Saturday, September 22, 2007

Art and "the arts"

Questions at the bottom for those who prefer to skip to the end...

My 6-year-old son appears to have a gift for visual art. He loves art, and seems to have good control over his drawing hand, and an ability to copy what he sees pretty well. When we lived in Sarasota, a city known for art, I wanted to sign him up for an art class that was advertised a lot and looked good, but they had a minimum age of 6, and he was 5. By the time he was 6, we had moved back to Texas.

His school here offers art for 1/3 of the year, and he loves that, but honestly, I could tell the school art classes were not going to challenge him to work to the best of his ability and help him learn the techniques he could really benefit from. So I found an outside art class for elementary students, and signed him up. However...when we went to the orientation I wasn't impressed with much that I saw there, and I wanted to try somewhere else first. We went to tour another local art school I'd heard about, and it looked great. There are "classes" in that several students come at once, but the instructon is completely individualized. The room is great and kind of cool-looking (not a tiny childcare classroom like at the other place, but a studio where real art is happening), the grounds have a great atmosphere with chickens, ducks, turkeys, and peacocks wandering around, and best of all, the art on display looked really good. I saw kids not much older than my son making art that looked like someone much older had done it. So we signed him up for a trial class and he loved it, asking how many days until he could come back the next week. I think he is going to get a lot out of it.

I kind of wonder if I should consider taking art myself. In Sarasota, I had plans to take the same art class I wanted to sign him up for. They had a class that taught you to draw a portrait based on a photograph in 5 classes, and I wanted to do that, but chickened out of ever actually going in on my own! (I also couldn't decide who to draw...silly me.) This one would surely be a longer process. I have never really taken an art class. I always assumed real artists had an innate drive to create art, and that if I wasn't driven to do art above all, then I must not be an artist. I was also always stymied by paintbrushes and color choices. However, I've always enjoyed doodling, did take a cartooning class as a child, and particularly enjoy writing in different handwritings and experimenting with different fonts. I think I have a moderate amount of control over my pen. I have wondered if maybe I should take calligraphy. I've avoided that in the past because it looked like too much of the same all the time (basically Zapf Chancery over & over), but of course some people do some really amazing things with calligraphy. I also signed up for a Layout and Design class once that I didn't complete because they expected the students to come into it with good drawing skills. church has recently started helping sponsor an arts organization. The arts it covers are visual art, theatre, music, and dance. I always wonder why writing is not usually considered an art. So many of my concerns as a writer, especially a creative writer, are the same concerns other artists might have, but I notice that arts organizations often limit themsleves to visual and performing arts. I am trying to decide whether to get involved with this organization anyway. It would be a hardship with my baby and family and only one car. But this week, on a night when I can't figure out how I'd get there, they're having theatre games night. I love theatre games! In a way it seems crazy not to go, since I'd love an outlet like that. In another way, I'd be mortified to go, because I think many of the other participants are working actors in local theatre. I haven't done theatre in many years and am not really good at it. I just like it. It also interferes with my kids' activities that night, and probably with my baby's schedule. But I would have moved heaven & earth for such an opportunity last year, when I was in Florida without knowing anyone and feeling desperate for a creative environment.

I pretty much figured I couldn't go, and shouldn't since my main art is writing, but I just found a diary-type book from high school in which I wrote my future goals. 9th grade: "Things I Want to Do in the Future: Be an actress, write, be a wife and mother." 10th grade: "Things I Want to Do in the Future: Be an actress, wife, mother, writer." 11th grade: "What I Want to Be: Actress, writer, work on TV production...? museum worker?" 12th grade: "What I Want to Be: Actress, writer, something involved with Radio/TV/Film." Now, there were a few other things in there--I also wrote that I wanted to go to UT (which I did), live in Santa Fe (no), skydive (no), and ride in a hot air balloon (no), but note that actress came before writer every year back then. I am a wife, a mother, and theoretically a writer, but acting went bye-bye long ago. I don't know if there's any point in pursuing it now just because I said that in the distant past, but there is still a definite draw there for me.

So the questions I have for my patient readers is:

(1) If I might have any talent at visual art, would I already know it by now? Aren't artists generally driven to create art throughout their lives? Is there any point in taking up visual art as an adult? I don't aim to develop strong enough skills to be an illustrator or anything, it would mainly be for fun, but I'm sort of curious whether I could do it.

(2) Why isn't creative writing usually counted as one of "the arts"? I know it sometimes is, as I have read poetry as part of a church "Arts Fest" before, and it is possible to get an MFA in Creative Writing. But it seems like it's only counted rarely. Is it because visual and performing arts are easier to recognize as art or easier to display? Or because there's a very blurry line between, say, expository writing and journalism, some of which is very artful and some of which is purely practical, and art? I think film also gets left out of "the arts" a lot, and it also has some very blurry lines around the edges, but then some people consider it art, also. In fact, my Radio/TV/Film degree from UT-Austin is a Bachelor of Science degree, but at UT-Arlington, Radio and TV were in Liberal Arts, while Film was in the Fine Arts department!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sweet 16 again

So a couple of weeks after posting about my Sweet 16 birthday, I'm having a Sweet 16 again--only this time it's my 16th wedding anniversary! Can I have a big party with a band and a free car this time...? Actually, I settled for lunch at Old Spaghetti Warehouse with lots of sourdough bread (the real impetus for the restaurant choice) and a baby in tow. But it was still sweet. Happy Anniversary to my sweetie!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

Like most of my other blogging friends, I feel compelled to blog about the loss of Madeleine L'Engle, who died this week in her late 80s. Though unlike most of my other blogging friends, I don't feel I have much eloquent to say.

My 9-year-old son happens to be reading A Wrinkle in Time this week, for the first time. It's strange to think how, when he started the book several days ago, the author was alive, but he'll end it after she's gone.

I read and liked A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and I suspect my budding scientist son will like it, too. But my favorite book of hers--actually the book I usually consider my favorite book ever--was and is A Ring of Endless Light. Which in fact deals with death, and grief. Also with dolphins. Dolphins have been my favorite animal ever since I read that book at age 13. For some reason, I never read the whole series of books about the Austins... I think I may have read one other, but it was almost like that one book was so perfect to me, I felt like reading another would somehow take away from it. Irrational, I'm sure, but I was 13 and in love with a book.

I wrote a long letter to Madeleine L'Engle when I was 13. It was maybe 2 or 3 pages, which I suspect blathered on about how much I liked the book and the dolphins and how much it meant to me. But I also remember it was about my wanting to be a writer. Specifically a young adult writer. I think I asked for advice about my own writing. Sadly, stupidly, I lost the letter before I sent it. By the time I gave it up for lost, I felt I could never recreate it. So I never wrote to her. Years later, my father, who worked in Christian publishing for a while, actually knew her in person slightly from some conferences they attended together. I wondered if I should send her another letter then, but felt again like I'd lost my chance, or like I could never remember what I wanted to say, or at least not with the passion of a 13-year-old with a book fresh in her mind. I considered writing about how she'd inspired me as a child, and about how I still wanted to write, and my curiosity on how to juggle faith and fiction. But I didn't. And so now, it's like the last bell sounding to let me know I waited too long. I'm sad, realizing she might have written back, and I might have had a letter from her now. (I do have one somewhere from Judy Blume.) Maybe it would have even helped me to get started sooner on this writing thing!

But for Madeleine L'Engle herself, I'm not feeling particularly sad, given her age and her well-lived life, and all she left the world while she was here. I know she's in a better place, enjoying that endless light. And for the rest of us, I'm happy for the things she left behind for us and future children to spur our thoughts, inspire us, and expand our minds.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Smurfy Sweet 16

I have only seen a few moments here and there of MTV's show My Super Sweet 16, but the ostentatious sixteenth birthday party phenomenon has been creeping into my view, anyway, because of things like incredibly fancy cakes I've seen made for Sweet 16 parties on Ace of Cakes and on some sort of cake decorating championship show in which 5 cake decorators had to face off to win the chance to make some girl's giant Sweet 16 cake, and because of Sweet 16 party decorations I've seen in party supply catalogs that looked more appropriate for a prom, class reunion, or awards show!

So my mind went back to my own "Sweet 16"... Yes, I did have a 16th birthday party, thrown by my mother for me and my friends. Let's see, it involved a cake, some decorations, and a couple of picnic tables in a hot park. The budget might have hit...oh, $50. Actually, probably a little less in 1980s dollars and more in today's. And while the girl on the cake bake-off show said that the purse-themed cake (I believe) was a little too young for her, I actually went with the avant-garde theme of...Smurfs. No, I didn't "really" like Smurfs, like a 4-year-old might. I think I was 11 before I ever heard of a Smurf, though my 8-years-younger brother was smitten with them as a preschooler, so I'd seen my share of them since. I was trying to be humorously ironic. Not sure if it worked, but I think we had fun. We didn't have terribly high expectations. I think my main expectation was cake!

Me with my Smurfette centerpiece--I somehow missed the whole ballgown & tiara type thing and showed up in jeans & a t-shirt:

Excuse the photo quality, I had to go with the grainy, dark 80s-era instamatic or Disc camera, rather than hiring a wedding photographer to do the honors.

What I did not skimp on was the cake. While elaborate fondant decor was unheard of in 1983 and I lacked a four or five-tier cake, this was a Red Oven red velvet cake, which I am certain to this day tasted better than nearly any cake seen on those television shows. (From my experience tasting wedding cakes at bridal shows before our wedding, the fancy places seem to emphasize looks a lot more than taste!)

Sadly, the cake that wasn't served up right away was ultimately destroyed, ending up all over at least one of the guests... I also seem to recall the remaining ice and water in the ice chest being dumped on people's heads. The guests seemed to have fun, anyway.

And check out the elaborate touches--paper tablecloths! Balloons & streamers! Smurf plates & cups! A birthday sign! (Or is that Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Knowing me, it might be. I actually played Pin the Tail on the Donkey at my 40th birthday party with my family this year!)


And while I didn't hire any popular rock bands to play at the party, we did have entertainment:

Who doesn't like piƱatas, after all?

Oddly, I think I appreciated this Sweet 16 party more than the majority of those girls on TV seem to appreciate their $50K or $100K bashes. (I didn't throw a single tantrum over getting a Lexus at the wrong time, like the girl I saw a clip of on The Soup. I'm not sure, but I think my gifts were more like...stationery and cassette tapes.) Better yet, my 16th birthday was not the best party I was to have until my wedding. I actually upped the ante with two parties for my 17th birthday--another silly park party with a Hawaiian theme, and a night out with some other friends at a clubby-type restaurant. Not sure I did one for 18, but I had a big party for 20. No Smurfs in sight that time...but I'm sure it was not a bit more elegant!