Not for the faint arted

4 Jun

I love the idea of being ‘arty’. But the fact is, I’m not.

I studied Art ‘O’ level years ago – 1985-87. I had to fight to be able to mind. I was strongly encouraged to choose an ‘academic’ subject. Fortunately I was a stroppy cow even then and stood my ground. I can’t remember being particularly good at art as a kid or being especially talented. I did enter a competition to design a poster for The Language Festival in 1985 in my 3rd year of secondary school. Came first with a tribute to Toulouse Lautrec dontcha know?! I enjoyed drawing and I wanted some light relief in amongst the Latin, chemistry and maths I was going to be studying.

I was disappointed with my lessons once they got going to be honest. Our motely crew had to share our teacher with 6 form photography students – guess who got the priority teaching?! An object was often placed before us and we had to sketch it – a cola can, a pine cone, a bottle. If we were lucky we were allowed to get the paints out once in a while. Generally, the whole thing was rather unsatisfactory. I wanted to be taught the secrets of the creation of art. Instead we got the do-it-yourself guide to toning and shading.

From the second year of the course, 1986, I didn’t really get the most out of it I could or should have. ‘Conscientious’ was my middle name at school so I did what was supposed to and tried my best, but my heart wasn’t in it. In fact I nearly missed my exam altogether. A phone call from school one morning informed me the exam had started and where was I?

I did enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the trance like state creating something put me into. There’s something about fixing your gaze on a point ahead of you so much that the rest of the world disappears. And that’s just what I needed right then.

A 6 form trip to Paris was an education in terms of my introduction to the world of the greatest artists. [It also involved me being knocked over by a French policeman who was riding a motorbike, but that’s another story] 1987 was the year I met Rodin, Monet, da Vinci, Seurat…Then at uni I found myself taking a few art history modules and LOVED them! Romantic Art; Impressionism; Post Impressionism; Expressionism. I still didn’t pick up my pencil tho’.

Some of my favourites spanning a hundred years:

William Holman, Isabella and the pot of basil, 1868

George Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte), 1884

Rodin, The Kiss, 1889

Toulouse Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1899

Georgia O’keeffe, Grey Line with Black, Blue and Yellow, 1923

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

Magritte, The son of man, 1964

I know I have only touched the surface in terms of the amount of art out there – it’s just a wee taste of what I like. This combination of Paris and History of Art courses at Uni meant I devoured art galleries for the next few years and fantasised that I could ever express myself in that way. Art was definitely a grand tour of the mind for me. I loved what it taught me about history, people, society as well as the technical aspects of the processes involved in creating art.

It was another world for me and I lost mself in it. Reading about it, seeing it was like swimming into the depths of the ocean – peaceful, another world. Far away from the reality I was living. I craved, needed the escape route it gave me. But still, I didn’t have the heart for creating anything of my own. I had pictures of the art I’d done at age 14 on my walls but anything else was still locked away.

It was now 1994 – ten years since my coveted award at The Language Festival and still no new art work! Not even a scribble! I was too busy throwing myself into my new teaching career and establishing myself.

In 1997 everything kind of came to a stop and I entered a limbo land. I stopped going to art galleries. Stopped reading about artists and movements. Stopped developing my career. Stopped the relationship I’d been in since the end of Uni. Stopped calling my family every week. 1997 was the year I stopped one way of living and started another. It was the year I blurted out to a friend that, in the middle of studying for my O levels, I had been raped.

This unexpected revelation came as a shock even to me! It had been locked away so deeply I had almost forgotten it had existed! Except I now know I hadn’t forgotten it at all. I had just hidden it and all the tools I had that might allow it to come forward and express its presence earlier. Even though I wasn’t a particularly talented artist I did throw my cliched heart and soul into it. I like to express my feelings. It’s cathartic. And I like expressing them in different ways: writing, as I am now; playing music; drawing. Thing is, when your brain doesn’t want you to express your feelings because those feelings are too painful, dangerous even, you no longer write, play music or draw. Instead I threw myself into other people’s worlds. I amassed a collection of over 4000 books; I bought so many CDs it would take several lifetimes to listen to them all one after the other and I suppose you now understand why I buried myself in the art of other people, rather than create my own?

I couldn’t create my own as there was only one picture I ever saw when I dared to peek and even then I had stolen it from someone else. The picture was the deep black hole Alice finds herself falling down in in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Except the fall I was experiencing never, ever ended. It was my constant backdrop. Whenever I let my guard down I saw it and it was frightening. So I blocked it out with a kaleidescope of other worlds.

Trouble was, now it wasn’t the only frightening image I was seeing. For the next three years I constantly saw a film reel of the events of one September evening in 1986 being replayed again and again and again. And as well as seeing it I could feel it, smell it, hear it and even taste it. I was too afraid to leave my flat for almost two months. I’d have major panic attacks and struggle to remember where I was and that I was actually safe.

I spent a good 18 months trying to get medical/emotional help as I knew I was ill and needed new coping strategies. The fantasy, arty escape world wasn’t protecting me anymore. The nightmare I’d been hiding from wanted centre stage. The only way I could briefly escape it was by drinking to excess and I knew that wasn’t the best way to manage life! But it was so hard to get anyone to hear me! An array of doctors gave me pills that just took me further and further away from where I wanted to be. I worked my way through at least six counsellors – I was so sick and tired of having to retell my story over and over. I didn’t want to talk about it…I wanted strategies for facing up to it and dealing with it!

Eventually I found the combination of a GP who specialised in mental health and a cognitive behaviour therapist who between them taught me how to paint a new internal picture. I am forever grateful to them.

This takes us to around the year 2000 and I was well on the road to recovery. My life wa settling down again. I’d got a promotion, a bigger flat, I was picking myself up from the end of a crappy relationship and was looking forward.

A measure that I was really getting back to my old self was that I started attending Life Drawing evening classes! I was SO nervous! I felt like I was surrounded by professional artists and then there was me with me wax crayons and colouring book! I was so restricted when I tried to sketch the guy in front of me. I was trying to replicate every line I could see in front of me and it wasn’t going at all well!! I remember the instructor telling me to loosen up and was surprised how quickly I did just that! Soon it was like my O level classes again – concentrating on the figure and the shapes you are creating so intently that the rest of the room fizzles away. It’s a wonderful feeling. And I’d missed it.

I now find myself dipping into all sorts of arty farty things! Not just drawing and painting. I taught myself to play the guitar; took up the cello; returned to my clarinet [last played 1989] and am undertaking Grade 8 Jazz Clarinet; knitting, basic stuff only…y’ know…squares; I’ve done a bit of pottery and am now coveting a sewing machine to get all crafty! None of it is to make my world disappear now – it is to enhance it.

I’m not really ‘arty’ but it does feed my soul!

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6 Responses to “Not for the faint arted”

  1. Cat Elliott June 4, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

    Wonderful, brave post. Thank you. I remember so clearly the moment I realised, more than a year after the event, that I had been raped. I can actually taste that feeling, and feel again the utter amazement that I hadn’t named my experience until then, as the last piece of the wall I’d built around it crumbled away and I had to look it cold in the eye. And of course that was just the beginning, but I’m hopeful of getting to the end one day. Thank you again.

  2. Carole Ann June 5, 2011 at 1:33 am #

    I so understand the see it, feel it, taste it but I don’t really want to remember it part. So glad your coming to terms with what happened and looking forward. I can only applaud how brave, focused, restrained and open you are about what happened to you. You are a brill Mum and woman your family must be soooo proud of you. Take care, bests Me x.

  3. Louise Shepherd June 10, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Have just read this. I dont really know what to say. Well done for coming through it seems inadequate. Am sorry seems belated. My overwhelming feeling is that Lily is so lucky to have such a strong role model to guide her through life.

  4. howwelaughed June 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Reblogged this on How we laughed!.

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