Monday, February 03, 2014

Art & I & Art

Or, why do I always have this internal struggle?

This year’s ARCO logo. 2014.

AOG, Madrid

This past weekend Madrid held its international art fair: ARCO. This art fair has been an annual event for me ever since I moved to Spain.

I have gone every year since then to every single one, and every year I walk away thinking to myself, ‘Why the Hell don’t I start doing that?’.

By “that” I am referring to art, in whichever way you wish to define it.
And art and I have had a very tormented relationship from the very start. And it goes on today.

There are many reasons why I don’t live and work as an artist.

And I dislike every single one of them, yet, that has always been, to use a well-worn euphemism, the story of my life.

The cruel beginnings…

When I was a young kid I asked my mother to let me take drawing classes.
I remember going to my first-ever drawing lesson.

I remember the anticipation, the nerves I felt then. The joy inside of me as I anticipated what was to happen.

As a kid, nothing made happier than drawing. I loved it.

I remember that I read somewhere that there was an art academy near where we lived. Maybe it was just a poster, or an ad in a magazine. And I remember pestering my mother to let me go to drawing classes.

After my mother tired of hearing me, she allowed for this to happen. And I was over the moon.

It was a complete fiasco.

We went to the academy in question and I saw several tables with children pouring over their work. I was very excited because I’d soon be learning what they were learning, and I’d be working alongside them. It was going to be my first extracurricular activity ever.

Madame Mère (as I like to call her theses days) and I were shown around the academy, the director explaining to her what the children were doing at that particular moment.

And what were the children drawing?

They, all of them, were drawing a picture of a mountain top and the moon.

Circle and triangle. Basic.

And it seems like that is all they had been drawing and all that they were going to draw for a long time.

My mother asked about this, and she was told, again, that until the children learned how to do that well, that was all they were going to do.

Only that picture?

Yes, only that picture.

My mother thanked the director for her time and said she would think about it.

She didn’t drop me off at the academy that day, as I had been expecting to happen; she didn’t say she’d be picking me up later. 

She didn’t do any of the things I thought were going to happen.

instagram: @tony4sure

Once outside, or in the car, or the elevator, or wherever it was that we were at when we were alone, I asked her about what had just happened. 

Why wasn’t I being dropped off? What was happening?

I don’t remember her exact words but it was something along the lines of ‘I don’t think they have a very good idea about how to teach drawing to a child’.

She really didn’t like the thought of me doing just one painting over and over.

I, on the other hand, would have killed at the chance to do just that. But it was not to be. She had seen a problem with the academy and dismissed it. And for some reason, she never bothered to find another one.

Now it would be unfair to say she didn’t encourage my sister and I to express our creative side.

Although I never went to art class, Madame Mère did spend hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, paying for art supplies throughout our entire childhood.

Instagram: @tony4sure

She paid for ballet school, piano lessons, acting lessons.

Only as an adult, when I went to live in London, did I take a photography lesson.

And ever since then, photography has been with me as a sort of surrogate for drawing.

But I still draw. Badly. Awkwardly. Furtively. But passionately.

With time, my drawings became more about designing things.

When we first came to Europe in 1988, for some strange reason, I decided I would start drawing buildings.

Ever the frustrated architect, I was content to draw skyscrapers, cut out the shapes, as though they were paper dolls, and ‘assemble’ them.

I had already started designing cars a couple of years before. And shoes. And clothes. And furniture. But I never trusted my drawing skills. And I never took it seriously. So I never did anything with it. I just drew. I just draw.

But I take art seriously. I take my photography seriously. And my writing. And my acting. And I recently joined a choir, and I take that seriously too. Just as I took music seriously when I had a magnificent keyboard I never learned how to play well. I am also a frustrated composer.

But I am a great reader. And all of those years I read about art. And then I did a BA in Art History (and History with a philosophy minor). 

And I combined that degree with photography, and my love of all the arts. And you can see the results online. Follow me on instagram for the more immediate images: @tony4sure.

Being an artist.

For years, as one does, I never thought of myself as an artist. I was just doing what everyone else did -so I believed.

I used to think that since I liked art, so did everyone else.

Since I could draw, so could everyone else.

Since I could dance, and sing, and act, and all the rest, so could everyone else.

Realizing that was just not the case took me years.

Not so much a rude awakening as a realization: not everyone is an artist.

But was I an artist? Or was I just artistic?

I was an actor, a singer, a writer, even a half-assed musical composer when sitting at the keyboard, but an artist?

It took a while before the dots connected.

The proper thank you.

I have to thank London for telling me what I was. For opening my eyes. For slapping me in the face with what was there.

You see, London, like any major metropolitan area, attracts its fair share of talented people.

And talented people are excellent at recognizing talent in others, and extremely adept at letting you know when it is not there. Cruel in fact.

And it was a group of those people who told me what I had never been able to see myself: that I was an Artist

That I had always been one.

But it took a while before I accepted this about myself.

Weird, right?

Instagram: @tony4sure
 I was informed that I didn’t take photographs just because I pointed the camera and pressed the shutter. I had compositions. Angles. I was producing images, not just photographs.

I could act, and embody a character. I could express feelings through movement as a dancer. I could write poetry, and prose. I was a producer of art, not just a consumer.

And I should have gone to Art School. RADA, or Central St Martin’s, or the Royal Academy of Art. But I didn’t.


Because I was not an artist in my head. Art was something everyone did. Hence, I undervalued it greatly.

But I wanted, still want, to learn. And to produce art.

As a designer, I wanted to learn about CAD. Not programming, just using this wonderful program to make my car designs look real. Or professional. Or just better.

But couldn’t. And didn’t.

So these days, I channel my impulses as best I can.

Instagram: @tony4sure

And most of the time I am happy with the exercise (if not necessarily the actual output).

But now and again, I go to an art gallery, or a museum, or some exhibition somewhere, and I kick myself for not being an artist.

For not working as one.

Or, perhaps, what I am kicking myself about is really for not having been clever enough to convince a gallerist to buy my photographs, for not being a writer in print (though I am in print as a journalist).

For not getting that recognition which, as an actor, I do get when I perform with my improv colleagues.

For lacking that confidence and living with that internal struggle.

But, you know what? Perhaps it is the struggle which keeps me writing, and acting, and reading, and taking photographs, and all the rest.

Because being an artist is so many things…


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