Sunday, April 09, 2006


We’ve shifted from charcoal to oils, and some of us are not taking it well. The paint is tacky, thick, and in our first assignment we’re forced to forgo our brushes for palette knives, which require a vigorous slapping of the pigment to the page.

And our models are getting testy. One jumps up mid-pose to stomp across the linoleum, barefoot and bare-bottomed, and slams the cracked door shut. A slight Brazilian girl titters.

“But he likes to be naked for us,” she whispers. “Why he has such a problem? I should have come naked to make him comfortable.”

Every word that leaves her lips is soft and with the most charming Portuguese accent. I grin at her automatically, though I’m not quite sure what she just said.

A chirp of his alarm and the model’s moment is up. We form a circle around our teacher, some of us clustered on the carpeted platform, some in rickety stools. She holds a slim book of pictures in her angled hands.

“Remember when you chose your complimentary colors, that next week they must be reversed. So chose wisely what is painted dark and what constitutes light.” Her long black hair hangs and shines like a prized animal’s pelt.

“But I really like mine.” A timid voice ventures. It belongs to a small woman who legally changed her name to Panama and is very generous with her extra supplies. “I was hoping that I could keep it and just start another.” Her first attempt sits on a sill facing us, a weird and amazing rendition of the model, boasting ghostly outlines.

“Me too,” I back her up. It was a process with many restrictions (the colors, the subject, the size) but mine came out not half bad, and I would very much like to keep it. “Could we, maybe, do that?”

Our teacher sighs and shakes her hair. She takes a deep breath.

“Has anyone ever studied Buddhism?”

A speechwriter by day raises his hand, smeared with green.

“Great. Okay. So what does Buddhism say about attachment?”

“Well, let’s see,” He looks towards the florescent lighting casting a buzz of light on him. “It’s basically what you’re trying to get away from. Because only without wanting things both physical and not, only then can you be enlightened.”

“Right. Very good.”

The Brazilian motions to the teacher, requesting permission to compound upon his answer. The teacher grants it by nodding her head.

“My grandfather is very old. So when he speaks, we listen to what he has to say.” She picks at a purple smudge on her smock.

“And he says this all the time that we leave this world with nothing but the… experiences we have had. So when I draw or do, I try to be attached to the… process of the experience. Because then the end of that process is just a… piece of the experience and it means nothing more than any other part that is not the whole. And I am free because I do not need it. So it could be burned or lost and because it is the… act of… learning that I value, it can never be taken away from me.” Her blue eyes fix on the teacher for approval.

“I think that’s true.” Our teacher says. “If only you can appreciate what you accomplish by knowing it, rather than pushing all of the worth onto being able to show that end result to someone, then you will be a true artist. Because you have to know that you are better than your last piece, and that it never defines you, and even if it is gone forever you can make a new one in its place.”

We sit though we should stand and return to our easels, our heads spinning with philosophy.

Suddenly I don’t want to keep my first try anymore.

And when we do paint over it, complimentary colors switched, the end result is terrible. It’s a hideous hodge-podge of where the last painting ends and the new one begins. I realize too late that I didn’t even take a picture to document the first one’s existence. All I have left is an inferior piece to show, and by looking at it, no one would ever believe what lies beneath could be pleasant on the eyes.

Except for one student, who loves her new painting, we all have lost.

One by one we throw them in the trash bin, like many students before and many after, and watch our once prized possessions smear together.

And we remind ourselves. Attachment only to the process, or not at all, to emerge as artists or enlightened.

Whichever comes first.


Jeannie said...

I'd have told the teacher that she could be Buddhist all she wanted but that you aren't and kept the 1st painting. Having just taken up painting, I am pleased with all my attempts so far - not enough to hang them but because each is a milestone. Although I may eventually paint over them as canvas is relatively expensive - I have already taken photos. I look at my work as being similar to having children. Going through pregnancy and labour are only a joy because of the reward of the child that you love with all your heart regardless of imperfections.

Oob said...

The acceptance of being satisfied with the journey...

Call me selfish, but I feel we should still indulge ourselves the sense of accomplishment of the end product. I would have felt the same sense of loss.

and thanks for not laughing AT me! :)

tall glass of vino said...

nice tale. good philosophy to bear in mind for all things, I think...

Grant said...

K, I understand your teacher's point. It might well explain why I am still happy despite losing my car. Especially, since I no longer have to maintain it. *grin*

Considering that we all end up dead at some point, I can see how the journey takes you from place to place may be far more important than what is at the end, regardless of what one believes in.

Beth said...

Nice, vivid writing, K. I could really hear the different voices...and I love the shiny black hair being like an animal pelt. As always, a pleasure.


pookalu said...

it's hard to release your attachment to anything. or to recognize that you are attached unnecessarily.


GeminiWisdom said...

I think I see it from both sides--teacher and student. I've been writing since the 7th grade. I had written a few stories that I ended up tossing out because they totally sucked. Now, of course, I try to remember to save everything because I learn from past writings and might possibly be able to use them a second or third time.

bt said...

i have lost almost every journal i have ever written, hundreds upon hundreds of pages of recorded thought and emotion, places, people etc. i can honestly say that i do not miss them. i may mourn them, but there's a weird relief that comes. the seperation of the process from the outcome. my words my drawing my thoughts will slowly fade out and eventually atrophy from existence like everything else. losing my journals made the tragedy of mortality an easier thing to accept.

Sober In the City said...


I've never applied this philosophy to art. But it makes sense.

I more often apply this thought process to getting ready on a Friday night. All the girls come over and we wrestle for room in the tiny bathroom mirror. Piles of jeans begin to stack on the bed as I spin for my girlfriends, trying to decide which makes my ass look the best.

There is always one anxious woman, pushing us all to get out the door and get to the party.

But I look at her and say, "Sometimes the process is more important then the party."