Bless my mom. I can’t remember when she first pitched me into an art class, but I was small, and she kept at it. It was wonderful. The classrooms smelled like wax crayons and powder paint and clay dust, and the sinks were always covered with a special multi-colored sludge. I must have spent thousands of hours of my life between six and seventeen at those trestle tables, absorbed in oil pastels and sugar paper, drawing with fat brown state-issue pencils, tearing pictures out of Fair Lady magazine and making pinch-pots. My mom must have spent not much less driving me there and back.
I was remembering this on the train home from the Stedelijke Museum the other night, after looking at all those incredible paintings. Night-time train journeys are good for nostalgia and philosophy, and I was thinking about how all those art classes had molded my young self. The latter years, when it became a school subject (and art was NOT a cop-out choice for the uber-achievers of Westerford High School), it meant decoding hefty texts from art history books, and wrapping my head around things like post-modernism. What stayed with me was how what the artists did, expressed how people were thinking and feeling about the world at that moment. Scribbles and piles of junk look stupid, when unconnected to a world war. In history classes, we learnt the dates and battles and the lists of causes, but not about how they destroyed the hope that rationalism and science would save humanity (incidentally, that hope seems more robust than they thought)
Anyway. It takes about half an hour from Amsterdam Centraal to Leiden, and when I had finished with high school, I started remembering what I had learnt in earlier years. It was good stuff.
I made a list…
Things I learnt in primary school art class
1. Start. Don’t let the blank page intimidate you.
2. Fill that page. No shy little drawings in the middle by themselves – use the space.
3. No rubbing out. Make as if it wasn’t a mistake, and turn it into something beautiful.
4. Draw what you see, not what you think you see.
5. The negative spaces are as much a part of the picture as the shapes and the lines.
6. No shop colors. Always mix your own.
7. Mix carefully. If you’re sloppy, you get what one of my teachers called “mossy vomit”. Nobody wants that.
7. Clean up when you’re done. Put the lids back on the kokis, wash your brushes, so the next person doesn’t have to do it.
8. Get a head start on post-modernism