In this first semester of having all three kids in school, I’m going out on a limb and taking a class called Abstraction at the Arts Center in my little college town. It will involve drawing and painting with various media, all under the tent of “abstract,” which due to it’s nature is hard for me to wrap my head around. And the very reason it’s good for me.
Abstraction: the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances. (dictionary.com)
Apart from concrete realities. That does not describe me. I like a plan, I’m a habitual eater (veggies and hummus, apples and peanut butter EVERY DAY for lunch), I organize my closet based on color and length of sleeve.
I could use a little abstraction in my life.
In our first class this week we did a drawing exercise. An abstract one, technically. But it had all sorts of rules: look only at the model, don’t look at the paper, and don’t pick up your pen. Did I mention I’ve never taken a drawing or painting class? Ever. I participated in art class in elementary through junior high, but I was almost always the last to begin and rarely finished, due to an intense need to get it right. Getting it right was about following the rules, yes, but also about deciding on the very best art I could make. What should I do? Perfectionism spurred by fear and a love of beauty. I wanted to make something beautiful. I wanted to do my art well.
Writing used to be the same for me. I hesitated to begin an essay or a story, because I wanted to get it right. Wanted to write the whole thing, start to finish, nearly perfectly the first time. I hated editing. I’d rather think and think before I penned a single word than have to re-think a section. Which never worked. I’ve gotten much better at just starting and letting it go where it goes. Sometimes I begin with the beginning, sometimes the middle, and occasionally the end. Then I work around what’s there, often scrapping the first lines I wrote altogether. I’ve gotten better at the do-over, which is good since it’s inevitable. Better to embrace imperfection and jump right in.
Here’s the funny thing: I love abstract art. Much more than literal depictions of country scenes or sitting portraits. I like the lack of rules, the expansive room for interpretation, or no interpretation at all other than a feeling. One that is subjective. I like color and shape and how a combo of them can make me happy or sad or really calm. How an abstract piece in my house can set a mood without necessarily meaning to. I like that I can like it, without any deep artistic reasoning other than my personal preference. There’s all kinds of freedom in that.
During that drawing exercise from my first class, I failed miserably. Broke all the rules in my desire to make my depiction look good. My teacher made sure I looked only at her for the next pose. It was almost more than I could handle. Knowing I was drawing all kinds of ridiculousness on my paper, wondering if I was putting her eyes near her knees, or if I was “supposed” to include eyes at all. I was lost in the mix of no-rules-but-lots-of-rules situation and felt like an idiot. I was doing it exactly wrong. In every way.
At the end of class my teacher said the most important thing was to avoid being overly critical of ourselves. So I also broke the most important rule. Because I thought I sucked. I needed to let my ridiculous picture be ok with me. The point was not to make something beautiful, but to see the model, to let our style emerge, and for me, to give myself the freedom to let my image look however it looked. To be abstract.
We’ll see how I do in my class. It’s hard to say at this point, but I’m hopeful. That I’ll be able to jump off the cliff from concrete into abstraction and dive deep, arms flailing and feeling fine about it all. Or terrified, but letting it happen anyway. And at the very least, I can hope to earn the title “most improved.”