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Bold white rafters ran overhead, bearing upon their great iron shoulders the weight of the skylight above. Late evening rays streamed through these sprawling glass panes, casting a gentle glow upon all that they graced—paper and canvases and paintbrushes alike. As day became night, the soft luminescence of the art studio gave way to a fluorescent glare, defining the clean rectilinear lines of Dillon Art Center against the encroaching darkness. It was a studio like no other. Modern. Sophisticated. Professional.
And it was clean and white and nice.
But it just wasn't it.
Because to me, there was only one "it," and "it" was a little less than two thousand miles west, an unassuming little office building located amidst a cluster of similarly unassuming little office buildings, distinguishable from one another on the outside only by the rusted numbers nailed to each door. Inside, crude photocopies of students' artwork plastered the once white walls. Those few openings in between the tapestry of art were dotted with grubby little handprints, repurposed by some overzealous young artist as another surface for creative expression. In the middle of the room lay two long tables, each covered with newspaper, upon which were scattered dried-up markers and lost erasers and bins of unwanted colored pencils. These were for the younger children. The older artists—myself included—sat around these tables with easels, in whatever space the limited confines of the studio allowed. The instructor sometimes talked, and we sometimes listened. Most of the time, though, it was just us—children, drawing and talking and laughing and sweating in the cluttered and overheated mess of an art studio.
No, it was not so clean and not so white and not so nice. But I have drawn—rather, lived—in this studio for most of my past ten years. I suppose this is strange, as the rest of my life can best be characterized by everything the studio is not: cleanliness and order and structure. But then again, the studio was like nothing else in my life, beyond anything in which I've ever felt comfortable or at ease.
Sure, I was frustrated at first. My carefully composed sketchbooks—the proportions just right, the contrast perfected, the whiteness of the background meticulously preserved—were often marred by the frenzied strokes of my instructor's charcoal as he tried to teach me not to draw accurately, but passionately. I hated it. But thus was the fundamental gap in my artistic understanding—the difference between the surface realities that I wanted to depict, and the profound though elusive truths of the human condition that art could explore. It was the difference between drawing a man's face and using abstraction to explore his soul.
But thus was the fundamental gap in my artistic understanding—the difference between the surface realities that I wanted to depict, and the profound though elusive truths of the human condition that art could explore.
And I can't tell you exactly when or why my attitude changed, but eventually my own lines began to unabashedly disregard the rules of depth or tonality to which I had once dutifully adhered, my fervor leaving in its wake black fingerprints and smudges where once had existed unsoiled whiteness. It was in this studio that I eventually made the leap into a new realm of art—a realm in which I was neither experienced nor comfortable. Apart from surface manifestations altogether, this realm was simultaneously one of austere simplicity and aesthetic intricacy, of departure from realism and immersion in reality, of intense emotion and uninhibited expression. It was the realm of lines that could tell stories, of colors and figures that meant nothing and everything.
Indeed, it was the realm of disorder and messy studios and true art—a place where I could express the world like I saw it, in colors and strokes unrestrained by expectations or rules; a place where I could find refuge in the contours of my own chaotic lines; a place that was neither beautiful nor ideal, but real.
No, it was not so clean and not so white and not so nice.
But then again, neither is art.
Perhaps the most prominent facet of Bobby’s essay is the use of imagery. It is first utilized to bring the reader into the piece and make the introduction pop, with “Late evening rays [...] casting a gentle glow” and “the soft luminescence of the art studio” becoming “a fluorescent glare.” Immediately, the reader knows what the essay will generally be about: art. Still, in the beginning of the essay, a lot of information is left out, leaving the reader begging for details to contextualize the mental images Bobby leaves them. Throughout the rest of the piece, Bobby’s use of imagery brings his essay to life, with “black fingerprints and smudges” and “unsoiled whiteness” being used to describe his art. He also uses imagery to illustrate the contrast between his organized, type A persona and the abstract art he eventually creates. One such example is “the whiteness of the background” on his sketchbook being “meticulously preserved” but yet “marred by the frenzied strokes of my instructor's charcoal.”
Nevertheless, imagery alone does not provide the concrete, powerful narrative found in Bobby’s essay. One of the most powerful appeals of the essay is that it represents a coming-of-age story that echoes the Bildungsroman literary sub-genre, in which characters evolve psychologically from youth to adulthood during the story. Indeed, not only does this essay document Bobby’s development from child to young adult, but Bobby’s art also matures from something orderly and superficial to something abstract and deeply meaningful.
One of the most powerful appeals of the essay is that it represents a coming-of-age story that echoes the Bildungsroman literary sub-genre, in which characters evolve psychologically from youth to adulthood during the story.
What separates Bobby’s essay from a well-written story, however, is the subtextual narrative it provides the reader. Though, on the surface, Bobby’s essay explores the contrast between the abstractness of his art and the order of rest of his life, it also mirrors the history of art itself. Just as Bobby the old artist had “the proportions just right, the contrast perfected” in his sketchbook, so too did the painters of the Renaissance work tirelessly to master perspective—to make art seem as realistic as possible. Just as Bobby the new artist’s “lines began to unabashedly disregard the rules of depth or tonality,” so too did art slowly—from the playful light of Monet’s Impressionism, to the square faces of Picasso’s Cubism and the complete abstraction of Pollock’s expressionism—care less and less about how realistic it was and more about the message it conveyed. In Bobby’s words, “It was the difference between drawing a man's face and using abstraction to explore his soul.”
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