Thursday, March 12, 2009


I was at school yesterday, and had been for awhile. Though class starts at 10:30, I was there at 8:45. I continued working on a project that I've been working on for a month, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and most Fridays, from around 8:30 a.m. to around 1:00 p.m. (Friday isn't a class day, but our teacher allows us to come in and work if we want, since she's there from 8:30 until 3:00.)

Yesterday, I was working on the head. I won't tell you for what, because when the project is finished, I'll post it here, and I don't want to ruin the surprise. I've never had a class on figurative sculpture, and my last college art class was about 20 years ago, so it has been taking me a lot more time on this project than I anticipated. I'm also getting used to the medium (clay), and it's not as easy as most people think it is. I have to make sure there are no air bubbles in the piece, so that it won't explode in the kiln and ruin other people's work along with it. Sometimes building a part of the piece doesn't work out, and has to be removed and redone. Sometimes, you walk into class, and a chunk has fallen off in the two days since you last worked on it. So you have to figure out why it doesn't work, and rebuild it.

So when a different art teacher from mine walked in at the end of class with a reference model for me to borrow (unasked) and proceeded to tell me about calipers and proportions, and how if you don't know what you're doing, your project looks like a mess instead of the cute, lumpy thing you were aiming for, I got a bit riled. I thought, "So you're telling me this piece is a piece of shit? And I don't know what I'm doing? Of course I don't know what I'm doing. I'm a BEGINNER for Chrissake!" I managed to keep silent and feign polite interest.

I listened more, and got a little more riled. After all, I don't know this person. I'm not her student. I didn't even know she was in the room before she swooped down on me like the Wicked Witch of the West (insert theme music here). I don't even know her name. I tried to stem her flow of words with an explanation, but she rode over me. I really hate that. Major pet peeve, when people don't listen to what I'm trying to say. My aggro went up another notch.

Then, a rational thought floated past. "She's trying to help." I stopped and listened for more. "She's trying to help your piece be better. Shut your effing ego up and listen to what she's trying to tell you!"

I shut up and listened. And you know, what she was saying made sense. I know you're probably thinking, "Of course it did. She's the teacher, after all." I'm a little slower about these things sometimes.

Don't get me wrong. There's no doubt in my mind that she needs to learn some people skills. She was definitely brusque and abrasive. But when I looked in her eyes, without my ego-tinted glasses, all I saw was a passion for art and for teaching people to produce the best art they can.

I ended up cutting the head off my piece (which I had painstakingly attached just that morning) and taking it home with me to work on some more. (I worked on it off and on until 7:00 last night, when I had to break for dinner.) Before I left class yesterday, I took the reference piece back to her in the class she was teaching next door and told her thank you, for both the piece and the help.

I talked to Mr. ShellHawk about it when he got home from work. He nodded in agreement when I told him I had to stuff the ego jack-in-the-box back in its little box (having been through a similar lesson or two in his life) and listened to the rest of the conclusions I had drawn.

"It's funny," I told him, "My teacher hasn't really given me a lot of input. She walks around the class and will answer questions, but she just lets us do our own thing. She'll grade us when the projects are done, but I'd really like to know what I can change before it's finished. While I'm still building it, you know?" He nodded. I'm pretty sure he was listening. "In some ways I can understand that she's letting us find our own ways to create art. But when she walks by, I keep expecting some kind of input, and it doesn't come unless I ask. This other woman gave me more concrete advice than I've had all semester, and it's going to change the final outcome of my work."

It's really interesting what can happen when you can set your ego aside and really listen to the correction someone is trying to give you. I don't mean slavishly following every little thing that someone says, or changing what you really know to be true for you. But not taking things personally, not making it about you, can open a lot of doors and make a better result.

I just want you to know, though, that I am so not starting this piece over again from scratch!

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