in our class we think will stick with the program and be back next semester. I wish everyone would stay but I don’t in my heart of hearts think they will. I jokingly suggested we have a pool to see who comes back. We believe that they won’t merge the first year groups until year 2 since there is already a schedule – hopefully this will be the case. Here we are still two months away from the end of the first term about to get midterm marks and we are already anticipating next semester.

A final note – in the online course I’m teaching one of the students posted links to four YouTube Videos on the theme of creativity. The first few are fairly short – all are well worth watching but the final one, a bit longer is truly a gem – you may laugh out loud hearing this talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Watching these videos reminds me of a doctoral thesis by a friend of mine, Margie Buttignol. She wrote about giving feedback to students who are being creative. This research grew out of her feeling traumatized as a young girl by a teacher who didn’t like the way she coloured a page taken from a colouring book. The teacher wadded up her page and threw it into the garbage and from that time on, Margie felt worthless in art.

Here at the Art Centre, we are all working with our beliefs in our talents and those have been adjusted over the years by comments from friends and family. The real challenge some days is to just get on with the work, take risks, be willing to make mistakes and screw up a clean sheet of paper, while trying our best to work out what we’ve been asked to do by our teachers. It’s not always easy especially for those of us with a bit of mileage who have been used to doing things our own way (for better or worse) for a long long time.

No comments: