A year or so ago, I was preparing for the first week of the seven week art class. The night before the first session, I got an email from one of the students I'll call "Jim." He let me know he was flying in from Houston, and would be arriving to the first class an hour late.
"No problem!" I told Jim.
The next night class began. In filed the typical demographic of my art classes: 20-something to senior women. Usually the class had a few guys, but this class would only have one... Jim. As he had promised, Jim arrived an hour after class started. I must tell you all when he walked in, I was surprised. We all were surprised.
During graduate school I served tables at a fine dining spot in town. I got used to waiting on men and women with a tremendous amount of expendable income. Over time you learned to recognize certain things. One of the things I learned to recognize was the difference between a dress shirt my boyfriend might wear, with say... the dress shirt from the CEO of Exxon. I instantly noticed that Jim was dressed like the latter.
He had been traveling for business and had come straight from the airport. His crisp white shirt was perfectly pressed, his dress pants and shoes were jet black. More than this, they were clearly very expensive. He was tan. He had silver hair perfectly combed back. I could tell everyone in the class noticed it. Jim was also clearly aware of it. He gave a sheepish apology for being late. His facial expression said: "I know I know... Please treat me like everyone else."
And so I did.
Jim quickly became an amazing addition to the class. Each week he brought wine. He was kind. He was friendly. And yes, Jim had a powerful position working in (what I would regard) as a cut throat industry. He was not the usual demographic at my hippy art school on a nature preserve, and everyone loved him for it. I loved him for it. Conversations with Jim slayed the standard stereotypes. He was refreshingly adept at straddling two worlds.
Naturally, I couldn't help but wonder what made him take my class. I watched him each week and it was apparent in spite of his gregarious warm nature, art made him deeply nervous. Still, he showed up, braved the new territory, and was strong enough to share his vulnerabilities with the other students. I really admired him.
One thing that made the class unique: It wasn't taught by me directly. I was the host teacher. Each week I invited a different guest artist from the school to share their artwork and lead the class in a short lesson. Each week was a different media. Collage, Drawing, Printmaking... and Painting.
On Painting day I noticed Jim was especially quiet and uncomfortable. As class progressed, the guest teacher and I stopped a few times to help him. Jim clearly didn't want it. Short of him saying it aloud, everything about his body language said "leave me alone". So we did. Halfway through the class he excused himself: "I need a breather." He left his wine, paints, and canvas to step outside. And that was the last time I saw him.
I waited a few weeks for good measure and then emailed. He replied immediately, but politely declined returning. "It's not you Rebecca, I'm just not an artist."
I don't use the word "brokenhearted" lightly, but in that moment my heart broke. I wanted to tell him he was wrong. I wanted to tell him if I spent even an hour doing what he did for a living, I would have not handled it with nearly as much grace. I basically wanted to beg him to give it one more shot. Instead I told him I respected his choice. I told him the class missed him. Even if he just came for wine and conversation it could time well spent.
Jim didn't come back.
I spent a lot of time thinking about him. I pondered how I could have prevented him getting to the dangerous place feeling he didn't belong in that studio. I shared the story with others, and many of them said there was nothing I could have done. Perhaps they're right.
In spite of all mitigating factors, feeling as if we're not artistic hurts. Y'all know what I mean, right? It cuts deep. It's not the same as feeling as if we're not good at Math. Not good at fixing cars. Not good at fashion. Not good at cleaning. Not good at shooting a basketball.
I think it's a special kind of hurt because deep down we know we ARE artists. We know this, and we desperately want to feel and experience as much.
I know I'm not a mathematician. I also don't feel like I'm supposed to be one. That makes it okay when I can't consistently divide fractions or balance an equation. There's no gap between my skill and expectation. If there's no gap, there's less pain. It's the gap between knowing we are absolutely artists and not feeling it. The gap is what hurts.
Some people will argue me on this point. "Borrelli, I know I'm not an artist and I'm okay with that. Not everyone is an artist." I see their point. Most people define artist as a person who makes classically defined art objects: "Paintings, dance, theater, music..."
I define an artist as someone who does anything artistically.
As a kid, my father invested in an old Triumph motorcycle. He spent much more of his time fixing it than riding. I would watch him tinker for hours. Trying a little of this here. A little of that there. Nope, let's twist this... nope too far. Let's go back and test this angle. It was total artistry. Here's the kicker: My Dad's artistry is not exclusive to all people who fix bikes. A pissed off person who hates motorcycles (but for some odd reason) has to work on them, might go through the same motions as my Dad... but it's not art anymore.
I could write a novel on this, but for the sake of this post: Artistry is a quality humans imbue into ANYTHING. I've met artistic Target cashiers. Artistic garbage men. Artistic computer engineers.
When people say they're fine with not being an artist, what they don't realize is they're fine with not being a visual artist. They're still getting their artistry needs met somewhere else. Creativity and making exist deep in our veins. It's coded into our DNA.
Picasso famously said:
"We are all born artists. The problem is staying that way as we grow up."
Many of us are fine getting our artistry needs met through tinkering on a motorcycle like my Dad, or cooking a fine meal like many dear friends. But some of us want to make visual art with classic materials like Jim. And like Jim, they don't know where to begin because it's scary. It's new. It's unfamiliar terrain.
Thus Paint, Print & Pastel was born. It was crafted with Jim in mind, and if you related to his story in any way, this class is for you too. It was created for people who deep down want to make art, but don't know where to start. It's for people who want to have fun, yet also want simple, no-nonsense tools and techniques so they can put their creative ideas into action.
I partnered with the perfect person to help create this class: Alex George. I have yet to meet an art teacher as good as Alex when it comes to explaining foundational art techniques to beginners. She's a natural. She's patient. And more than that she's truly talented at making seemingly complex things accessible for first timers.
Together she and I will introduce you to three fundamentals of 2D art making: Drawing with Pastel and Ink, Relief Printmaking, and Acrylic Painting. We structured it into a weekend workshop so you will have plenty of time to go at your own pace and play around with new materials. We'll have snacks. Mimosas. Music. We're getting all the art supplies for you. And the icing on the cake? We are hosting at the beautiful Craft Studio in heart of Austin's funky East side district.
Everyone deserves to experience themselves as an artist, and we're so excited to hold space for you to flex your creative muscles. I don't know if I'll ever see Jim again, but his first venture into the world of art hasn't been in vain.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for questions or conversation!