Five months, two mental breaks, and an aching heart later, I was ready to expand my creative thirst past the moldy walls of UNC-Chapel HIll’s Art Department. I had fallen into a crevice where I had remained, unscathed for years. Consuming just enough to get by. But it was time now. The sunlight called to my pasty skin and begged for its revival. And so I listened. I sent myself off to New York. I needed a lunging force to pull my body from this comfy crack. I found it at NYAA’s SURP.
I found myself surrounded by a collection of young artists. The first day we exchanged photos of our past works. The quality and diversity of style was so impressive, it hurt. In my life, I had always settled with the idea that I was probably the best rising artist out there. HAH! I could not have received a deeper punch to the stomach as a realization of this false assumption.
The first few days of class were brutal. Each session was five hours of continuous paintbrush flicking, dabbing, mixing, scuffing charcoal, curled backs, pounding clay, slapping and carving slabs of dirt. Everyone carried these mad, sunken eyes, which darted frantically back and forth from model to canvas, to clay, to canvas, to paint, to the person sitting next you’s canvas, to squinted eyes now, to the model, to the right size of charcoal, to canvas, to finger scaling of body proportions, to the canvas.
Some of the nude models had these bulging blue splotches encircling the legs. Someone told me later on that these scars were earned from repetitive sessions of striking a pose for extended periods of frozen time.
We would visit no less than ten art galleries a day. I learned that all of the students were significantly more educated than me about the art politics of our time.
I was in a suite with three women. My roommate was from Perth, Australia. “I’m an oil painter.” she would say when out meeting new people. To describe upon first encounter oneself as an artist was something I had never fathomed. Why? Well maybe I felt the assumptions that came with being an artist typically encompassed a life of sufferring.
By the end of the summer, I had only one suitemate. The other two were unable to endure the ferociousness of the program. I understood. We were given the opportunity to present our final pieces in an art gallery held by the school. The pieces had no instruction as to subject matter, size, medium, no, we were supposed to be these intensely grounded artists with direction.
“Your artwork is good, but…. it’s all over the place. You don’t have a single consistency in your work.” Grad students and famous artists would lurk the halls between studios, stuffing our mouths with cotton. I loved it. I slurped every last drop of criticism, and begged for more. I outdid myself the day before the gallery though. I asked my instructor to show no mercy in her critique of my work.
“I want you to tell me only what you dislike about these paintings. I don’t want to hear anything good about them.”
I got what I asked for, and that night I snuck into the gallery, ripped my three pieces from the wall, threw them in the gutters of Manhattan, walked away, panicked, turned back, scooped the soggy carcasses up out of the sewer water, went back into the gallery, and nailed those fuckers clumsily to a wall. Next to the conglomeration of shit, I stapled an apology note: A girl tries to make meaningful art and fails.