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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Art and self-reflection

I’m writing this at midnight on a Monday night, and in between chatting with a friend and trying to keep my eyes open, I am desperately searching for higher education ceramics programs offered in Canada. They are, unfortunately, few and far between. After searching endlessly on Google, I tip-toe to the Emily Carr University website, my breath caught in my throat. Although I have never even been to the campus, Emily Carr University seems to represent what I fear most. Prestigious artists, creating art with such great prestige that I crumple in comparison like a used napkin. Let me explain.

I remember the first time I heard the name of Emily Carr’s name. It was in first grade when I was first learning to read, and there was a particular day when I felt everything click. Like a light switch in my brain I suddenly understood the correlation between letters, words, and sounds. I ran home and began frantically reading everything in sight. After informing my parents that they smoked Player’s cigarettes, I began reading the spines of books on our fair-sized bookshelf. I came across a book of Emily Carr’s art. My young eyes glanced at the words, upset. Emily made sense, of course, as my sister’s name is Emily, but didn’t anyone else realise that “car” had only one R?

Skip forward a handful of years. The summer prior to grade 8 I transferred from my neighbourhood school to a nearby semi-prestigious public arts school that my sister attended. It was grade 8 – or was it grade 9? The years themselves are distinct, of course, but when it comes to art class they blend together. I will guess at grade 9, as all I remember from my grade 8 art class was lusting after my first lesbian crush. Ahem, anyways. One of our art assignments had us take an old textbook and turn it into a book representing ourselves and our lives. This unsurprisingly coincided with the trend of scrapbooking. Somewhere between an unnecessary amount of rubber cement my book let out the secret that I wished to attend Emily Carr University. My junior high art teacher, evil woman that she was, scoffed at my desire to attend an arts school. Only artists attend fine arts universities, and I wasn’t an artist. And although she may have been cruel, she was right. That same year, we had a project in which we needed to draw inspiration from a famous artist. I did a sculpture that everyone laughed at while a peer of mine drew inspiration from Emily Carr and created a painting that was awe-inspiring. When this girl felt that her painting didn’t reflect Carr’s work well enough, she produced a second painting as though it took her for work. This girl, aside from a talented artist, was intelligent, musical, friendly and cute and my jealousy ripped apart my insides. She was an artist; I was not.

I took my first ceramics class in the first semester of grade 10. It was the beginning of high school, although I went to the same school. I floated by in that class. I’m sure I received honours but I felt no passion and the work I produced was merely alright. But visual arts seem to have a way of suffocating me. In the 2nd semester of that same year I was enrolled in a visual arts course. Almost immediately the nervousness set in. I didn’t belong there and I knew that it was evident to everyone else. I quickly fell behind and refused to touch my sketchbook, its pages left blank. The anxiety soon overwhelmed me and I dropped the course. Terrified, I spent the rest of the year strategically hiding from my art teacher. Ironically enough, it is this same art teacher who, at the beginning of my grade 11 year, sparked my intense interest in pottery.

After a mess of a year I found myself at a different high school for grade 12. I choose it because of its phenomenal pottery program (due solely to its fabulous pottery teacher) and while it is not an arts high school it is where my artistic abilities flourish. After years of wanting to create art, of yearning to be seen as an artist and express myself creatively, I’m finally able to. After a bit more anxiety I find that I am excelling in pottery class. Lumps of clay transform into beautiful pots beneath my hands and at times every waking moment is spent sketching and thinking of pottery. I don’t think of it too much, but I’m aware that these abstract dreams of mine may have come true. I am one of the top potters of my class, my teacher and I get along very well; I am skilled and passionate about my craft. I am more comfortable in the pottery studio than I am anywhere else and I am proud of the pottery I create. I am a potter and maybe even – dare I say it – an artist.

What brings all of this self-reflection on is that, as my father told me over the phone this evening, I have won an arts award for my high school. It’s merely a slip of paper, not a scholarship or anything, but still it feels earth shattering. In fact, I was one of only three people in my high school to win an arts award. I must tell you (with only an ounce of self-importance) that I received a final mark of 100% in my grade 12 pottery class and so I should not be surprised that I won an award, but still I am. Arts awards are for artists. Arts awards are for my sister and other pretentious graduates of Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts. I am not an artist. Self-loathing and severe anxiety caused my drop out of this sup-par-but-still-pretentious high school. I’ve always longed to be the type of person to receive and arts award, and now I am. I guess. It feels weird. It seems absurd that I allowed this concept of artist to cause me so much stress

This self-reflection, and the simple act of writing it down, feels calming. I might not feel comfortable calling myself an artist, but I have found an artistic medium that I am good at. I won a high school arts award, I received a perfect mark in my grade 12 pottery course, and trivial proofs aside I am a damn good potter and I love having my hands in clay. I will apply to post-secondary schools offering programs in ceramics, and if I get accepted it is something I will need to consider. I will call myself an artisan rather than an artist; my finished product craft rather than art. But no matter what I do, I will never live a life without at least a little bit of clay.

*I wrote this post last night, but didn't want to post it in a tired blur for fear of embarrassing myself. I've chosen to post this because it is something that is on my mind a lot recently and, as always, it feels important for me to share with my reader. I so rarely write, but last night I persevered and got my thoughts down. Being able to write, reflect upon, and comprehend my thoughts is invaluable, and this cause me great relief. If this new-found ability to verbalize my thoughts continues, I may include more writing on this blog in the future.

I have spent a good part of today looking into ceramics programs even further. If I do wish to work towards an arts degree, even if I specialize in pottery, I will need to learn to deal with my art anxiety rather than just recognize it. I hope that when the time comes I'll be able to.


  1. Hey Sonia,
    De-lurking to briefly comment on this post!

    I'm glad you decided to share this side of you with your readers! Also, I think so many students of art have similar issues with "art anxiety," and it's certainly something that can be worked through. You've already crossed the first hurdle of recognizing and (publicly!) acknowledging it! Lastly, I have lived in Vancouver for the past 4 years and would be happy to help with any Vancouver info you need!

    Best of luck!

  2. I've been reading your blog for a few months now and this post really stood out to me...
    You have such a way with words (that's an art in itself: being able to articulate yourself so eloquently!) The thing with any form of art (dance, craft, drama, visual arts etc.) is who is to say what is good and what isn't? The beauty of art is that it's an expression of oneself and you should keep exploring and experimenting to find that contentment. Keep writing too because your words are powerful and that reflective skill can help you acknowledge and realise so much :)

    Take care,

  3. I loved reading what you had to say I also get anxiety about life decisions and my possible career I wish you all the best and please show us your art!! or should I better say show us your pottery!! :)

  4. I'm so happy that you've received recognition for all of your hard work and artistic loveliness is a field that you love. Who cares if it's not a scholarship or whatever? You earned it and people took notice. Congratulations, love.

  5. Please feel better about your art! I'm not one to talk; I often feel the same way about my work (I'm a writer, which isn't exactly the same as an artist but somewhat close). It's hard to take people seriously when they say you're good. But I hope that you please find the courage to apply to the Emily Carr school and any other school you want. You're fantastic and you ARE an artist, no matter what you think!

    Oh, and please post some of your pottery work! I'd love to see it!

  6. I don't go to Emily Carr (I go to Capilano for textile arts), but I know people who have, and trust me trust me trust me, you can absolutely go! I like to think of art school in the same way I think of hiring a maid - I'm not going to clean my house before the maid comes to clean, and I'm not going to expect myself to be a perfect artist before going to art school.

    There is definitely no harm in applying, at the very least. It sounds like you have a lot of potential, even if you don't consider yourself (or feel comfortable calling yourself) an artist.

  7. Hi! I'm an italian girl and I've started to read your blog some week ago. I adore your style and I like your way to write :)
    I'll continue to follow you (also 'cause I have to better my horrible english;).


  8. Congratulations on your award, Sonia! That's awesome. Also, I hear you about the anxiety around art. I've always loved art and making art but I've always felt suffocated by it too, like I'm not good enough to be an artist. I was going to go study fine arts but eventually decided against it. I'm definitely happy where I am now though, so I don't regret it, but I can definitely relate!

    Also, NSCAD University in Halifax has a degree in ceramic art, I'm pretty sure. It's such a good school and Halifax is awesome! I did a number of evening classes there and loved it :)

  9. I read this when you first posted it and wanted to think on it to formulate something helpful.

    I'm graduating soon with my BFA in Graphic Design and when I started, I could barely draw. Now I'm going to finish this degree and start working on my first love (sculpture/metals & Jewelry). I plan to get a MFA and eventually teach.

    The most important thing is that you express yourself in whatever medium you choose. Whether other people like it is not of any importance. Do what you love.