Life is Shit Part IPosted: September 12, 2010
Life is Shit : A Story About Beauty
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I had never done anything worth mentioning before college. I was terrible at most sports, not quite as bad at the saxophone, I didn’t have a good voice, and I wasn’t good with kids my age. I also spent a lot of time in trouble for asking too many questions, writing in cursive too early in school, or using words my grade school teachers didn’t understand like asinine or superfluous. So I learned to be quiet and keep to myself.
I always liked drawing and at that I was alright. The more time I spent not interacting with kids my age and steering clear of teachers and school officials, the more time I had to draw. Most of what I did were pencil renderings of sports cars or comic book characters. This lasted many quiet years.
As I got older, the drawings got me some attention from peers, and by high school, once in a while I drew a tattoo for a friend. Near the end of my senior year, my guidance counselor thought she saw a design spark, and with only a few weeks before graduation she said I should enroll in college to study Graphic Design. She was adamant. Not my girlfriend, not even my parents seemed to push me toward college. You got the impression the guidance counselor would receive a bonus for every kid she conned into going to one of the state’s schools.
So eventually, with graduation behind me and little on the horizon, I decided to apply to one school. I didn’t have to write an essay or anything like that, I just sent in the application, my transcript and some of my art. They said I had real talent and they’d be happy to take my money so they can improve upon it. That’s not how they said it, of course, but that’s basically what their acceptance letter amounted to.
So I went to college.
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It was one in the morning and all the academics, as we called them, were going to bed. Graphic Design classes were often in the evening, six or six-thirty, so if you were smart you set up your schedule so that most of your classes began after midday so you didn’t have to get up early. And so the art students hung out late while the academics studied, and when they cleared out we started our art projects, in those prime hours just before dawn when creativity is at its highest. We went to bed when the sun peeked over Lake Michigan. We cleared the chairs to one side of the student lounge on our floor and got down to business.
I’d been working for two weeks on a charcoal self-portrait. I hated charcoal with all my energy, but it was necessary for my 2D concepts class. That’s right, 2D concepts. I’d done this hustle my whole life.
In grade school they taught you how to draw shapes, then how to shade, then how to sculpt in modeling clay. Then in middle school you started over. First you drew flat shapes, then you started in on perspective and shading. By eighth grade you started doing sculpture. High school was the same; one dimension, two dimensions, three dimensions.
And here I was in college doing it all over again. The first year we spent a whole semester reducing three dimensional scenes to flat, one-dimensional shapes with charcoal. Then we spent another semester working in color, but no shading or blending was allowed. Just flat outlines and filled shapes. Then, in my second year, I was allowed to shade, but only with charcoal.
It was like getting in trouble for writing in cursive back in the second grade.
“No, no, no. We’re not there yet.”
“Keep that up and you’ll get an F.”
Who decided that art students needed to learn how to draw over and over again? I’d been doing this my whole life. I could draw a square with my eyes closed. By this time in life, I thought, if you can’t already draw shapes, you shouldn’t have majored in art. But our teacher warned us. She said that one and two point perspective was next semester, so we had better not have anything vanishing toward the horizon line until then.
Anyway, I had been working on this self portrait for two weeks. I was trying to be like Chuck Close and capture every last grotesque detail on a huge piece of canvas. It was coming along alright and I was basically done, but being a perfectionist I kept adding details to make it all the more absurd. I wanted my teacher to know how much I hated her. I had all my pimples and pores, every whisker in my sparse goatee, and in the reflection of my eye was me drawing my self portrait all over again.
Just before two in the morning on most weekdays we’d order subs from Jimmy John’s. It was great that they delivered, because even though they were only a couple blocks away, I was on the 19th floor and half the school year there was ice or snow on the ground. Four or five of us would order and we called it dinner time. Two in the morning. What a life.
When the sandwiches got there we all took a while to eat, stretch and talk. Since we were working on the floor most of the time it was a good idea to walk around and limber up. The guy to my left was a drawing major. I really didn’t know how they charged a guy that much money to give him a piece of paper after two years that said so little.
In honor of outstanding performance and dedication
We proudly present this Diploma to Eric Habernathy
for the successful completion of the requirements for our
Two Year Drawing Program Certificate.
(He’s good with a pencil, colored pencils, and the occasional pen and ink, and it only cost him twenty-eight thousand bucks!)
Eric was drawing Lake Michigan. Again. He loved drawing the lake, but it lost something when rendered in pencil. I couldn’t say it to him, but everyone was thinking it. Drawing waves and shoreline in pencil was simply boring.
On my other side was Mike, a freshman. He was a pot head and a sports fanatic, a strange mix in my mind. He always worked with ink and failed most of his art classes because of this. He said he had artistic standards and that was simply his medium, and sometimes he said that pastels were for fags and other things of that sort. I wondered how he’d do in 3D concepts, if he didn’t flunk out first. I bet that would be a riot.
Mike had covered almost an entire 11 x 14 page with black ink using a 0.25 millimeter rapidograph, which, if you don’t know, is a very fine pen. This had taken him weeks, but his idea was that the end result would be the texture of the page, not just the blackness of it. The assignment was to render the Milwaukee skyline from a source photo and flatten it, representing it with two dimensional shapes. I don’t know what had happened to his source photo, but it didn’t matter.
Mike said he’d written subliminal messages into the void as he went along, whatever that meant. To keep his hands from cramping up while working on such a small and tedious scale, he practiced Chinese calligraphy on parchment paper. This was not for a class, but he was really good at it. Once I asked him what it all said and he admitted he didn’t have any idea, but he said they calmed him down. He copied them out of books, rendering them with such fluidity, it made me think he’d missed his calling. Then again, I couldn’t think of a full time job writing Chinese calligraphy.
My project was massive both in size and scope compared to my fellow art students. I’d gotten the biggest piece of heavy paper I could find for the project. I don’t remember the dimensions, but it was almost as tall as me, and it was almost done.
The thing that finished my project was, when we were about to settle back in and get to work Mike and I collided. He was sliding his calligraphy set to one side at the same moment I was settling in to cross my legs. I caught the board on which his ink wells were resting with the heel of my shoe, which sent everything careening over my self portrait. Everybody watched as the inks splashed across my enormously grotesque face, and really, there was nothing else to do. We all watched it until finally that last ink well had stopped rolling about.
I dropped my half eaten sandwich into the glistening puddle of ink, walked into my dorm room and went to sleep.
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© Anthony David Jacques MMX