The Joy of Art Journaling Part 1
I fell in love with art as a sophomore in college when I happened to take an art history class. I didn’t know much about art then, but the class fulfilled a humanities requirement and it had open seats so I grabbed it. The class covered the time period from the earliest cave paintings through the Roman Empire. I remember the professor seemed so ancient to my 19 year old eyes, but was probably in his mid forties, not old at all now that I’m in my mid forties myself. He was a slight, slender man in his khaki pants, polo shirts, and sweater tied around his neck though it was summer in the San Fernando Valley in California. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as excited about their subject as that professor was. He spoke with such enthusiasm, describing the hieroglyphics inside the Egyptian pyramids as though they were indeed messages handed down by the gods. I remember the professor leading a class expedition to the J. Paul Getty Museum, and I remember the feeling of complete enchantment as I studied the Greek statues and pottery. I found the professor, and his subject, endearing, and it was because of that class I developed a lifelong love for art in all its forms.
As much as I love to visit museum exhibitions of the great artists, I never thought of myself as much of an artist. I was a writer, so I had to content myself with the fact that I got my creative expression from writing. A number of years ago I dabbled in painting with acrylics, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. I tried to take a painting class at the extension university where I was teaching creative writing, but the teacher wasn’t all I hoped she would be. She was a short French woman with the oddly elfin look of Dobby from the Harry Potter books. Her dyed jet-black hair was cut into an ear-length 1920s flapper’s bob and she wore huge round black glasses that took up the whole of her face. She tottered around the classroom shrugging at the students’ paintings the way only the French can. There was no instruction. There were no directions. She put some flowers in a vase on a stool at the front of the classroom and told us to paint what we saw. That was it. I looked around and saw students painting, but I didn’t even know where to start. I had never taken an art class. Yes, I loved to look at paintings, but looking and painting are two very different things. I started painting the flowers in the vase the best I could. Finally, Dobby stopped besides me and shrugged. “You are supposed to paint what you see,” she said. “This is what you see?”
“Yes” was the only answer that seemed appropriate. She shrugged again and moved on. A little while later she stopped near me again.
“Why is your canvas so small?” she asked. Now it was my turn to shrug (I’m French too, you know). I didn’t remember there being a canvas size requirement in the class materials list, I said. Dobby opened her arms wide. “If you want to learn to paint, you paint big!”
I told her the truth. I didn’t think I was going to learn how to paint from her if she didn’t give us any instruction. I was a complete beginner and knew nothing about painting. Her only response was “Hmpf!” as she tottered away. Another student next to me said that was just the way the teacher was. I grabbed my materials, left the room, and got a refund for the money I paid for the class. I practiced a little on my own, but then decided I wasn’t good at it because I didn’t know what I was doing so I stopped painting. I still considered myself a wanna-be artist, but I limited my non-writing artistic experiences to watching craft shows on TV. I had shut down any desire to create art because I didn't know how to get started.