After a particularly difficult day in class a couple of weeks ago, I blurted out to my friend, “This semester has broken my spirit!” As soon as I said it, I wished I hadn’t. “Is that really true?” I thought to myself. If so, it’s pretty dire. I have revisited the statement numerous times since I said it, wavering back and forth between feeling that I was being overly dramatic and feeling that it was entirely accurate.
So I was invited to a painting party about a week ago. This is an event in which a bunch of friends get together at a little storefront in a strip mall wherein a bunch of canvases are set up. A “lead artist” takes the friends through the creation of a chosen painting while the friends drink wine, eat snacks and each person tries to convince the group that they are, in fact, the worst painter at the event. When it was all over, we each had a more-or-less identical painting of a whimsical little Christmas tree in a snowy grove at night.
This was, as you can see, a simple painting. Cute, sweet, fanciful, festive. These are not words artists use to describe art [insert haughty tone of voice here]. I can only hope my painting professor never stumbles across this blog, especially after I say that this painting may have started to repair my spirit.
I haven’t painted, on a canvas, probably since I graduated from art school. I didn’t really paint, on a canvas, before art school either. I painted things. I painted furniture and sculptures and murals and all sorts of things. I’ve always loved painting and creating, but I hadn’t really painted paintings before I took painting in college. It turns out I really enjoy it. There’s something extremely meditative about pushing paint around on a canvas. The rest of the world drops away and it’s just you and the brush and the paint and the singular focus of making this drippy, unwieldy stuff into something meaningful. Painting is an easy and very enjoyable way of getting into a flow state.
After getting over my initial self-consciousness of (1) picking up a paintbrush after ten years of not painting and (2) doing so to paint a “cute,” “whimsical,” decidedly non-arty painting in a strip mall storefront, the joy of painting came rushing back. I had so much fun. It made me remember not only how much I love painting, but how long it had been since I’d been able to immerse myself in an activity that I enjoy and that didn’t cause me anxiety and panic.
I can achieve “flow” doing school work. Working on a challenging engineering problem that I am confident I can figure out can be really exciting. Making wooden gears in the machine shop for my end-of-semester project required a singular focus and was quite pleasant. But for the most part, this semester has been marked by confusion, frustration and anxiety. Worse is that the excessive amount of time I needed to spend clawing my way through this semester left little or no time for things that keep me grounded, happy and optimistic. Heck, this blog’s been left out in the cold for more weeks than I can stomach.
The tank has been empty for a long time. I’ve been angry, pessimistic and apathetic. Just ask my friends and family who’ve had to put up with me. My spirit has been broken. Thankfully the whimsical little tree painting made me realize that a broken spirit can be mended and an empty tank can be refilled. I finally remembered what it feels like to be totally immersed in an activity and loving the process. I can get that from painting, from writing, from designing a logo. I can also get it from solving engineering problems when I have good teachers who can clearly explain the parameters and then set their students loose to come up with a solution. In fact, I love that. That experience was seriously lacking this semester, but I’m sure I’ll find it again.
I’ll finish my last test eight days from now. The anticipation is nearly killing me. Nine days from now I expect to be knee-deep in Christmas music, tree decorating and card writing. I’m also pretty sure I’ll be dusting off my paints and brushes. The question is, what to paint?