I’ve only been painting regularly for about two and a half years. I consider myself very much a beginner in visual art. That’s especially so since I was a dancer and choreographer for so long– technically a dancer for 40 years, if I’m being exact, and a choreographer for 25 years. On the one hand, it’s especially challenging to try a new art form when you have sort of “mastered” a different one (or at least have become really skilled and proficient, and even taught in another form). As someone who had a semi-professional life as a dancer and choreographer, it’s really hard to be BAD at an art form, in one sense. I guess this is because I had become accustomed to being good at a different form, for a few decades. On the other hand, it’s really freeing to ALLOW yourself to be bad at something, as a beginner. It’s secretly fun to be the LEAST competent person in the room, rather than being the “expert,” the one who’s passing along techniques and skills to others.
I first tried acrylic paints in a workshop-style course that was largely about sampling different approaches. It was a perfect beginning, since it was freeing and experimental, and the teacher was super skilled and also really open. After about a year of that, I decided to focus more on technique and the “nitty gritty” of learning how to paint. That led me to oil painting lessons in a classic style, and then to watercolor classes that I started about a year ago (both of these with excellent teachers).
My watercolor teacher is extremely accomplished, a gifted professional artist, and a perfect teacher, in my opinion. She sees my nascent skills and limitations, and challenges me at just the right pace. We work hard in her class— are serious about learning various techniques, considering compositional approaches, using artistic license, experimenting with forms, mediums— all the things that make a truly rigorous course. And yet despite the rigor, which I completely value, one of my favorite parts about this class is being able to really laugh at myself.
We will be all bent over, working on a painting or a painting exercise. I will understand, intellectually, just what my teacher has explained. I’ll even be able imagine the outcome that she has in mind (and this outcome might be a spontaneous or “loose” expression of something in a piece, not necessarily a precise image). Then, when I try to do the thing, and it is slightly disastrous, I often find it totally hilarious— and I laugh so hard at myself. Something about the seriousness with which I try, and the wobbly or just plain horrific outcome, allows me to howl out loud. As much as I love making a painting that might “work” or be visually appealing in some way at this stage, sometimes I love it even more to just crack up, to allow myself some real joy in the mistakes.