All my rejected <FACEBOOKBOOK FRIENDLY NOW> that’s fit to blog!
Based on an awkwardly true story of me sitting in the corner of a writer’s workshop dominated by women and attended by one very young man.
Take what you will about the relationships and interactions between the artistically inclined sexes in this unapologetic, objective set of observations from a very proud non-mother.
STILL LIFE WITH ART
I knew we were destined to sail the high seas of awkward.com the moment the guy showed up. For starters, he was the only guy present, and late. He mumbled apologies, drawing more attention to himself as he shuffled behind an easel and shamefacedly accepted his palette from the workshop organizer. We’d already introduced ourselves and the instructor, a woman named Shira with raven black hair and a mirthful crinkle to her eyes, looked back from her own canvas to greet our newcomer. “Hi, what’s your name?”
“Lance, hi, uhh, everybody,” Lance said as he struggled his black messenger bag from his shoulder.
“Well, Lance, this is everybody, everybody, this is Lance. Maggie, you wanna get Lance an apron? You might not wanna get the paint on your jacket, though the paint thinner is the real bee,” Shira said as she went back to shading in the bottom of the bottle we’d just started working on.
Maggie the Assistant draped a work apron over Lance’s neck and helped him tie it in place. Lance was a young man best described, I think, as the carefully hidden lovechild of Shawn from Shawn of the Dead and Harry, from Harry Potter. He looked like he’d got stuck between the goth and rockabilly sections at the mall with his leather jacket and black hair. And he definitely got his square, thick-framed glasses from the John Flansburgh collection. Baby fat still rounded his someday square jaw, and a sense of perpetual embarrassment pervaded his body language.
As the workshop progressed, though, he seemed like he was blooming into a nice enough guy. Thoughtful knowledge of compositional hang-ups regarding the not-quite-opaque object, insightful questions of a young man with a lot of false artistic starts.
And, God bless him, he managed not to run afoul of the queen bee artist who had attended the regional women’s Still Life with Art workshop last year and apparently learned a lot, because she kept sharing her wisdom with us. She watched me any time I spoke, like she was looking for something to correct. She painted with no apron, but a big green paisley scarf, glittery earrings providing feminine counterpoint to her bland, olive boyish button down, carefully bobbed hair and studious glasses—much like Lance’s.
As the business part of the workshop—where we all tersely recreated the bottles in front of us—wrapped up, the instructor asked if we had any questions about getting art hung in shows.
Now, Shira was kind of big deal on account of getting some pieces hung at a big New York art exhibit the previous year, and naturally all the students wanted a little wisdom nugget about how she did it.
“I mean, you have two kids and another job,” the mother lady to my right said. She avoided the “d” word, as in “day job,” because among artists, it’s kind of a dirty word. “But you’ve had some major artistic success and those paintings at the MOMA show. They obviously took a lot of time and planning. How did you carve out time to dedicate to them?”
I wasn’t really paying attention. After all, the instructor already said in her opening plug that those paintings came from a series of spontaneity exercises, so when mother lady said, “the art work you just said was an experimentation in spontaneity obviously took a lot of planning,” I kind of checked out on the conversation and went back to the re-tooled Bud Light-colored blue bottle I was supposed to be recreating.
Because everything that was about to be audio-torially spewed from that artist’ mouth was more succinctly stated in the bio someone less creative, but more interested in selling workshop seats, wrote for her.
Her bestie, or husband, or wife, no doubt. Artists never get to the point about themselves the way her bio did without a lot of training.
That is, until Shawn Potter Flansburgh, or Lance, if we must, nervously stood while the lady was going on about the figurative “mother’s” eternal struggle to make time for themselves. I mean, herselves.
“Sorry, sorry, I uh, I gotta go. Thanks so much, thanks,” he stuttered. I couldn’t really blame him. He was very likely a mother of none, so he and I had that in common, and probably getting much out of this exchange except a load of guilt about being one of those kids his mom was constantly having to make time for. I smiled and nodded supportively while the moms talked—that’s the sort of thing a sisterly, supportive community of artsy types do—but I was totally checked out on the human wavelength until Leatherjacket Lance backed mid-apology right into a precariously displayed sculpture behind him. And I mean, it had been behind him the whole morning.
Let me tell you about this hideous sculpture. I couldn’t tell if the artist was going for a stick figure of the world’s ugliest baby dragon, or a stick figure of a sailboat only a mother could love. I really don’t know. This thing was made of craft store dowel rods wrapped in craft store leather strips, you know, the kind you use to make dream catchers when you’re a kid, assembled in an MC Escher-meets-Skeletor style arrangement with seemingly random bits of snake skin stretched across the dowel rods. The snake skin is what made me think sailboat meets unfortunate dragon.
Ahoy, mateys! We’ve just hoisted the awkward anchor, and it’s wearing glasses and a leather jacket. I watched mutely as the sculpture snagged on Lance’s messenger bag and came with him as he attempted to dislodge himself.
Shira, elementary-school-teacher-by-day, looked from the mom who was still talking about staying up too late to paint, to the young man, like she was trying to assess who was the hotter mess.
“That’s the problem, I think, with us female artists, especially. We tend to put everything else in front of us and leave only, well, what’s left to ourselves,” Shira responded to the mom, trying so hard to be engaged while preparing to jump to the rescue.
The mom nodded her head enthusiastically. “I know. We’ve brought so much into the world already, then when it comes to our art, I just feel I can’t muster the energy to drag anything else into existence.”
A banner of “That’s it, he’s the more imminent mess!” ran across Shira’s eyes. She set her brush down with a sense of firm resolution and marched over to Lance, who was doing his best to take someone’s art right the hell out of the world. “Here, let me help. We got this.”
The mom sighed and continued, “You know, I’m usually so tired, I just wind up painting sheep and the letter z over and over again. I fell asleep at my canvas one night.”
The artist who had been to conferences addressed the mother. “You know, at the conference I went to last year, I got to talk to Babette Shears, and she said that four am is actually the power hour. And that you should get up then. Don’t even drink coffee, just get up and paint. For an hour, no breaks. People don’t know, but four am is the creative power hour, but we all just sleep through it.” She spoke like sleeping through the four am hour was the most shallow and flippant thing she’d ever heard of. Judging us all for our lack of dedication.
Her scarf is more artiste than mine, I thought, contemplating my bottle. It was missing something.
Rattle, rattle, went the hot mess now consuming Shira as well as Lance.
A stiff drink, that’s what this painting is missing, I thought.
Lance and the instructor managed to free him from the sculpture, but now the thing was stubbornly refusing to be rebalanced upon the lopsided sycamore stump that had been carefully, I’m sure, selected for it to rest upon.
But the four am thing was still nettling me. “You know, I quit a job once because they wanted me up at five am, there’s no way I’m getting up at four to do something I’m supposed to enjoy.”
The mother wrinkled her nose. “Doesn’t sound like that would be my power hour.”
I realized that my bottle needed was a nice, big, ugly crack running right down the middle of it. For a nice, post-dystopian affect. I guess Shawn Clumsy the Art Knocker inspired me.
I looked back over. The gallery owner was now in the balancing act. After two half-hearted attempts to balance the sculpture on the stump, she dismissively set it on the floor and patted Lance’s shoulder. “We’ll just put it over here and not tell anyone what happened, dear,” she said in a maternal tone.
Lance reddened further and, after thanking her and the instructor, retreated from sight.
After he was gone, Shira meandered over and looked to where Lance had been sitting. “Good thing he didn’t realize he was sitting on a three thousand dollar sculpture. What is this, like a kettle?”
The gallery owner chuckled again and flicked her red, curly hair. “It’s cast iron. It’ll be fine.”
I wondered at her blasé attitude. Wasn’t she supposed to sell these things in order to make money?
I looked at the ugly sculpture on the floor. Who knew if it was even right side up? Only the artist, I suppose.
I watched Shira and gallery owner exchange another insider chuckle at the three thousand dollar artist stool and thought, I wonder if the absentee sculptor is a male.