Ever pissed and missed? Well, who hasn’t? On this score, at least, reality is gender neutral. And as crude and off-colour as this theme is, bear with me and we’ll reveal something sublime about the human condition. To have faith in our goals requires a knowledge of our skills based on past improvements. For most of us, whether it’s teaching youngsters the ways and means of the potty realm or training furry friends to do their duty where we want them to, the struggle for others to reach our goals for them is matched by our desire to reach our own. We teach success by being successful. And that takes effort. Just as breathtaking moments of joy can occur during the most mundane, not to say vulgar, of human moments, so too can our AU experience leave us feeling relieved and elevated in countless ways.
How I Learned to Love My Lack of Art School Credentials
One learning moment that framed the template for my mental litmus test of my academic limits was during 11th Grade fine arts class. The teacher adored her pupils in a kind but serious way and most of us repaid her passion by pumping out exquisite sculptures, paintings, photographs, and sketches.
But me, well, I was a bit of a skiver as a 16-year-old and tended not only to skip class but to find as many ways as possible to do as little work as possible. Like the kid who sneaks into the movie theater after hours of staking out possible entrance points, when he could have simply been mowing lawns to make ticket money, I made an art of doing squat in art class. Yet one day, quite out of the blue, the teacher plunked me down in front of a VCR and TV in the school library and had me observe a film about conceptual art.
Two key art installations stood out in that VHS tape: first came Rene Magritte’s bland-looking tobacco pipe accompanied with the sentence stating that the image was not, in fact a pipe. Magritte’s title said it all: This is Not a Pipe. When someone wonders if something isn’t what it appears to be isn’t that the impetus to critical thinking? What if art isn’t just something that looks nice, or something to look at as much as something to think about? My mind whirred with excitement in a way that my drawing pencil never could.
The second part the documentary covered was Marcel Duchamps and his famous urinal with it’s caption: R Mutt). Who could miss the humour mark from this conceptual art? Fire hydrants beware, it seemed to say, along with much more about the pretentiousness of art and the modern Technosphere where even the most base of human acts is contained by innocent porcelain. Duchamps seemed to be, as the English say, taking the piss out of high brow serious art exhibits and their finely tuned motor skills. Needless to say, my teenage brain lapped all this up. Maybe I didn’t have to gain facility in painting my own shoe for marks!
So, newly re-energized, I started to actually attend class more often. For my final project I cut out some clear plastic letters spelling P-U-N-K and glued them onto a messy black brick on a wall that someone else had painted haphazardly and then abandoned. I think I got a B. A charitable B, really. But the seal was broken and at some level my abiding interest in considering why we think the way we do, why we hold onto our epistemic lifelines about aesthetics and purpose, despite all comers in reality and ability, was forged. By embracing my lack of talent, I realized what I could do: think in terms of social theory.
Some Philosophical Context and Encouragement
We can’t just stand there and let life happen if we are to succeed at AU; it takes practice, the study life, and there will be frustrations and embarrassments and humble pie along the way. Ever since Plato questioned whether we are all living in a mind game that encourages us to babble about mindless shadows on a wall, questioning the origin of meaning and creativity has framed productivity itself. And it’s not easy, at first. If absolute reality exists, we can only find it by questioning things as they appear; art theory thus enters a hallway that leads all the way back to the meaning of life itself. Everything begins with an idea, conscious or unconscious, everything from our moments of greatest passion to our actions leading to momentous success. In that sense we make of our studies the art that illustrates our life.
Yet, we can’t be someone or create something that isn’t within our essential toolbox of talent. Jacques Derrida describes how we imagine our creation as a pedagogical process that renews our self by the creative erasure of our former selves. “If art lives from an originary reproduction, the outline that permits this reproduction, opens in the same stroke the space of calculation, of grammaticality, of the rational science of intervals, and of those ‘rules of imitation’ that are fatal to energy…Imitation is therefore at the same time the life and the death of art. Art and death, art and its death are comprised in the space of alteration of the originary iteration…the exit from life placed outside of itself” (Derrida, 227). None of us exit AU the same as we were when we began; the trick, like the simplest of acts learned as children, is to know our limit and learn within it.
It may seem that you can’t miss when you start with a good idea like continuing education. Yet, like the reality that we all once learned to domesticate our bathroom impulses, here meets the reality that we have to learn how to learn, and at a distance at that. I’ve come to realize that what I learned in that art class was that I’m no artist. And that’s served me well as I choose my AU major and courses as an adult student. Thing is, many a would-be distance education career careens into the ditch when the rubber of study reality hits the road. The trick, then, is to realistically assess what track is right for us. And from there we can really flourish.