Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Destruction and Redemption of a Wannabe Artist Soul

On a trip to New York in the summer of 2000, I met an art student from Jamaica Queens who told me that I had no ability to evaluate art. What education do you have? she asked. What ability do you have? What experience do you have? You don't know anything. To be honest, that seven-year-old statement from a girl whose name I can't remember and whose face I wouldn't be able to recognize again lodged somewhere in my soul and crippled my abilities both to look at a piece of art and appreciate it or to walk away from it unimpressed. Actually, it was the second great undoing of Susan, artistically speaking. The first came after a bad experience with an elementary school art teacher. In the end, I became a writer. Writing is my terra familiar, my br'er patch. I critique it and praise it with absolute confidence. I like this. I say. I don't like this. I'm not obliged to qualify or explain. It's true that I've been Institutionally Certified to have an opinion about literature, but if some student of literature were to emerge from Queens and ask me to justify my basic right to have an opinion about writing I would say simply: I can read. And then I would step on her face with my supercool Frye Boot.

Fortunately for the crippled artist in me, God is Haggo'el, the Redeemer. I remember walking into the Birmingham Museum of Art for the first time in more than fifteen years and being surprised at my ability to have an opinion. I see Mary Cassatt's sketches and I appreciate them. I see Albert Bierstadt's Looking Down Yosemite Valley and am raptured. I get this. I think to myself. I get this and it's my right. So what qualification do I have to appreciate this painting? I say simply: I can see. Over the subsequent months, I see more redemption. I realize that my house sits amid the houses of an art professor, the metal artists, a photographer, a chef, and an artist in clay. Art invades me. Everything is beauty. I get a street education in high art courtesy of Haggo'el and learn I'm not half as stupid as I allowed myself to believe. This weekend, I got to take a field trip. (It was the second I've had recently, but the first deserves a post of its own.) So assaulted were my senses that I experienced complete overload and neared a visual meltdown. I saw many artists. I want to write about three.


Carla said...

That is my absolute favorite piece in the museum's permanent collection. I always want to climb up on the frame and into the painting. (I haven't actually tried yet, though ... there's usually security hovering nearby.)

susan said...

You're one of my tribe, girl.