art, musings, nostalgia

The many stray paintings and sculptures in my life…

If you read my first travel blog post yesterday, you might know that Bill and I went into Wiesbaden. We were on a special mission to have some newly acquired paintings professionally framed. This may not seem like the most exciting thing to be doing on a Saturday. I know that for many years, I would have preferred to have done almost anything besides visiting an art gallery with picture framing services. For most of my life, I found most anything involving picture framing unbearably dull. Why? Because I literally grew up in the business.

In 1980, my parents moved from Fairfax, Virginia to Gloucester, Virginia. For so many reasons, that move rocked my world. My dad had retired from the Air Force in 1978, when I was about to turn six. We moved from England, which was the only place I remembered living, to suburban Fairfax, where we lived down the street from my Aunt Doris and her family. Now, we were in very rural Gloucester County, where my father was going to be running his own custom picture framing business called The Corner Cottage.

The Corner Cottage was the name my parents gave the business, which was literally run out of our house. Prior to that, the framing business was called Ellis Smith Enterprises. That was the name of the tacky guy who had owned the house before my parents bought it. He really was pretty tacky– I remember he had put a mirror over the bed in one of the bedrooms. I guess he liked watching himself with his wife. I remember the bathroom in that room had a plastic, brown, padded seat and ugly mirrors all over it. My parents promptly redecorated that room, starting with taking down the mirror over the bed!

My parents’ decision to move to Gloucester and buy Ellis Smith Enterprises changed everything for me. My dad went from being an Air Force officer, to a salesman for the Solite Corporation (he sold gravel and concrete and such), to a self-employed picture framer who also sold art. I hated Gloucester when we first moved there. I still didn’t like it when I permanently moved away from there in 1999. It’s only recently that I’ve started appreciating the county where I grew up and can see why people love it. Of course, Gloucester has changed a lot since 1980, although a lot of the same people (or their descendents) live there.

As a kid, I had no interest in art, other than enjoying elementary art classes at school. I truly thought my parents’ business was really boring. Making matters worse was the way my dad would make me do things like clean behind the chopper, where he would cut moulding into precise pieces. I had to vacuum the shop and dust the pictures. All the while, he’d be watching CBS day TV, especially The Young and the Restless, which was his favorite soap. Or worse, he’d be listening to WFOG, the local easy listening station, which played absolutely cringey Muzak, which he’d sing along to. I’d watch him when he was on the phone, using his left hand to doodle mindlessly while he talked. I was reminded this morning of the many doodles my dad made over the years. He probably had a gift for drawing that he never explored.

For most of the years he ran his custom picture framing business, Dad had a woman working with him. For the first few years, it was our neighbor, Joanne, whose daughter was a year older than me. Joanne later opened her own framing business, which failed. Then he hired Deborah, who was a much better fit on many levels. In some ways, she was kind of an angel. She was, and still is, a tremendously talented artist in her own right, and she didn’t/doesn’t have a drinking problem. When my parents retired, Deborah eventually bought their house and the business. She still runs it today.

As I got older, the framing business sometimes came in handy. I never had to buy posterboard, because my dad had the vastly superior matboard available. He also had professional grade window cleaner, which I wish I could get ahold of now. Sometimes, he’d do fun things with products from his business. One time, he made me a periscope out of matboard, mirrors, and tape. That was cool.

My mom was also part of the business. She had her own shop, where she sold knitting, candlewicking, needlepoint, cross-stitch, and other art related supplies. My mom is super talented with a needle, among other things. In her 85 years of life, she has made many beautiful things with a needle and thread or yarn, as the case might be. And her business survived, even when Walmart came to town, because she offered high quality products, professional services, and had incredible talent for turning a canvas into a masterpiece. My mom’s business also occasionally came in handy for me, too. I grew up showing my horse, Rusty, and I never wanted for yarn for braiding his mane and tail. I never learned to knit or cross-stitch, though. I had no interest.

My mom taught many people– mostly local women– the secrets of her craft. I wasn’t among her students because I also found her business boring. I don’t have a gift for creating things with needles and threads. I don’t have the patience or diligence to stitch beautiful designs into cloth. Although I appreciate colors, I have a hard time deciding on color schemes. Consequently, a lot of my own artistic creations are a mess. My sister has artistic talent, no doubt taken from both parents. Me? My gift from them is music… but when I was growing up, I wasn’t interested in doing that, either. It wasn’t until I was an adult that making music captured my heart.

As a middle-aged adult, I’ve discovered that I like art, too. I like to buy art more than make it, because although I do like to draw, I’m not particularly good at drawing. I don’t come up with cool visual concepts like artists do. When I think of something I’d like to draw, something else intrudes and it turns into something too busy and messy. When I was growing up, I liked art class… until I had a teacher who asked me to draw only what I could see. I found it very difficult, even though being asked to do that was kind of revolutionary. It was at that point that I stopped taking art classes. I simply don’t have the knack.

My own personal artistic expression comes in the form of music and writing, probably in that order. I’m much better known as a writer, but probably more appreciated as a singer… especially when I behave myself and sing nice songs. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might know that sometimes I’m provocative. I like to cuss, and I’m not always nice or politically correct. I like to challenge people and make them think. And I won’t lie… sometimes I enjoy shocking people. But when I sing a pretty song written by someone else, people usually like it. They don’t always like what I write. Of course, if I start writing songs, all bets are off as to how that might turn out. I’ll keep working on learning guitar. Maybe sometime, I can experiment.

So what does this all have to do with yesterday’s outing? I’m getting there…

As I was talking to the guy who took our order, breathing in that familiar smell of art supplies, moulding, matboard, and window cleaner, I noticed a very weird sculpture on the top of a curio. It was a very provocative piece of art. I have a feeling it’s no accident that they put it where they did. It would be easy to miss it. And yet, it seemed to jump off the curio at me, as if it wanted me to take it home. I kept looking at the sculpture and even snuck a photo of it.

It’s ugly and weird… and I would love to own it.

We didn’t buy the sculpture yesterday. We were too busy talking about what we wanted to do with the paintings. I had two kitschy dancing cat paintings we bought in Prague that I wanted to be framed. But I also had a gorgeous painting (see featured photo) that I found in Cesky Krumlov. Like the above sculpture, it had jumped off the wall at me… like a stray dog, begging me to take it home.

I remember walking into the gallery, noticing all the usual landscapes and modern depictions of people… and then I saw this fascinating painting of a bunch of different birds. I loved the colors. I enjoyed the weird paranoid mood of it, even if I’m not particularly interested in birds. It stopped me in my tracks and made me think, just like the weird sculpture above did. I found myself telling the proprietor I had to have it. She was delighted, especially when we threw in a pretty but somewhat less interesting painting of a snowy church in Cesky Krumlov.

The way I found myself saying “yes” to the painting is the same way I said “yes” to adopting Noyzi the Kosovar street dog. He was unlike any other dog I’ve ever had in my life. I worried that he’d turn our house upside down… and right now, he’s lying behind my chair, quiet and contented. I don’t regret bringing him home.

I also don’t regret bringing home any of the weird art in my house. And I do have a lot of weird art. I suspect it annoyed our former landlady that my taste in art is so strange and unconventional. I’m sure it helped convince her that I’m a terrible, peculiar, perverse person who deserved to be disrespected and cheated.

If that sculpture is still in the gallery when we go back to pick up our dancing cat paintings, there’s a very good chance I’ll buy it. I think it might be meant for me. I don’t know where I’ll put it. Maybe in the downstairs bathroom? I can’t stop talking about it, though. Just this morning, I was talking about how the way the artist depicted the hairy spots and the breasts… it reminds me of the face of panda bear. You see? I love that. I love art that makes me see other things and think about what else could be. I don’t care if it’s ugly, obnoxious, or weird… or depicts things like someone taking a shit, which is a universal part of life for every creature.

Some of the weird art in my office. Each piece has a story.

If the sculpture isn’t there when we go back to the gallery to pick up the art, I guess it wasn’t meant to be… We will be back at least twice, though. The painting in the featured photo has to be mounted and stretched before it can be framed. That will take time.

If the gallery does a good job on this, I may go back with more art that needs framing. We have a dinosaur painting that has great sentimental value to us. We bought it from a Russian artist named Korelov in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad) in the Czech Republic, back in 2009. At that time, we couldn’t afford custom picture framing. Now that we can, maybe it’s time I had it done… You can see it below with the cool painting we bought in Greece in 2013 and had framed in North Carolina.

If you come to my house, it won’t look like my mom’s house. My mom has beautiful stuff everywhere, artfully arranged. She’s a very neat person, so clutter is minimal. My house is messier. Not everything matches or coordinates seamlessly. I have some stuff that is odd and even offensive. You might not like it. But I’ll bet some of it will make you stop and think. That’s my goal… Come to think of it, making people stop and think is also often my goal when I write blog posts.

Yeah… some of my art is like a stray dog, begging to come home with me, where it will be loved and appreciated. I know it’s crazy, but I kind of love that sculpture. I almost wish we still lived in our old house in Jettingen. I’d buy it and display it in a conspicuous place just to annoy our former landlady. ūüėÄ

I’m kind of petty that way… ūüėČ

We’ll see if I am meant to buy that piece of art. If I am meant to give it a home, I may have to ask for opinions on where it should be displayed… Seriously, though… maybe I’d put it in the bathroom and remind myself that my body could always look worse than it does. At least my body doesn’t remind anyone of a panda bear.

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art, music, YouTube

*Sigh*… don’t they know it’s the end of the world?

Welcome to Friday, y’all. Ordinarily, I’d be delighted that it’s Friday, but this week it means that Bill will be gone in 48 hours. He has to go on another business trip to Bavaria. But the good news is, next week, we’re outta here for a little over a week. Granted, part of that trip will involve seeing our dentist, and that’s not always a good time. I suspect the dentist will give Bill a ration of shit because he’s got one less tooth than the last time they saw each other. Bill is going to have to explain to our regular dentist that a more local dentist will be installing an implant. But– hey– our dentist wasn’t available when the molar bit the dust. Something had to be done immediately.

I also got a message from the first hotel we’re going to. They said they don’t have enough staff to be open during the second and third nights of our three night stays. However, because I booked an apartment, it’s still possible to stay there. We’ll just be “self catering” guests. They said they’d be giving us a 20 percent discount for the inconvenience. That’s cool. We know the town pretty well, anyway, because when we lived near Stuttgart, we used to visit there all the time. Plus, during our first Germany stint, we lived very close.

I know I could be writing about the state of the world today. There’s actually a lot going on right now that is worthy of commentary… but I just don’t feel like going there right now. As much as I’d like to speculate about what’s going to happen to Donald Trump and his merry band of buffoons, I’m just not in the mood. Ditto to pontificating about Ex, complaining about people on the Internet with extreme cognitive dissonance, or upbraiding religious people. Today, I want to write about something I did on a whim yesterday.

As some of you know, I’ve been learning to play guitar. Because I’m using the Internet instead of a live teacher, it’s been kind of slow going. But I have gotten competent enough to play somewhat decent rhythm guitar on simple songs with open chords. I’m slowly getting the hang of barre chords, and I’ve been learning some less frequently used chords. My exploration has led to learning new songs and exploring different artists.

This week, I discovered Skeeter Davis. Actually, I didn’t really “discover” her per se. I had heard of her before. She had a hit song called “The End of the World”, which she didn’t write. However, she was also a good songwriter in her own right, and wrote a lot of hits in the 60s and 70s. That was a bit before my time.

I’ve been using Chordify to learn new songs, and one of the songs Chordify suggested was Skeeter Davis’s version of the old classic, “Smile”.

I’ve gotten somewhat good at playing this song.

As I’ve been learning this song on guitar, I’ve also been watching a lot of YouTube videos. The other day, I was bored and found myself watching the 1989 made for TV movie, The Karen Carpenter Story, for the umpteenth time. It’s kind of a lame movie, but I actually watched it the day it premiered on television on January 1, 1989. I like The Carpenters’ music, sure– but I was also a fan of Cynthia Gibb’s. She played Karen, albeit while wearing really horrible and unconvincing wigs. But the wardrobe was legit. She actually wore Karen’s clothes and lost a lot of weight to be able to fit into them!

In that movie, Cynthia Gibb– who also played Holly Laird on the Fame TV show– sang “The End of the World”. It was one of the few songs she didn’t lip sync in that movie. Karen Carpenter was evidently a fan of Skeeter Davis’s version of that song, and her rendition of “The End of the World”, so Gibb was singing the song as teenaged Karen Carpenter.

I guess the combination of playing Skeeter Davis’s version of “Smile” on guitar, and watching The Karen Carpenter Story, complete with a rendition of a song Skeeter Davis made famous, made me feel like trying “The End of the World” myself. I did so yesterday, completely on a whim. I hadn’t expected to record anything yesterday and just tried the song to see what it would sound like. Before I knew it, I was committed to making a video… and below is the end result.

No makeup… and I had just gotten out of the shower, hence the wet look.

The interesting thing about this video is that originally, I was going to try to do The Carpenters’ version. But I decided I didn’t like their arrangement for myself. So I downloaded three other arrangements– Skeeter Davis’s, Vonda Shepard’s, and Susan Boyle’s! I didn’t like Skeeter’s version so much, because she talks in the song, which I don’t like doing. Vonda’s version is very lush and complex, and not really fitting in with the right mood for that song, in my opinion. “The End of the World” is a plaintive song, after all. I ended up doing Susan Boyle’s much simpler version, even though I have never heard her version with her singing it. I just have a recreated karaoke track. I thought of adding harmonies, but then pictured the singer alone and heartbroken. So I didn’t add anything other than my vocals.

I ended up changing the key, doing it in “A”, which is what Karen Carpenter did it in years ago. I was going to do it in a much higher key, but decided that it made me sound too girlish. Even though this is kind of a dramatic song that might echo the sentiments of a teenager, I’m a middle aged woman… and I think there’s something to be said for a middle aged woman singing the blues about no longer having the love she used to have. So that’s what I did… and it seems to be pretty well received.

I also did a version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. I am not a big Streisand fan, even though she has an incredible voice. I like her better as an actress than a singer. But her famous 1978 duet with Neil Diamond is heartbreaking… So I gave it a whirl, using the generic Ukrainian male staff singer at Karaoke Version to provide the male vocals. He did a good job, in spite of his heavy accent! I could have tried it as a solo song, too. Maybe I’ll do it that way at some point in time.

Anyway, below is my version of that song…

This video is actually running ads, which means it must be somewhat successful, even though I won’t make any money.

I picked up five new subscribers this week, too. One of them was my husband, Bill. I asked him to subscribe so I could have 150 subscribers– a nice round number, like my ass. But then I got two more when I posted yesterday’s song.

It’s recently dawned on me that I seem to be more popular as a YouTuber than as a blogger, although I can’t say I’m really that popular in either realm. But my videos seem to do significantly better– in terms of hits– than most of my blog posts. They are also less contentious. Maybe I should just stick to recording cover songs from the 70s and 80s and bag my “writing career”. Former tenant thought I was a hack, after all. ūüėČ

I think “The End of the World” turned out pretty well. It’s probably one of my better performances. I don’t actually like listening to myself sing, most of the time. I like to perform– and don’t mind hearing myself as I sing, especially on a mic. But I don’t like listening to my own recordings. I guess it’s like hearing yourself speak on a recording. It sounds weird when it’s not in your head. However, the act of singing is relaxing and helps alleviate depression. I focus on the music instead of things that are downers in the world. Some people needlepoint, take dance classes, or create paintings. I sing… and I write. I used to cook, but Bill took over that chore.

Speaking of painting… Yesterday, I stumbled across a video made by a YouTuber named Sue Sloan. She has a channel dedicated to painting Dot Mandala, something I’d never heard of until yesterday, when I found her channel and Bill explained the concept to me. Sue Sloan recently changed the name of her channel to her husband’s name, because she’s dying of cancer. Her goodbye video is the first one I’d ever seen by her.

Cancer sucks! This is her most recent video. It was posted a month ago.

I was curious about her channel, so I checked it out… and I can see why she had a lot of subscribers. I watched her video on how to paint Dot Mandala and it made me want to go buy some art supplies. But I’m really NOT good at this kind of thing. I have trouble deciding on colors, and I’m not very neat or precise. I watch her using a compass and a ruler to make precise designs and it stresses me out. My parents were both very good at this kind of thing– Mom is a master at needle crafts, and my dad framed pictures for a living after he left the Air Force. I did NOT inherit that gene at all. I’m too much of a slob.

I do admire Sue Sloan’s artistic talents, though… Wow. I’d love to have one of these hanging in my office.

Beautiful! My sister got the art gene, though. I’m terrible at this kind of thing.

Here’s another one she did.

I really like how this looks, and I’d like to think I could do one of these without completely messing it up. She makes it look pretty easy. But visual arts aren’t my thing. I am more of a musical person.

Well, I suppose that about does it for the Friday edition of my blog. It’s already 10:00 AM. I don’t have any big chores planned for today, but I have a habit of being too long-winded. So I’m going to bring today’s post to a close… maybe watch more YouTube videos and see what inspires me. Maybe I’ll do another song today… or watch another movie… or get outraged by news about Trump and the rest of the GOP idiots who don’t seem to think the rules apply to them (I’m looking at YOU, Lauren “Hoebert”, theater crotch groper…).

Perhaps I’ll be back tomorrow with something new.

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art, book reviews

A review of Don’t Think, Dear: On Loving and Leaving Ballet, by Alice Robb…

Several months ago, I went on an Amazon book downloading spree. That’s when I discovered Alice Robb’s book, Don’t Think, Dear: On Loving and Leaving Ballet, published on February 28, 2023. I purchased my downloaded copy on March 11th, and just now finished reading Robb’s fascinating book about the world of ballet.

I started reading Don’t Think, Dear last month, as we were coming home from our trip up north. I remember being delighted as I dove into the new book, which instantly captured my attention. Robb writes this book from the heart, as she was, herself, a serious dancer when she was growing up. For a time, she even studied at the School of American Ballet, which was co-founded by famed Russian born, but ethnically Georgian choreographer, George Balanchine. Mr. Balanchine is considered the “father of American Ballet”. He also founded the New York City Ballet, and was its artistic director for over 35 years.

Don’t Think, Dear, is a look at American ballet, particularly at the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet. Robb writes about the many hardships ballet dancers endure so that they can be on stage, looking incredibly graceful, athletic, and powerful. She profiles some legendary dancers like Gelsey Kirkland, Alicia Alonso, Suzanne Farrell, Misty Copeland, and Margot Fonteyn. But, Robb also writes about less famous dancers… ones who spent their entire youths working toward a goal of being employed as professional dancers. Only a few achieve that elusive goal, and many are left with permanent injuries, physical scars, and emotional problems at the end of their quests.

George Balanchine was famously picky about how his dancers were to look. He liked the women very thin and leggy. While today, artistic directors and choreographers are less blunt when they tell a dancer she needs to “lengthen” (lose weight), Balanchine would actually bark at them to “eat nothing”. If a previously anointed dancer fell out of favor with him, he would ignore her completely. As Robb points out, some of the women– like Gelsey Kirkland– would go on to develop severe eating disorders and addictions. Balanchine was also very jealous of his dancers’ attentions. They weren’t really allowed to date, unless they were dating him. If they did, Robb claims their careers suffered for it. Balanchine married and divorced four times before his death in 1983, and he had many other love affairs– all with his dancers.

Gelsey Kirkland dancing for “Mr. B.”

In between “vignettes” of famous and not so famous dancers, Robb writes about related subjects. For instance, she includes a very interesting passage about pointe shoes, and what it takes to break them in properly. Pointe shoes aren’t cheap, but new ones have to be beaten into submission before they’re any good, and that means doing everything from shaving them to putting them in boiling water. And even after that, they are extremely uncomfortable and leave dancers with bunions, broken toenails, and bleeding cuts on their feet. Someone did come up with a more comfortable shoe, but apparently dancers who use them are seen as wimps. Or, at least that’s what Robb implies. If you aren’t wearing your painful Capezios, you aren’t a serious contender.

Suzanne Farrell dancing Mr. B’s choreography as a Sugar Plum Fairy.

A couple of criticisms…

By her own admission, Alice Robb was a somewhat mediocre dancer herself. Yes, she got into the School of American Ballet, which was in and of itself an achievement. But she didn’t stand out from the crowd, and mostly just got small parts in the annual Nutcracker production. She does not possess the rare qualities that make someone a contender for a career as a ballet dancer. I’m not sure if that reality colored her view of ballet as a whole. I did get the sense, however, that Robb sort of has an ambivalent opinion of ballet.

Yes, there are some very admiring portraits of great dancers and their stories. Some of the benefits of studying ballet are discussed in Robb’s book. She writes about the feeling of flying when a dancer has a strong partner, and the thrill of being able to do more pirouettes with help from a male dancer. However, she also includes a lot of negatives about studying ballet.

Robb implies that dancers are basically conditioned to be extremely compliant by their very strict teachers. I came away with the idea that dancers are often prey to abusive, predatory men, or are basically beaten into submission by teachers who tell them not to “think”, but to “do”. Robb writes a lot about dancers who had to quit dancing due to injuries, as well as dancers who simply couldn’t cut it because of things they couldn’t help, like the ability to “turn out” properly or “bad feet”. And yet, in spite of all of that, Robb still dances “casually”. Obviously, there were some positives for her.

But overall, I liked it…

I enjoyed reading Don’t Think, Dear. I’m definitely not a dancer, so nothing Robb wrote was a threat or insult to me. I appreciated that her writing was good and mostly engaging. She includes a lot of sources for additional reading; I even ordered one of the books she referenced, even though it’s out of print. She also includes quotes from books I’ve already read, like Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave and Hilde Bruch’s The Golden Cage. The book is clearly well-researched, both by other written accounts and observations, as well as Robb’s personal experiences with ballet. I don’t regret falling down the rabbit hole of ballet through Robb’s pen, even though I thought it might be more of a personal memoir than what it is– basically a look at the world of American ballet.

So why did I read this book?

No, I’ve never taken a single ballet class myself, but I was exposed to ballet from an early age on account of my eldest sister, Betsy. Betsy is 13 years older than I am, and when I was very young, she was a pretty serious ballet dancer. We lived in England, which gave her the opportunity to audition for the Royal Ballet School. She was accepted, and finished high school by correspondence. Then, while we were still in England, Betsy moved home to Virginia and started college… all on her own.

Betsy kept dancing for awhile after her year in London. I remember meeting her exotic dance friends and attending their performances with my parents. I was enchanted by the music and colorful costumes, although it probably took awhile before I appreciated watching the dancing itself. I did once try on Betsy’s pointe shoes… and I don’t know how anyone could stand to wear them for more than a minute, let alone dance in them.

Years later, I ended up studying voice at the Eastern Virginia School of Performing Arts, which was primarily a ballet school run by a husband and wife. My teacher, Ron Boucher, is a dancer, but he was also a professional singer in New York. His wife, is Sandra Balestracci, and she has trained many wonderful dancers. She is also the mother of one. But before Sandra taught ballet, she was a great dancer herself. She even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.

I loved taking lessons with Ron, and watching the beautiful young dancers in their studio. I envied their discipline, grace, and youth, even though I was still in my 20s at the time, myself. So, you could say I’m a “fan” of ballet. I admire it, even if I can’t do it. ūüėČ Kind of like I’m a fan of women’s gymnastics, even though I’ve never so much as turned a decent cartwheel. Sigh… I miss performing arts.

Anyway…

I liked Don’t Think, Dear by Alice Robb, although I see it kind of gets mixed reviews on Amazon. Some people found the book too “wandering” and “rambling”. I suspect some of the people who read the book were looking for more of a personal story, rather than a general look at stories about ballet dancers. But, as someone who is just a ballet fan, I think the book is interesting and insightful. I would recommend it to those who are intrigued by it. I certainly have more respect for ballet dancers now that I’ve read Alice Robb’s expose.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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art, ideas, musings

Repost: Are art teachers “stupid”?

This post appeared on my original blog on May 16, 2016. I am reposting it because I think it’s a thought provoking essay. It’s mostly “as/is”. The featured photo was taken by me at the Uffizi Art Gallery and Museum in Florence, Italy in April 2022.

Just to be clear, I don’t think anyone who teaches art or any other humanities or creative class is stupid. ¬†I think a good art teacher can be a lifesaver to some kids. ¬†However, I know there are “practical” minded people out there who think anyone who chooses to teach art or music or any other course that isn’t an “essential subject” must be an idiot. ¬†¬†

The real question is, how stupid do you have to be to pay for a degree to teach art? Financially doesn’t add up.

This was posted in a Facebook group I used to frequent. It was full of overly pragmatic people with “military mindsets”.

Some people who read this blog may know that I am a graduate of¬†Longwood University. ¬†Longwood is well known in Virginia for turning out great teachers. ¬†I didn’t become a teacher myself, but I do have a lot of friends and one relative who earned teaching endorsements at Longwood. ¬†I’m not sure what the laws in Virginia are now, but I do remember that the year I entered Longwood, the “elementary education” major was discontinued. ¬†Everyone who wanted to be an elementary school teacher had to major in a subject and then take additional education courses. ¬†And while some of the subjects seemed fun, they were also a lot of hard work. ¬†I can’t count the number of times I watched my friends laboring over colorful projects involving contact paper. ¬†You’d think it would be fun to make teaching aids and bulletin boards, but those projects required time, patience, creativity, and most of all, money. ¬†They weren’t fun and games.¬†

I often hear people talking about how art, music, dance, and theater are “fun” majors that are ultimately useless. ¬†They have no respect for people who study the arts because they perceive those subjects to be easy. ¬†What some people don’t seem to understand is that it takes actual talent to major in those areas. ¬†Moreover, the arts make the world a better place. ¬†They stimulate creativity, which leads to innovation and discussion. ¬†Arts of all kinds get people talking and thinking and make the world more exciting. ¬†People who teach artistic subjects inspire young people and, in some cases, can actually be lifesavers.

When I was in school, the local school system employed a husband and wife who taught art. ¬†The wife taught art to 7th and 8th graders and her husband taught at the high school. ¬†Mr. and Mrs. Bergh were definitely “artsy” people. ¬†In 7th grade, I took Mrs. Bergh’s class. ¬†I had always enjoyed art and thought her class would be fun. ¬†I actually found Mrs. Bergh’s class difficult. ¬†I will never forget trying to draw a perfect sphere, my hand, or my shoe. ¬†It was really hard. ¬†I don’t think I got higher than a B in that class. ¬†But I did learn something from Mrs. Bergh. ¬†She taught me to “draw what I see”, and that changed my whole perspective. ¬†

Before I took Mrs. Bergh’s art class,¬†I would only draw what I thought I saw. ¬†I wouldn’t actually look at something and try to create it on paper. ¬†I would just create something from my thoughts, never even observing the thing I was trying to draw. ¬†While a lot of great art comes from imagination, there is a lot to be said for taking a minute to look at reality and recording it accurately, as you actually see it with your eyes. ¬†Mrs. Bergh taught me to look closely at an object and draw what my eyes were actually seeing,¬†not what I thought I was seeing. ¬†I must admit, learning to draw what I see was a difficult skill to master, but it changed my worldview. ¬†I could apply that lesson to more than just art. ¬†Mrs. Bergh taught me to look at things objectively rather than subjectively. ¬†That’s a skill that transcends all subjects.

I never took any of Mr. Bergh’s art classes. ¬†I am not a particularly talented artist and I found his wife’s class to be enough of a challenge. ¬†However, many of my friends took Mr. Bergh’s classes. ¬†He was a popular teacher who managed to make a career in art even though he had one prosthetic eye. ¬†Some of my friends were struggling with adolescence. ¬†At least a couple of them were not doing so well in their academic classes, but they excelled in art. ¬†Mr. Bergh’s class gave them a place to express themselves and may have even prevented a couple of them from committing suicide. ¬†He was a good teacher, but he was also a valued friend to most of his students. ¬†He made high school more bearable for a lot of kids. ¬†

My sister majored in art. ¬†She is not a teacher (thank God), but she is a very talented artist. ¬†She’s always been employed, generally in her field. ¬†Years after she completed her art degree, she went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism. ¬†The two areas of study complement each other. ¬†Though she probably could have majored in something others would consider “practical” like accounting or nursing, my sister would have been mediocre and miserable in those fields. ¬†She’s an artist and her work has value. ¬†She got to where she is because people in her past chose to be art teachers. ¬†It’s because someone taught art that my sister isn’t torturing some poor soul in the hospital with a cold bedpan or fucking up someone’s taxes.¬†

Today’s post was inspired by a rant one of my friends posted about an art teacher calling her daughter stupid. ¬†My friend was understandably upset about the teacher’s conduct. ¬†Another friend said the music teacher had also behaved unprofessionally. ¬†There was a lot of talk about how difficult it is to be fired from the government system and that’s why these teachers were getting away with behaving so badly. ¬†As the discussion continued, someone mentioned that art teachers are usually not very good teachers because their field is not in high demand or they couldn’t hack a “real” subject like English or math. ¬†There may be some truth to that idea. ¬†It could also be that some of the people teaching art and music would rather be creating art and music. ¬†They became teachers because they thought they had to teach in order to make a living. ¬†Maybe they’re burned out or not suited for a career in teaching.¬†

I think a lot of people go into teaching because they simply want to be employable.  I almost did that myself.  Originally, I planned to get a teaching endorsement to be a high school English teacher, even though I had no desire to teach.  Having taught English as Peace Corps Volunteer, I now know that it would have been a mistake for me to be a professional teacher.  But even as an 18 year old, I knew that I wanted to be able to find a job.  Not being a particularly worldly 18 year old, I thought teaching was the obvious practical skill to fall back on should I ever find myself faced with the prospect of living in a van by the river.    

I majored in English because I love writing, but I believed it was unlikely I would be able to write for a living. ¬†So, being a somewhat practical sort, I figured I could teach. ¬†I know I’m not the only one who’s done that. ¬†Fortunately, I wised up and abandoned my plans to teach. ¬†It would have been a mistake for me to be an English teacher. ¬†I would not have been very good at the job. ¬†Had I decided to be a teacher, some poor kid would probably be complaining to their parents about me. ¬†Or maybe I would have been fired and still ended up in a van by the river. ¬†

Too many Americans have the mindset that they have to follow a set path. ¬†Yes, it’s important to have solid skills that lead to gainful employment. ¬†We do need people in fields that require a specific skill set. ¬†But the world also needs creators and dreamers and people who think outside of the proverbial box. ¬†People who mentor the world’s dreamers have an important job. ¬†Art, music, dance, and theater are very important, especially to young people who are developing their critical thinking skills and their creativity. ¬†We should have more respect for those who choose a career in the arts and those who are brave enough to teach in the arts.¬†

The world doesn’t need more mediocre scientists, nurses, accountants or teachers. ¬†I know some people think studying the arts with the intention of launching a career is a “stupid idea”, but I would submit that it’s actually stupid to expect everyone to go down the same narrow path. ¬†If you broaden your mindset, you may find that any course of study can be useful and worthwhile. ¬†Moreover, it’s often the creative types who find ways to use arts training to make the world better while they earn a living. ¬†Limited thinkers are those who believe wholesale that art teachers are inherently “stupid” or “can’t hack teaching a ‘real’ subject” simply because they choose to teach art. ¬†

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art, humor, karma, language, narcissists, work

The many ways to be inspirational…

For some reason, when Bill was away last week, I started watching episodes of America’s Next Top Model. I will grant that it wasn’t the most wholesome show on the airwaves, but it was kind of entertaining. I probably decided to watch it because I figured it would help me pass the time. I was soon reminded of how toxic that show was. It gave me some food for thought… and fodder for my blog.

I’m not sure why I ever got hooked on ANTM. I’ve never been into hair, makeup, or fashion. I never liked Tyra Banks, either. To me, she came off like a total narcissist– like, my “N” chimes rang off the hook when I watched her on TV. I didn’t even know much about Banks until I stumbled across Cycle 7 of ANTM. Tyra’s show was probably the first reality show I ever really paid any attention to for longer than an episode. I never got into Big Brother or Survivor at all.

Shameful as it is, I must admit that I did get hooked on ANTM, and I watched it until maybe Cycle 18 or so. After that, it simply became unwatchable to me. I think life events also intervened, preventing me from tuning in anymore.

To view ANTM, you’d think Jay Manuel, Nigel Barker, and Miss J (J. Alexander) were all the best of friends. Jay Manuel, in particular, seemed to be in Tyra’s hip pocket. He served as the creative director of ANTM for years, before finally leaving the series. In 2020, Manuel published a satirical novel based on his experiences with ANTM. In January of 2022, I downloaded his book, The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown. A few days ago, I finally got around to starting to read it.

In the past, I would have been done with Jay’s book by now, but it’s harder for me to read these days. My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be, and I have a tendency to fall asleep when I start reading. I will admit, however, that I am enjoying Jay’s book. I do think it needs an editor, and maybe some of the characters should be fleshed out a bit more. BUT– I am enjoying the snark and the “T” spilling going on. Yes, it’s a novel, and fictionalized. But it’s also clearly based on a true story, and all I have to say is, the people who were regulars on that show and weren’t as narcissistic as Tyra is, definitely went through some shit.

I will be reviewing Mr. Manuel’s book when I finish reading it. I hope to complete the book sometime this week, because I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on it. However, I can’t resist mentioning it today, because in writing his novel, Jay did something that I like to do when I need to “unpack” something. He turned his real life experiences into a fictionalized “based on a true story”. I imagine that dealing with Tyra Banks gave him lots of material to draw from for the book. When you’re dealing with a narcissist, you have a lot to unpack… but you have to do it very carefully. Narcissists have a way of bringing the pain.

A few years ago, when Bill and I were living in our last house, I did very occasionally write fictional stories about certain people who irritated me. It was a creative way to get out my angst. Not that many people read my short stories, anyway, so I thought of it as a constructive way to “process the crazy” without causing undue upset.

For a short time, I even considered starting a fiction blog. Our former landlady was legitimately driving me nuts, and I needed a safe place to vent. My fiction blog lasted less than a day, though. I started to write a story, but before I got far, I received a private Facebook message from the now late former tenant. She’d read what I’d written, figured she knew what I was about to do with my characters (though she was actually wrong), and decided to intervene on ex landlady’s behalf. She basically told me I was a no talent hack, and tried to shame me into silence. She also implied that I was crazy and “mean”.

I subsequently scrapped the idea of the fiction blog, but not because I agreed with former tenant’s assessment of my talents and character, or lack thereof. I mainly aborted the fiction blog because I knew that Bill was going to take legal action against ex landlady. I didn’t want to complicate matters with my creative and purely fictional doodlings. Thanks to former tenant, ex landlady and her other flying monkeys were on high alert. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of using me to fight against Bill in court.

Former tenant probably thought she’d fixed things when I abruptly stopped writing my fiction story. But it soon became quite clear to her that things were about to get much worse. I’m sure, if she was still capable of hindsight, she might have preferred to mind her own business and not interfere in situations that don’t involve her. Unfortunately, she was entitled and emboldened enough to meddle, and made things a lot more difficult than they needed to be. Really… knowing ex landlady, losing money was probably a lot worse for her than being the fodder for little read fictionalized short stories that were inspired by her narcissistic, passive-aggressive, crazy-making behaviors. I’m sure she also might have preferred my use of a creative outlet rather than my going off on her to her face. Trust me. She got VERY close to that experience, and I feel pretty sure she would not have enjoyed it at all.

In retrospect, for many reasons, I probably should have made the fiction blog invite only, and then opened it to the public years later. Maybe, if and when I feel inspired to write fiction again, I’ll do it that way. Or maybe I’ll just self-publish a book, like my friend Alex is doing. I no longer have to worry about getting any nastygrams from former tenant, since she is no longer among the living. I’m truly sorry she’s no longer with us, mainly because I know she has loved ones who miss her.

I don’t know what former tenant’s motivation was for harassing me. She obviously lacked understanding of the situation on a number of levels. Or, maybe she simply didn’t care. Maybe I wasn’t an actual person to her… or a worthwhile person, anyway. She was clearly a lot more concerned about her former landlady of 18 months, than she was about what was happening to us– the people who innocently took her place for four years. I wouldn‚Äôt necessarily expect her to care about us, but I certainly expected her to have a better understanding of things before assuming she had the right to send me chastising and accusatory PMs about my writing projects. In the end, I guess we did the right thing and just let the law handle it.

I know I’ve written about former tenant‚Äôs interference before, so I don’t want to rehash it too much. It’s just that reading Jay Manuel’s novel reminded me of that situation. Some people don’t realize that creative people are inspired by literally everything. You might not think writers, artists, musicians, or other creative types ought to be inspired by things that are negative. I’m sure, to former tenant, I should have just suffered in silence… or just privately talked trash to people in the community… or spoken to a therapist, or whatever, instead of channeling that experience into a fiction story.

Or, maybe she felt my complaints weren’t worthy of consideration. Maybe she thought it was okay that I was being screamed at, slandered, and blamed for things that weren’t my doing. Maybe she thought I should have just smiled and sucked it up, rather than trying to process it in a way that was funny and creative. Of course, given what happened to her, I can’t say that she was the best judge of what people should do to preserve their own mental health.

I don’t know Jay Manuel, but he’s obviously a creative guy. And as I read his novel, I recognize the Narcissism 101 traits of his protagonist, Keisha Kash, who is clearly modeled (heh heh- see what I did there?) after Tyra Banks. Last night, I read a couple of passages aloud to Bill. After one passage, I quipped “She sounds like a female Donald Trump!” And yes, it IS a fictionalized book, but obviously, there’s some truth in jest.

Tyra even said it herself to a contestant who got eliminated in Cycle 10. When the exiting model said, “I think I’ll go be an anesthesiologist,” Tyra replied that that was why she was “going home.”

When the contestant said she was “just kidding”, Tyra said, “There’s truth in jest.”

Jay Manuel’s book is obviously snarky, humorous, and satirical, but… “there’s truth in jest.” I have absolutely zero doubts that he drew from a huge well of direct experiences for inspiration when he wrote his book. In fact, as glamorous and exciting as fashion seems to be, Manuel reminds his readers that that world– along with the entertainment industry– is loaded with narcissistic creeps who ruthlessly tear down good people with their obnoxious, entitled, selfish, and crazy behaviors. So… although I think The Wig, The Bitch & The Meltdown could be improved with help from a professional editor, I also congratulate Jay for turning his experiences on ANTM into art… digital art, in my case, as I’m reading it on the Kindle app. ūüėČ

Maybe someday, I’ll be ready to write fiction again. And perhaps there will be some people who will see themselves in my words. There are many ways to be inspirational… and perhaps we can even take heart, realizing that even the most awful people can lead to the creation of something beautiful, entertaining, or educational. I have said and written it often, and it bears repeating… Even the worst things can inspire good things.

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