Sunday, June 20, 2004

A Lesson In Humility

On my first day of kindergarten I was given the distinction of being "Best Artist in the Class", and the title has pretty much stuck with me, in one way or the other, thoughout the course of my life.
I have been blessed with that fine-motor-skill dexterity, eye/hand coordination, which enables me to render a likeness with my hands, of the things I observe with my eyes.
(Ironically I am also mildly dyslexic, constantly confusing my left and right, making it impossible for me to play a musical instrument)

I've always been pretty cocky about my skills, and so was totally unprepared for my own reaction to the sticky, crumbly, brown medium I was given to work with, in preparation for the bronze casting class I was to start the next day at the David Davis Studio.
The wax came in a flat sheet with directions to soften it in hot water, then form it into a small, three-dimensional sculpture, ready for gating. I've worked a little with wax before, but it never reacted like this. It was either too sticky, or it cracked and crumbled. The more I worked with it, the more frustrated I became.
So I cursed it out, wadded it up, stuck it in a baggy, and threw it in the car to take to class the next day.
About 15 minutes later my daughter, Maureen, pops her head in the kitchen door and yells, "Mom! Somebody threw a bag of dog crap on the front seat of your car!"

The next morning I walked into the class with my baggy, and looked around the studio. Everyone else had lovely little brown sculptures, and I had a big brown turd.
I was suddenly struck with the same feeling that I get when I'm having the dream where I go to work without my clothes on.
I'd expected everybody else to have the same problem, but it turned out, I was the sole incompetent. Making matters worse, I was the only person in the group who made my living as a visual artist...How humiliating!

Resolutely, I got back to work on my brown sticky lump. I was starting to make a bit of progress turning it into a Celtic-style zoomorphic creature, when it cracked in half. As I attempted to weld it together, it broke in two more places. I felt like calling it quits.
My drive home had me questioning my own talent. Maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was.

Then I remembered the rats.

Earlier this year I had a couple of wax models of rats in the back of my station wagon. They were part of a sculpture one of my students had cast. I was transporting them from an art exhibit across town, and parked my car in the school's lot. It was a hot spring day, and the interior temperature of my car with the windows closed, rose enough to melt the rats into softened blobs of their former selves.
The student didn't want the misshapen rodents back, so they remained in a box in my basement. That evening, I put the rats in a double boiler and melted them down completely. When the wax block hardened, I started to carve it. The texture was perfect. I stayed up until three o'clock in the morning completing a lovely little bust of my son Brian.

What a relief to realize that it wasn't was the medium. I still had my skills.
But as I look back on my feelings of inadequacy during the class, I am thankful for the lesson in humility. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that our talents truly are gifts.


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