Monday, October 26, 2009

My uncomfortable relationship with art

I... want to go running again. Not like, "I should probably go out and run." No, it's more, "I really want to go outside and run. Like, right now."

Damn you, Hansen!

Thank you,
josh bxxxx
It's a sickness.

Kathleen Rooney was featured on Talk of the Nation sometime in the past year, that is when I first heard of her book, Live Nude Girl. I want to go back and listen to that entire interview, I was in and out of the car, visiting actor-teachers around town.

Her book re-entered my memory recently when I was googling a painter who has been work with Leah as a model. He took the time to give it a write-up on amazon or somewhere, and I finally did what I must do in order to get my hands on anything, I put it on my queue at the library. As my car has been in the shop for around a week, I have been on the bus a lot. I really like the bus, because when I am on the bus, I read books. I read books on the bus, and sitting in the kids' room, waiting for them to fall asleep.

I was nervous about reading this book, a memoir of her experiences working as a model, clothed and unclothed, for life drawing classes, sketching collectives, and private gigs. Which character in her story was going to most resemble me? Because there has to be one.

I don't like having hobbies. But I am resigned to drawing being my hobby. Running is my exercise, theater is my work. Drawing is something I do that makes me happy, which otherwise serves no practical purpose. Something I spend time and money on and it doesn't go anywhere, because I don't have the wherewithal to actually be very good.

It was a thrill this summer, actually, to play a character in a play who really is a professional artist. I felt sheepish when people asked how they could get a copy of my graphic novel I HATE THIS and I had to tell them I'm not actually an artist - I just played one on stage.

I played Manet on stage once, too, you know, in a play Sarah wrote. It consumed a year of my life. My year as a French pre-Impressionist painter.

When my wife gave me a gift certificate to an arts supply store in 2001 - the year Calvin was born - I went out and bought some supplies. And was afraid to use them. Eventually I asked a friend or two to sit and they did and that was very nice and they looked like cartoons and then I put them away for a few years.

In early 2007, when the marathon was over and I had not been running in some time and my job had gotten routine and I was trying to figure out what exactly it was I wanted to do with the rest of my life (my thirties coming to a swift conclusion) I asked a friend to take her clothes off for me, and she said yes, and suddenly I was drawing again.

I had drawn nudes before, going back to when I was a teenager. I destroyed those, afraid someone would find them, which is really a shame when you think about it because I think they may have been good. In any case, tear up a photograph sure, but not something you drew with your own hands.

Back then, all of my nudes were of girlfriends so the idea of doing that was tinged with sexual or romantic ideas and for a long time it was difficult to draw someone I was friends with with their clothes on without my head getting all creepy.

So I just leapt over that neuroses by asking a string of good friends to posed nude and now I have a notebook of acceptable amateur drawings. So. Good for me. I can still draw. I draw better. I am happy with my work.

Now, how this all relates to Rooney's book. Before asking good friends to disrobe and sit still for me for two hours, I did some research on how to best take care of them. It was February when I embarked, I made sure there was heat. A private place to change, a robe, clean floors. "Playing professional," as Leah once put it. Thanks, thank you for that.

So I was searching in the book for a reflection of the talentless, 40-ish dilettante who asks young women to get naked for him. And while I found a few creepers in her work, they weren't me. As with everything else I am struggling to create there is a great deal of shyness, boldness, risk-taking and harboring in dull safety. The one person she zeroes in on as someone she just doesn't respect is a guy who has artistic pretensions, but no skill. Or no style. Or no class. Or too much money for her taste.

Well, I am pretentious about a lot of things, but my drawing is certainly not one of them.

Like most non-fiction I read - and that is what I largely choose to read - I was delighted to come away feeling like I had learned something the easy way. Something I was interested in, a shallow education in art history and stories about interesting people. I am still not sure I know anything at all about her ... and as the model, maybe that was the point.

Early in the book, she describes the difference between naked and nude. Nude is, however it looks, beautiful and artistic. It is apart from whatever it is about the human mind that makes the unclothed body something "bad." Dirty. Weak.

Naked is exposed. And maybe that's why I would never post or display my drawings. Because that's me naked. And I do not like to be naked.


Cat said...

So, sometime maybe we should think about actually doing a graphic novel or something.

pengo said...

I had no idea your calendar was free!

But what an idea ...