Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reflections on Art

Art as a Chapter Series:

When I was a child, my mother would give me leftover dried lentils, a coloring paper, and some glue, and she’d tell me to glue down each lentil to the blank spaces of the coloring sheet instead of coloring it. I’d spend hours on the kitchen counter, with pieces of lentils on my fingers and sticky Elmer’s glue in the other hand, slowly mastering the art of not gluing one’s fingers to the lentils, but gluing the lentils to the paper.

When I became a little older, I went through the inevitable “why” phase. There was a painting on the right-hand-side of my parent’s bedroom that I never understood- it wasn’t quite like other paintings. It didn’t have any concrete lines, it seemed. There was no form, there was no defined shape, and it looked nothing like the Mona Lisa that I had learned about at school. It looked like scribbles to me. I’d always walk past the painting and stare at it, flustered at why it was hanging there, and confused as to why it was deemed art. The flowers that I drew were so much better.

Every October, there would come a night when my mother would pull out pungent-smelling magical golden cones. Those days were the best days. My mother would get all dressed up, dust my face with some glittery makeup, and then draw on my hands with the paste from the gold cones. I’d get scolded if I wasn’t patient enough, because the entire paste would turn into a glob, but I quickly learned to tame my childish fidgeting as my mother filled my hands with designs of peacocks and flowers, lines and dots. It was indubitably my favorite day of the year. I’d proudly walk into school the next day, and everyone would ask me what was on my hands. Of course, I would raise my hands whenever I could.

Come middle school,  around the same time that I came to terms with the fact that good poetry doesn’t necessitate rhyme, things came in less of a filter. Perhaps it had to do with my height- I was able to see the painting from further away now that I was taller. There was one day when I walked past the painting piece that had irritated me for so long, the one on the right-hand side of my parent’s room.  It was a moment of abrupt realization- the painting was not just a series of silly scribbles, but an elaborate oil painting of an African Village. It was the most beautiful piece of art that I had ever seen, more beautiful than the predictability of the Mona Lisa. In a moment of shock, I saw the whole scene come together, and a white flourish on the bottom of a piece caught my eye. As I peered at the right hand side, I recognized the signature. It was signed by my father.

It was the October of 2003, and my mother was too exhausted to do anything for the celebrations. I found myself looking through the fridge for the golden magical cones, and, against any common sense, began to squirt the paste all over my arms. By the time the moon had risen, my arms were covered in elaborate designs, quite like the ones my mother had covered my hands with.  

I didn’t ever think that I would be able to draw. Although I had tried drawing human faces before, they always ended up looking like strange sketches, lines of half a circle and then a third, and then a fifth. Suddenly, the VisArts section on ACES accosted me , and I opened it. And a few months later, I found myself in a drawing room with a sketchpad and expensive art supplies, really confused as to how and what I was doing there.

The first day was interesting- I felt somewhat confused and inadequate. By the second week, however, I was shocked to see what the end products of my artistic attempts looked like. In the places that I would normally give up- the times when, on my own, I would stop trying and throw out my pieces, I was forced to sit in class and correct the piece, and my patience created detail in the drawing. “Did I really make that?” I thought, as I looked at a piece I made  earlier that week. I gained confidence as an artist in a way that was so distinct from my previous interaction with art. I could experiment from the basis of rules, without the pressure of doing things the way that I had thought was correct. It was freeing to draw from perception.

Nietzsche says that the only thing worth living for is art. Art is the purpose of existence, even if it is awful. “Make art!” he says, “because nothing of life is worthwhile.” (not a direct quote)
I have spent countless hours of my life making art, debating it, and, as silly as it may seem, determining the existential purpose of it. Why am I creating things that are, the the end of the day, average in skill, to make a point that is, at the close of it, nonunique and dubious, in physical form which, at the finality of it all, is probably not going to survive the sands of time?

I’m not sure. But if there is anything that I have learned, it is that art, be it drawing, or sketching, or appreciating,  is a way to communicate and grow, a methodology of teaching me to be more detail-oriented and committed and, most importantly, a way for me to understand myself and the world.

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