Take my breath away

I walked into the classroom with no expectations. My colleague, the art teacher, had invited us to come view the artworks that his students had prepared for their 'A' Level examinations. I'm guessing he invited me in particular because we've worked together on various projects this year, and also because I happen to teach three of the eight students involved and we've chatted about them from time to time.

Did I really want to be there? I confess that I waffled. I've just spent the better part of a year tussling with eighteen-year-olds --- their angst, their ardent desire to succeed, their unearthly stubbornness (obviously, I'm dwelling on the difficult moments). Did I, on my last day of formal lessons, really want to see all those issues spat out onto a canvas?

I went anyway, to be polite, to be supportive, out of respect for the incredible work that I know my colleague puts in with these kids. I was late, because his informal tour had started while I was delayed by a phone call. I was scuttling apologetically into the classroom, recast by the hush of black curtains into a serious exhibition space ---

--- and it snatched my breath away.

The image in no way does it justice. You can't pick out the intricacies of fabric and fibre, the twists of thought and tension, the sheer richness of the piece. Before I learned its title, what it was about or who made it, its language reached out to me and had me in thrall. The art teacher, was telling colleagues about the other piece in the room, but I had eyes, ears, soul only for this one.

I'm no art connoisseur, never even took a class in art history (much to my regret, I might add). My response to art is thoroughly visceral: I see it, I like it, even if only in some unarticulable way, and that nails it for me. My favourite painting in the world is Ivan Albright's That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (The Door), because the first time I walked into that particular gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago, it forcefully hit me that this was what I'd been looking for in all the other galleries --- this was art.

Today's experience was more seductive. The longer I allowed Red Desert to hold my attention, the more I found that it drew me in. Reading the accompanying notes that documented the artist's creative process (an examination requirement) made me want to stand back and look at it even more. I inched in close, I leaned back to see it in full. I wanted to touch it, could've --- the tactile experience is part of what the artist intended --- but that would've somehow tainted the moment.

Most of all, I wanted to take it home --- not in any acquisitive sense, but so that I could spend time with it, look at it over and over again, deepen my relationship with it. It was asking so much of me; to give it merely those few short minutes was plainly inadequate.

We moved on to another classroom, to other artworks, but when the artist popped her head in and said something about having to show the vice-principal around the exhibition, I took the first opportunity to slip off and join her back at Red Desert. I couldn't help it, I played the groupie to the hilt; it all came bubbling out of me, yes, including the bit where I said I would buy it if I only had a room with a ceiling high enough to do it justice.

I would, in a heartbeat.

Because that's what art can do, you know? It takes your breath away. It stops you in your tracks in the middle of a busy day, when all the other weighty mundanities of life are tearing you down, and it demands your attention to the fact that there is more to the human condition than those mundanities.

All the artworks I saw today spoke to that idea. Clearly I'm biased towards Red Desert, but the other pieces too revealed a depth of feeling and exploration that I hadn't expected to encounter: from butterflies bobbing in the airconditioning's breeze, to fashion design and an original children's storybook, to meditative triptychs, a Grecian mural and a sculpted, domed installation (Late Renaissance- or Baroque-inspired? my architectural ignorance is showing).

You know what? I'm so damned moved by all this, I can't just describe it here. I am so damned moved, I am coming out on this blog to say where
it is I work, because goddammit, I want everyone to go and see them right now.

So you heard it here first: get your ass down to Victoria Junior College on Saturday. The college is hosting its annual Open House, so it'll be open to visitors anyway. But regardless of whether you have any interest in that, come down, find your way to the container classrooms (ask a student to point you in the right direction) and have a look at these incredible pieces of art. Be reminded, as I was, of how much vision, energy and talent young artists can have.

There is plenty to be depressed about in this country. But there is also art, and with art like this, that is enough.


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At 10/13/2005 7:41 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ganbatte ne! thumbnails do no justice. they probably look better up front - i foresee people asking you to guide them around.

At 10/13/2005 7:53 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

Nice to see you getting all hopped up and excited about art. The first piece, Red Desert, certainly looks monumental. It's a pity the pictures are so small.

At 10/13/2005 9:06 pm , Blogger Abigael said...

Yuan lai this is why you need to know about domes ;)

I love art lessons. I had to study hard enough and made sure that I could qualify for a certain college just so I could indulge in my art.

Nostalgia nostalgia ...

At 10/13/2005 11:03 pm , Blogger Tym said...

PMG > Well, it's not the Art Elective Programme, like they have at NJC, but there's an art teacher with art students (some very fine ones, as you can see), an art room and an art curriculum. Don't be biased against artists!

trisha > Make time for art ;) It's worth it.

gecko/Nardac > The thumbnails are small, but they're linked to the repective Flickr page where you can click on "all sizes" and see the actual (rather large) image.

Abigael > Once it's in your blood, you'll do anything for it. These kids have that, in the blood.

At 10/13/2005 11:17 pm , Blogger claire said...

thanks for coming, art is meant to be seen!

At 10/14/2005 6:24 pm , Blogger NARDAC said...

actually, after seeing your flickr photo large, I was less impressed. not because of the bluriness (undoubtedly from the long exposure), but because I saw some things in the top left hand corner that icked me.

Well, we can like different things and it's only the photo. I find it hard to judge art from an online photo, especially installations. But I digress.

I'm friggin' stoked that you can have this kind of reaction to art.

At 10/16/2005 10:17 am , Blogger avalon said...

Hi Tym, elaine from Salon Solidarity here, local art blog... I hope you don't mind, I linked this post to our site on art exhibition reviews.

We are at salonsolidarity.blogspot.com



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