Loading the Canon #3 by Helena-Anne Hittel
Hell is in a Studio
Art gets serious once you get into the universities. That’s because this is the major you’ve chosen to pursue, and your school determined to produce artists finer than those at other schools BECAUSE UCF IS MORE ARTISTIC THAN ALL OF YOU SIMPLE PLEBES. Or something like that. This semester, I’d like to call out to all those just beginning to venture into this major with an inspiring (?) story of my own: how I overcame adversity to prove to myself that being an artist isn’t easy, and ensure that future generations don’t take it for granted.
In the spring of 2012, I enrolled in two art classes I needed for my degree- Fundamentals of Drawing I and 2D Composition and Fundamentals (the building blocks of fun!). After freaking out over the price of supplies, I was ready to start. 2D art wasn’t that bad, despite having to mix your own black for the first assignment (an infuriating process that I won’t bore you with). I liked to think that, as an art historian, I could be sensitive to color. After mixing several shades of black that turned out to be very dark blue, I quickly found out how wrong I was.
This was not the problem, though. Throughout the rest of 2D, I learned many things that would be more than useful to my study of art-color saturation, hierarchies, different types of composition, etc. Drawing I was where I struggled, because studying art is vastly different from making your own. Should you walk into that studio, abandon all preconceived notions that you are the next Picasso/Dalí/Leonardo da Vinci to walk the earth (though, by all means, use them for inspiration). In Drawing I, everything you thought you knew was wrong.
Rephrased: everything I thought I knew was wrong, and ART IS NOT EASY.
I took class with two professors (I’ll call them Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). I was in Guildenstern’s class, but the two taught side by side. After I fought with a masonite board (about half my size, vertically), a pad of newsprint (a few inches shorter than that, but nonetheless cumbersome), a toolbox (for everything else) and an easel, I was told to display what had been the homework from the night before. This week, we were to draw a cow skull. Guildenstern gave me some pretty constructive and useful criticism. He taught me things I could do to improve my line quality (“Hold the pencil like this instead”). I was to look at the actual object, not the drawing itself. I tried to improve every assignment. By midterm portfolio, I had a C- in the class, but Guildenstern was seeing improvement.
Rosencrantz, however, was more cryptic. “You need a Christian Bale to your Mark Wahlberg from The Fighter, you know?” he said. Having never seen The Fighter, I thought I should watch it in an effort to understand him better. That wasn’t the last time I’d hear Rosencrantz say this, though, and by the end of the week, I didn’t give a damn who either of them were in what movie.
I was seriously freaking out by the time Midterms were over. My weeks ended with hours in the drawing studio. I wore black so the charcoal wouldn’t show on my clothes. I painted my nails every week out of necessity because I couldn’t get the charcoal out. Hell, the classes spent so much time in the studio we breathed the stuff in. Despite all of this, though, Final portfolio arrived. I hung all of my work on the wall and prayed, because that was all there was to do. I got a C- on the midterm, after all. Guildenstern pushed me to do better, and Rosencrantz pushed me over the edge. All I wanted was for the semester to end. All I needed was a C.
I finished the class with a B+.
Art historians and artists aren’t really all that different, though our chosen areas of study are. I spend more time writing and researching than I will ever spend at an easel, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the blood, sweat and tears that go into the creation of a work of art. I described Drawing I as a soul-sucking hell, but after it was over, it made me appreciate my major that much more. You can’t have Art History without art, and you can’t have art without the process.
The moral then, is this. The next time you see a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, or any other piece of art, revere it for what it is. This art is the blood in the artist’s veins. Respect the artist. Respect the artwork. Have an opinion of it, but respect it for the work it took (yes, even you, Duchamp). Yes, you could’ve created something akin to Jackson Pollock’s works. The fact still remains that you didn’t.
Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) is an Art History Major at the University of Central Florida and Intern at the UCF Art Gallery.