(If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy my Artful Blogging Flip-through)
Last weekend I had the great good fortune of singing a tribute to David Bowie with Choir! Choir! Choir! at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Lyrics I’ve known since I was a girl, “Ground control to Major Tom…” took on new meaning in the context of the singer’s recent passing “It’s time to leave the capsule if you dare.” My throat caught as I came to, “The stars look very different today.” In a flash not only did I feel the loss of David Bowie but also the death of my mother, the passing of time and the power of art.
How can a collection of simple words, “Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?” hold our experience of life so powerfully?
How is it that even now as I write, the music returns to my heart and raises the song’s lyrics to my mind and the tears well and I am overcome? In an instant I am transformed into a daughter grieving, reliving the pain of crying out to my mom in the days after her passing, like a baby animal howling for her mother’s return, “Mawwwwm…. Mawwwwwm….”
Art has a gift for containing the uncontainable, “For here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world,” for consoling the inconsolable, “Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.”
Art focuses our attention on the finest details of life while expanding our vision into the previously unimaginable.
Art is an opening, “I’m stepping through the door,” into boundless exploration “and I’m floating in a most peculiar way”.
In this world where we so often feel insignificant, small and alone, art lets us know that we are in this thing called life together. We are both always alone in our experience and also never alone in it.
Art holds paradox in her hand like a jewel.
Though I may have been the only one in that room feeling the loss of my mother, all of us were tied together by the silken thread of loss woven by David Bowie, “Tell my wife I love her very much.” All of us were there, slipping into music and lyrics for comfort and understanding, like kids crawl into their parents’ bed when the world is too much.
Coming together in a room of sound and connection was a reminder that we are not alone, even when we are all alone, floating in our tin can, far above the moon.
We are Ground Control. We are Major Tom. We are in this Space Oddity together.
Thank you, David Bowie. Thank you, Choir! Choir! Choir! Thank you, Mom.
Attending art school has always been a narrative that flowed alongside my life, particularly the Ontario Collage of Art and Design or OCAD (formerly OCA). When I was in junior high, one of my best friends had a dream of going there. At 14 she was already working on her portfolio. She took me down to The Grange, which was right by the art college and, at the time, was a beautiful little warren of exclusive shops and restaurants worthy of artists and their patrons. When my parents divorced, my mom pursued her artistic aspirations as a part-time student at OCAD, studying everything from sound to colour theory. My aunt went to OCAD. My sister Shannon went to OCAD. And my husband, Justin, went, for a time, to OCAD too.
But I never thought it was something for me. Out of all the arts, the visual arts have been the most intimidating to me, the most rife with art wounds. Over the past decade, I’ve given myself many opportunities for healing. I’ve attended all kinds of art classes, both online and in Toronto. I’ve spent hours art journaling, doodling and playing with drawing and painting. Every Sunday we have Art Day.
I’ve held it all lightly, as lightly as I could, and did my best to create for myself the encouraging environment I’d never been able to find.
This year, I’ve signed up for a class at an art school, not the iconic OCAD but a reputable school nonetheless. I’m doing a week-long immersive in collage – starting Tuesday. I’m so glad that I planned this many months ago when the beginning date was far enough away to be less scary. Now that I’m right on the cusp of the start, I’m committed. The decision has been made. The money has been paid. All that’s left is to go.
As I prepare for this next adventure, I’m so aware of all the stories I have in my heart me about art school and what this course is likely to be like. Here are just a few.
The Stories I’m Carrying Around about Art School
- The environment is going to be confusing, unclear and generally a bit unwelcoming.
- The teacher is going to gravitate to those who are already awesome and ignore those who are learning to be.
- The students are going to be reserved and mostly do their own thing.
- Other people will feel at home but I’ll feel like I don’t belong.
- There will be one woman who is older than me by a fair bit and everyone else will be younger than me by a fair bit.
- It’s going to be mostly self-directed.
- I’ll relish the dedicated creative time but resent the lack of guidance and instruction.
- Seeing what other people do will expand my range of possibilities.
- Seeing what other people do will bring out my insecurities.
- I’ll create pieces that I feel mark me as a novice and maybe a thing or two I feel good about.
- I’ll indulge myself in the repeated fantasy of not returning but I’ll stick it out until the end.
- It’s going to be on an emotional roller coaster.
- I’m going to learn at least something in spite of all this.
- I’m going to feel proud of myself for going.
And here’s what I know; those are just stories. Sure, they are stories rooted in past experience but they have no bearing on what next week will be like unless I wash everything in their colour.
But one of the things the kittens are reminding me of is just how unpredictable life’s adventures can be. This is why we creative adventurers benefit so powerfully from our practices, so we develop our muscles for showing up and being present to the moment; and from our projects, which nourish our confidence and grow our capacity; and from our performances, where we learn to trust ourselves to dance with whatever shows up and use it as nourishment for our creative lives.
The Stories & Strategies I’m Choosing to Carry with Me to Art School
- Don’t think about it too much; just go.
- Make sure I have all my supplies and know exactly where I’m going ahead of time. Who needs additional stress?
- Have a journal with me at all times so I can have an outlet when/if things get intense.
- Know that I can text Shannon and Justin to remember that I am connected to people I love and who believe in me.
- Know that I can leave any at time. I am an adult and the choice of staying or going is up to me.
- Ask for what I want/need to make it a positive learning experience.
- Start with the belief that we, as a class, are a community, and everyone will likely be helpful.
- Be the kind of classmate that I would like to have.
- Be open to the learning, all of it – content-wise and context-wise.
- Be open to loving it and wanting more.
I wonder which of my stories will be affirmed and which will be obliterated. What I promise myself is that I will enter this art school exploration with an open heart and a curious mind. From there, we’ll see what happens. Wish me luck on the adventure.
Any advice for me about this art school adventure? Anything you’d like me to share? I’ll be blogging about it as soon as I’m able.
We started with practicing colour mixing acrylics, using the primaries, black and white.
We mixed the secondary colours and then played with going lighter and darker.
Next we did some colour matching. When we were done, I used all the leftover paint for some art journal backgrounds. I love how this one turned out.
Next we moved into a value study, using just a light, mid and dark to create a simple object.
I worked on my favourite mug and Shannon painted Coney, this week’s Art Day mascot!
This simple exercise was a great practice in seeing and creating with light and shade.
It was an incredibly rich and productive Art Day!