An artist gym is a community space that artist’s can rent workspace in and usually has a gallery attached. It’s really great for artists, as it gives them a space outside of what is surely a pea-sized apartment to work. This means that the size of their artistic vision and creative expression doesn’t have to meet the size of the high cost/tiny studio rent situation in New York City. Additionally, it’s a community, which has the added bonuses of accountability and support.
This particular artist gym makes additional money by teaching workshops that range from silk screening and sewing to oil painting and figure drawing. Because the fear of letting the world know that my horrid hand-eye coordination is matched only by my inability to perceive spacial relations, I opted for a more theory oriented class. Intro to Color Theory — stepping outside my comfort zone, but, you know, not too much. Or, as I like to phrase it, expressing my creativity, but in a way where my current language — aesthetics and theory — translates.
The class was really great. The woman who ran it was warm and reassuring, and there were four other students in the class (a computer programmer looking to broaden her horizons; a professional artist who, though understands color intuitively, feels she could benefit from the theory behind it; a performance artist and director dabbling in visual arts; and an elementary school teacher who is looking looking to scratch her creativity itch). My first step, especially since there was a professional artist in the group, was getting over the fear of being judged. Hearing the diversity of backgrounds certainly helped, but it was really my inability to mix yellow-green (or, rather, to mix yellow-green so well that I mixed the same color for it AND green) that forced me to confront my fears… I realized it was OK, because lady on my right was having a hard time with her blues and violets! We clearly were all going through similar self-conscious states, as we were all ready to compliment each others’ variations on red-orange. (Though they obviously were lying to me.)
I can’t stress enough how important it is to work the other side of your brain. For me, I spend so much time in theory and analyzing (left brain stuff), that my right side gets bed sores from lack of use. I began to understand how important it was to “switch brains” one afternoon while freaking out about a paper, a friend recommended I picked up a piece of paper and did some sketches. It wasn’t a mindless task, like zoning out in front of the TV and it wasn’t turning off my brain completely while throwing my arms up in defeat. It was keeping myself alert, receptive, and perceiving while giving myself a break from my current project.
In the same way that sketching relieved the anxiety I was having about a particular paper, the art workshop somehow managed to take my mind off graduate applications for THREE WHOLE HOURS (this is an infinity in waiting-to-hear-back-from-graduate-school time). Earlier in the day, I had reached the point of true obsession. (Admittedly, a lot rides on my acceptance into my two remaining responses like getting to start my life in a new, lovely city with my lovely, loving partner and getting to do it with TWO bunny rabbits.) But I’ve reached the point where I consider a trip home — an hour and a half round trip as an unnecessary excursion — just to check the mail so I don’t have to wait until 10 when I get home to hear my fate or survive another day. This art class has been the only thing that has allowed me to not feel the pulling in my chest that is the near-crippling fear of rejection.
When I arrived home from my art class, (I checked the mail and then) I sat down to reflect on how instances of creative expression inform my work. Certainly, there is the obvious connection given the fact that I am currently in a philosophy and aesthetics program. But aside from that, opportunities like the art workshop or last week’s Sunday Writing Challenge are more than just a break from your every-day-task (whatever it may be). Take the writing challenges as another example. By pushing myself to write in new mediums — exercises in fiction, creative writing, free writing, and blog writing (!) — I’m instilling a habit of coming to my academic writing with the same attitude of exploration. It’s allowing me not to kick my own ass so much. (I, again, shamelessly refer you to my post and excellent commentary on the shared experience of and like Impostors Syndrome.) I realized that I already think that academic writing can be creative and expressive in the way that it builds, informs, challenges, and postulates. The problem is that, when I sit down in front of my computer, I forget what that feels like, that that’s how I want to feel when I come to my work. But when I attend a class, or sketch a tree (with a stick-person sitting under it), I realize that I already have this perspective toward my work, I’m just learning how to exercise it, to have that mentality when I open my latest work-in-progress.
I’d recommend it to anyone who feels in a rut generally, who’s looking to push their comfort zones, or, frankly, that just must scratch that creativity itch. I think you’ll find, as I did, that it’s more than a break from your everyday routine, but that it enriches and highlights how creative and expressive that everyday-ness already is.
I learned a lot at my art class. I learned basic vocabulary like intensity, value, and gradation. I made a color wheel! And the color black from primary colors (harder than it sounds). I met some really great people and was reassured that I’m not the only left-brainer who yearns to express myself creatively through new and challenging mediums. Most importantly, I learned how utterly essential it is that, even without sweet-ass coupons, I continue to find opportunities that allow me to do so.