Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hang it on the wall anyway...art is art, right?

When I was younger, and in grade school, or, rather, when I was young and in grade school...no, no, younger is correct, because let's face it, as old as I feel sometimes (going to bed at 9 on a Friday night? Having a quiet Saturday at home during Mardi Gras?), I am still rather young and shouldn't be saying things like "When I was young..." because then it sounds like I'm missing teeth and have my mortgage paid off which, I assure you, I most certainly do not. So, with that in mind...

When I was younger, and in grade school, I used to try and draw. Everybody drew. The cool kids drew, the quiet kids drew, even the bullies were known to turn out some stunning Art Smart Award* winning masterpieces so, in an effort to fit in and distance myself from those other five or six kids who couldn't draw, I at least tried to draw.

Now, my mother, being the consummate politician, adored all of my drawings that I brought home from my art class and I, being ever-ready for validation of my (seemingly) limited number of skills, brought each and every one of them home, laminated, with the expectation that she would display them on the wall of our dining room with with the help of sticky-tack putty. She put some horrid drawings, paintings, colorings and sketches up there. I think I only passed art classes in grade school because we were graded on effort, not on degree of skill or quality of masterpiece. Masterpieces, well, that was a stretch for anything I ever turned out in those classes...with the exception of some of the more abstract modernist styled art projects we were assigned (I can't remember, I could ask my wife she'd know...or it's in one of her art books downstairs and I don't feel like going down there because I am blogging/cooking dinner...), such as the one where there were a series of black, straight lines, and wherever they made a shape (triangle, rectangle, some sort of polygon) I filled in the shape with a primary color. They were all there the bad and the worse, on the dining room wall, alongside my sister's much more polished efforts (however, she did the same art projects three years ahead of me, so by the end of fifth grade we had some very suspiciously similar works of art. I promise I never once intentionally copied one of hers).

Strangely enough, as bad as I was I did not limit my drawing skills(?) to the confines of the arts annex** but instead flexed my puny art muscle during free period or indoor rainy-day recess. This did not improve my drawing to say the least, and it just made those cool/quiet/bully kids laugh at me because I thought I could draw. This did not deter me (and I did suffer for this, amongst other things, but suffering is part of being an artist, is it not?), and in 4th grade I began reading Calvin and Hobbes and also The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I had become a writer (to a point) as well, because I enjoyed writing assignments so much that I had started writing along with my drawings...I had turned my childhood stuffed animals into comic strip characters. I'm older and not afraid or ashamed to admit that (I was, for a time, too old and ashamed to admit such a thing had ever happened, but that was middle school and that is a chapter of my life that shall happily remain closed for the time being). The drawings were crude. I mean, they were awful. I mean...they were possibly the worst drawings to ever have been labelled as a comic strip (with the possible exception of Ziggy, but it's not my job to be a comic page critic, unfortunately). But what kept them interesting to those I showed them to, including not only my best friend Jesse Fournier*** but also my parents (again, they were obliged to like them but something about the way my mom liked them suggested she wasn't just being nice) and my teacher was not the crappy drawing but the story lines and the dialogue that drove them. There was the easter series, where Ricky the cat got a white chocolate easter bunny in his basket, and it was the envy of all the others. In the middle of the night, Sneaky Feak, the mischevious yellow rabbit of the bunch, snuck into the kitchen to steal the white chocolate bunny from the refrigerator, only to find that it was not being kept in there. Concluding that it must have been stowed in the basement refrigerator, Sneaky Feak turns to see the refrigerator door close, his world plunged into darkness and he unable to reopen the door (this was a relatively easy panel to draw). The very next line of panels told of Furry Guy's pursuit of Ricky's coveted white chocolate easter bunny (Furry Guy being Ricky's older-by-seven-seconds brother). Furry Guy, like Sneaky Feak, searched in the main refrigerator and what does he find? He finds it! So, he takes it out and sinks his teeth into the bunny's ears. And a loud howl emits from the rabbit's mouth. The next set of panels shows a room full of animals (Ricky, Furry Guy, Sneaky Feak along with Octoplus the Octopus, Snowy the white cat, Sneaky Feak's mother who's name I can not for the life of me remember anymore, and Mr. Guy Man, a microscopic alien with the strength of thirty men, who was often indicated only by a tiny dot on the page from which a dialogue bubble seemed to pop out of). Sneaky Feak is being attended to by his mother, who is bandaging his wounds. Ricky is furious with both Sneaky Feak and Furry Guy, and Snowy, Octoplus and Mr. Guy Man want to know how Furry Guy could have made such a mistake. His excuse? "Hey, come on, I'm a cat, how am I supposed to know white from yellow? I'm colorblind."

A rudimentary joke, perhaps, but one that intrigued my teacher, Mrs. McFadden**** to the point that she encourage me to write more...and implied that I should draw less.

Cut to the present, I am now a writer, unpublished yes, but nonetheless a writer of sorts and I am married to an artist who has, in her lifetime, had work displayed in galleries and won contests and such. She can draw. I still can't. I can, however, work a camera, which is the only way I get to hang anything I had a hand in creating on our walls. You see, we have some of her drawings, skethes and paintings about the house, and they're not laminated or held on with sticky-tack putty either, but I mean they are framed and hung on nails we've pounded into our walls. This is a way of displaying her talent to any who visit our home. "What's this?" They'll ask, pointing to a particular block of wood with a rose burnt into it that hangs in our bedroom. "Oh, that," I'll say nonchalantly, "That's just one of Kathy's pieces of artwork. Like this other one, this drawing of a rose, and over in this other room, this sketch of the baby elephant and this one of the child with his hands on his cheeks. Yeah, Kathy did them all."

Just once, I want Kathy to point to a series of, say, fifteen frames, all containing 8 1/2" by 11" sheets of paper, in a specific order left to right, and say, "This is one of my favorites; a short story Elliot wrote about two years ago about a twenty-something spending the night in jail with an old friend.***** It's quite good, I'll leave you to read it."

Now if only I could find a long, bare enough wall in our house that gets plenty of light.
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Notes:

*An Art Smart Award was a small piece of paper the grade school's art teacher would tape to the back of your piece of art. Your artwork would also be displayed in the hallway. I earned very few of these in my grade school academic career.

**A temporary classroom trailer dropped off on my school's blacktop playground for temporary use in 1989 which is, of course, still there to this day. It contained the art classroom and music classroom. What had been the art classroom in the building became a first grade classroom and, to my knowledge, there had not been a music classroom for some years as the music teacher used to go from individual classroom to individual classroom with a portable electronic keyboard.

***Pronounced Four-Knee-A, I later attended an intro to psychology class with his younger sister, Valerie at St. Louis Community College at Meramec. While I was in 4th grade, I was the tender age of ten and Valerie was the even more tender age of eight. Having fallen out of best-friendship with Jesse round about two years later, Valerie remained permanently eight or nine in my mind, even when she cropped up in high school my junior year, so it was very hard for me to reconcile little Valerie Fournier with this scantily-clad college freshmen none of the other twenty guys in my psych class could keep their eyes off of. Aside from being engaged to Kathy at the time, I just couldn't stare at her. She was, like, a little kid. Ew. And my best friend's off-limits sister. And I'm sorry, but once you are diagnosed with weird-little-sister cooties, they do not ever go away. Ever.

****Mrs. McFadden had in fact been Miss Derby just three short years before when she was my sister's fourth grade teacher. She was my sister's most favorite teacher at Avery Elementary and mine too. It was she who taught my sister...well, some things, I'm sure, you'd actually have to ask her, but the main point is, it was she who first introduced me to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and for that, I am forever in her debt.

*****This particular piece is called "Headlight" and is based on two separate incidents, one in which I was pulled over twice in the same night, five minutes apart, for having a headlight out and one in which a very smart old friend of mine confided in me that he had been fired from my current employer for stealing close to four thousand dollars worth of electronics.

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3 comments:

heartcooksbrain said...

I loved this story.
And I gotta say that I also love your new link title ;)

Molly said...

I still maintain the artwork you brought home back then was absolutely wonderful. I still have that clay mask you made hanging on the wall upstairs... and I still love it!

Tecla said...

Good words.