Thursday, May 2, 2013

How Calculus Helped Me Define My Artistic Voice, A True Story

Recently, I took a few month hiatus from art-making. Before I disappeared from my blog in October, I found art frustrating. I knew where I wanted to go with my pieces, but I couldn't quite put my finger on how to get there. I wanted to create art that wasn't just beautiful. I wanted substance too. I wanted to create images that would require more than just a passing glance. I wanted the viewer to wonder about the piece. To ask questions and to become a part of the narrative. But I couldn't quite get there.

I put down my brushes and I focused my creative energies on what most people would deem "completely unrelated pursuits." I decided to go back to school and take.........calculus.

Calculus was the class that I started my senior year of high school. Failed the first test and dropped it like a lead balloon. Calculus was the class that lead me to believe that I wasn't smart enough to pursue the sciences. It was my Achilles heel. And it haunted me.

It was time I faced one of my deepest fears....failure. So in August, I researched online math courses. I checked out a pre-calc study guide and went through it. Working the problems one by one. When I felt like I was somewhat proficient, I drove to the online university building (Yes, I know that is an oxymoronic phrase.) and I took the math placement exam. It was hard. I hadn't reviewed trigonometry. My algebra was rusty, but I did my best. When I got my score, I almost couldn't believe it. (In fact, I did indeed need clarification from the proctor.) After almost 19 years sans maths, I tested into precalculus. For the first time, I thought that I might not be as number illiterate as I had previously dubbed myself. With serious trepidation, I registered for Precalc.

So that my studying wouldn't interfere with my family responsibilities, I woke up at 4:30 AM to study, 5 days a week. When we went on a family vacation in the Fall, I trudged to the hotel computer every morning in my jammies (so I wouldn't wake up the sleeping crowd in the room) and endlessly did problems. It was nearly impossible. At one point, I decided it wasn't for me and I wanted to quit. Todd convinced me to finish the course.

Every time I opened my book to start a new chapter, dread would smack me in the face. Twist my stomach into knots. Fill my brow with sweat. I would ask myself if this was going to be the concept that I wouldn't grasp. I waited for the brick of complete and utter confusion to fall on my head. Surprisingly, it never did. And each time I mastered a concept that seemed so difficult at the onset, my confidence grew. I ended up excelling in the course and without hesitation, I signed up for Calculus I.

Somewhere, during the endless working and reworking (swears and tears) of derivatives, integrals, limits and unit circle problems, I found something that I didn't know I had. Call it what you will...self-confidence, clarity, my groove, chutzpah...I found it. And that part of me that lay dormant in the soil of my mind, given just a sliver of sunlight, began growing and growing.

Suddenly, I was able to pick up my brushes again and paint. In a fit, I took pieces that had never quite reached my expectations, plastered and gessoed over them and prepped them for new ideas. I was brutal and unforgiving. Nothing was safe from my raid. I painted over pieces that had received awards, pieces that my kids loved (but I hated) and pieces that I had previously thought were my very best work. And I don't regret it. In fact, I would call it liberating.

I bought new big brushes. I began painting big and bold. And I developed an idea for a series: Pears, A Study in Shape. The ideas started flowering again.

Here is the first piece in my very first attempts at substantive art....Pear Possibilities. 

Pear Possibilities measures 16x20 inches.




The highly texturized nature of this piece lends to a depth of color that unfortunately cannot be captured adequately in my photography. However, if you live in the Phoenix area, you can see this piece at the Laveen Festival of Fine Art on May 17th from 6-9PM at South Mountain Community College Laveen Center (51st Ave and Dobbins, Laveen).

And to conclude my story of How Calculus Helped Me Define My Artistic Voice, I will end in the manner that my father, one of the greatest storytellers of all time, always ended his bedtime narratives, no matter how far fetched the tale may have been......

......and that is a true story.

xoxo
Bethany

2 comments:

Heidi said...

I am in love with this painting! Awesome!!!! Maybe I need to take up calculus again...I lost my mojo almost a year ago and haven't set foot in my art room other than to gather supplies for my little Girl Scouts to use. :( You are an inspiration - as always!

Ana said...

What a lovely story. A pleasure to wake up to and read. The train going in the other direction often provides a different view...if we let it.