Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Today, my scary thing was painting a coffee pot.
When I picked my classes for this semester, I snagged a spot in a Beginning Painting elective. I thought it would be a fun blow-off class that I would only ever have time to take abroad. What better place than Rome to become a painter? I’m also taking a philosophy of art class, so from South Bend, painting and art philosophy sounded like classes that would pair well together. I felt like being around all sorts of magnificent paintings and frescoes in Italy would somehow rub off on me, inspire me, make me an artist. I don’t know what I was thinking. Looking at great works of art doesn’t automatically make you a great artist. Painting isn’t exactly a transitive skill.
On the first day, the professor spoke about “entering the tradition of painting.” It seemed like a lot of big talk, but I was game. I went to the art supply store, dropped about 100 euro on paintbrushes and turpentine and showed up for the second class. That’s when it started getting hard. Sorting colors and lining them up from lightest to darkest sounds like it should be a simple task, preschool stuff. It isn’t with a handful of art majors in the room. Hue and intensity and value are all different dimensions of color, which is apparently a science in itself. I felt like an idiot for being completely incapable of arranging slips of paper in a line correctly.
The next class, I started my first painting, a still life. I figured that the class would be more fun once we actually started working with paints. It wasn’t. I managed to cover my canvas with a yellow background, successfully accomplishing the day’s task. Then I got ahead of myself. I tried to add the table to my canvas. I painted the table green, freaked out when it wasn’t diagonal enough and spent the rest of class painting over the entire background. I left my yellow-green canvas to dry over the weekend.
My roommates (and parents) have had the pleasure of listening to me gripe about painting for the past week. I have a ton of free time and a lot of extra energy, so painting class has become my main source of stress and anxiety. Totally ridiculous, I know. I spent the whole week being nervous about painting. My art philosophy class had me totally wound up too, since all of our readings are about painting as a way to access the sublime (Kant), painting and Renaissance rules for perfection (Alberti), painters as deceivers (Plato), painters as courageous for expressing doubt and uncertainty in metaphor through art (Nietzsche). That’s a lot to live up to.
Today, I walked in to the studio right on time. I was a little later than usual, since I lingered at the apartment for a few minutes in a futile attempt to postpone three hours of painting. I arrived at class grumpy. I wanted nothing to do with painting, ever. But I got out my paints and my brushes and sat down to work.
The worst thing about writing a hard paper or doing a big project is getting started. Usually, when I’m having a hard time motivating myself to do schoolwork, the easiest solution is to just sit down and write something. It doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t even have to be good, but it has to be words on the page. As it turns out, the “sit down and do something” approach works for painting, too. Even better, I discovered that oil paint wipes away while it’s still wet. Make a mistake? Rub the paint off and try again.
Today, I painted a coffee pot that looks like a coffee pot, a soap dispenser that looks like a soap dispenser, a mirror that looks like a mirror, a basket that looks like a basket and a flower that looks like a flower. I’m proud of my work today, but it’s not going up in a gallery any time soon. I still have lots of work to do though, because right now, my rectangular table has five sides.