“But art is supposed to be fun!”

I’ve heard that a couple of times in response either to a less than enthralling lesson, or to my requests that students work to improve their art. The first time I was surprised; I have since started mostly rolling my eyes. I thought… Fun. Fun? Art? Fun? Well… I suppose one might say that… I tried to come up with an instance where I might say that. I suppose it was fun taking printmaking class, though that wasn’t exactly the impression I had off it at the time. At the time I was worried because I had drawing right afterwards, and I never seemed to be done in the allotted two hours; I had an impression of not knowing what I wanted to make a print of, and of being kind of lost and awkward with the supplies. I thought it was pretty neat that we were etching with tar and resin and acid, and that we got to use a real printing press with the big rollers. I suppose that was fun.

It was fun to make little sculptures, and especially to give them to people, and be congratulated on how good and charming they were. Well, I sort of did…. but, again… fun? Perhaps.

I had to take drawing 1 twice when I was 17 or so: I started and then withdrew because I never got to class on time, and sometimes found myself pouting and crying in class. We were asked to go out and draw a corridor on 18×20″ paper — I started it, but didn’t like it, was frustrated, hot, and irritated that I had to keep refocusing my eyes, far and near. Eventually I went home and drew from a picture I had taken so that I wouldn’t have to deal with depth perception and cropping.

Negative Space Drawing

Mr Welch, the instructor, liked to talk about positive and negative space. He called them “the ying and yang of art.” I took him again for painting, and he talked that way about the paintings as well. We made drawings with only negative space from the trees around campus. Nothing was ever finished until we had defined the picture plane and dealt with the negative space. Sometimes he would play music as we drew; when it was his choice it was mostly reggae. I thought the whole thing was silly and unpleasant, though I did like him.

We had a section of nude figure drawing. I was weirded out: conservative Christian homeschool girls don’t generally do nude anything. We drew thirty second gesture sketches, and minute ones, and ten minute drawings, and twenty minute drawings. Once we got to make a three session painting in oils, but it was a nude, and mine was ugly. I did think about the negative space, though, and it was better than it might have been. I walked out on the gesture drawings once, and another time I sulked all class. Mostly Mr Welch ignored that, though he did mention that if I didn’t get with the program I wouldn’t get a good grade. Eventually I came back and learned to make the fast drawings, annoying as they seemed. Fortunately, I was at community college, where people tend to ignore sulking — as they do at most colleges.

I had first begun to learn art (of a kind) in earnest several years before, with a few art lessons, and then with crafting clubs like leatherwork and quilting. Something that leather and cloth teaches better is paper is a sense for when a piece is finished. It isn’t finished until the seams are edged and pressed and the bottom is hemmed — or until it’s pinned and quilted and bound — or until it’s had five layers of different stamps, and decorative cuts, and dye, and sealer, and stitching. It’s not done simply because I would like to be rid of it. And as likely as not it isn’t precisely fun. Likely as not those projects aren’t precisely fun, but rather something else: they tend to end in a sense of accomplishment rather different than the mere enjoyment of mark making and materials. “You see this quilt I’m sleeping under? I made that!” Oh, wow, you made it, that’s great!

Another little test piece, the same size as the first, based on a section of the Christ if Sinai icon

Last year at around this time I took a workshop on encaustic (wax) painting. I’m tempted to say it was fun, but that’s mostly in retrospect. At the time it was intimidating and pretty neat and interesting — most of the time I was worried about making ugly art, or burning something, or showing myself to be a fake and not actually an artist at all. I probably wouldn’t have done much of anything if I hadn’t paid to be there and known it to be a workshop of finite duration. Then I sent some paintings to people, looked at them, liked them, and decided that encaustic painting really is fun after all.

So… is art fun?  Perhaps not, but it is challenging, interesting, and, after the art is completed, rather satisfying — like a school essay.


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