Failing to know yourself


  1. Writing an adventure story
  2. My seventh form art folio
  3. Being a rock star
  4. Looking cool
  5. Being a poet
  6. Being a playwright
  7. Being an academic
  8. Writing a novel
  9. Having a wildly successful blog

Let’s get it out of the way early.

It’s my painting portfolio for Seventh Form Art.  God it is crap.

Towards the end of my Seventh Form year I got glandular fever, and had to stay home.  I no longer had to sit the end of year exams as all my final results were to be taken from my mid-year exams, but I decided that I could finish my art folio at home and submit it.  I did this for two reasons: (1) we didn’t have a mid-year  art exam so there was nothing to base my result on except a bunch of crappy drawings, and  (2) it would give me  something to do.

I took Art right  through secondary school, but only got a teacher who thought it was a subject you could teach in  my final year.  My previous Art “teachers” had viewed art as a divine gift that you either had or you didn’t,  or  used Art as vehicle to try out their sarcasm on adolescents.  Of course, there’s something in  the art-is-a-divine-gift approach, because some students are obviously better at Art than others, but that is really not  the point of being an Art teacher.  Surely the  point  must be to develop each student’s skill, and help them to find  an avenue or an area to explore that satisfies them.

I once tried to run a creative writing class for a term, but I didn’t do it very well.  I didn’t do it very well because I didn’t know how to persevere with the students  who loved creative writing (loved it), and would come every week with a fresh pile of crumpled  pages, but who weren’t very good.   In this way I was exactly the same as the Art teachers I disliked when I was at school.  By the  time I finished for the term I had come to realise that the main thing I could do was give them a platform to have their work read out with a few other sympathetic people, and occasionally offer some gentle advice.

Which is what my last Art teacher did.  He was a great guy.  Unassuming, kind, and  knowledgeable.  He took the time to be with each student in the class, to listen to them, to quietly offer them directions to explore, or to steer work away from  the absurd.  Unfortunately he was working with 17 year old Man of Errors and not 37 year old Man of Errors, so I:

  1. Was pretty interested in the absurd
  2. Was pretty clueless about directions, and
  3. Wasn’t mature enough to get over the fact that he had hair growing  out of the tip of his nose

Which was my loss.

I spent an incredible amount of time trying to work up an idea which was something to do with a silhouette of Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Jesus on the cross.  Dimly I think there was a concept about following leaders or icons, but really it was just a chance to do some guitar paintings.  Correctly, in hindsight, this was the point that my Art teacher suggested I switch to Photography.

Which didn’t last, and I was back flailing  around with a paint brush and trying to create a set of related drawings that showed development.  I made my mother pose with a lantern and took some photos  and then I did a series of lumpy, turgid paintings in various styles (you can see these efforts above).  There were a couple of problems with this.  Firstly, it was supposed to be a study of light and shade but when I took the photo of my mother it was in broad daylight and the lantern wasn’t lit, so I had to make up all of the light and shade.  Secondly, I didn’t develop my ideas  I did all my  paintings  at the same  time and bunged them on the folio, and finally, I’m not a very good painter.

I  like drawing.  Specifically, I love drawing buildings  and sometimes landscapes.   From about the age of six or seven what I wanted to be was an architect, and in Fourth Form I took Technical Drawing for a term as an option and absolutely thrived.  I loved it because it was all drawing, and  you had a whole lot of fancy equipment, and it was about shapes,  and  blocks and designs and buildings.  The teacher thought I was clever and put my drawings on the wall.  Looking back on this now I cannot for the life of me understand why I never took Technical Drawing again, and  persevered with Art until the bitter end (which was a failing grade in Seventh Form).

Which is all a lesson about not knowing yourself.  I was good at drawing.  I should have taken Technical Drawing.  The feeling I had when I saw my drawing displayed  in the corridor outside the Technical Drawing room was a feeling I never had in all the years I took Art, but I took Art because I thought I was an artist, and  carried on painting because I thought artists were painters.

Not that we are talking about any great loss to the world of Art.  It’s not a story like that.  I think this is a story about figuring  out what  I am truly interested in and  doing that, rather than doing what I think I should be interested in.  Which makes me think  that I should try and run that creative writing club again at school.  Perhaps some of those students  who showed up with their sprawling, epic novels are only writing novels because they think that this is what writers do.  Maybe they need to try poems, or plays, or limericks.  Or maybe they just would like somewhere to go and share something  they enjoy.

6 thoughts on “Failing to know yourself”

  1. These are interesting points. I’m not sure where you’ll end up after looking at all nine items, and I hope it’s still too early to judge item #9.

    Look at the art for both posts I’d say the cats in sweaters showed more potential. Look at how much work you put into those sweaters.

    I think there’s a place for classes that simply provide an outlet for people to share their creativity, even if it’s not exactly brilliant stuff. That’s how I view my own blog.

  2. I didn’t realise there was a 17 year old Man of Errors, was this before or after you were a dinosaur?

  3. I too thought this post had some really good points in it, but because I am probably incredibly immature, I couldn’t stop sniggering about the teacher with hairs growing out the tip of his nose for the rest of the post. Will I ever grow up?

  4. I never took art at high school (though I really wish I had) and your portfolio looks exactly like the sort of work that was being created by the kids at my school. Particularly it was the portraits painted in unnatural colours, and with faces drawn with those exaggerated angles.

    This in turn reminds me of a tragic tale that made it onto the front page of the Waikato Times. There had been a few high-profile cases of high school end-of-year exams not having been marked accurately, or the marks were recorded incorrectly – something like that. So the work was having to be regraded.

    One young student had received a failing grade for her art portfolio, which had surprised her, her parents and her art teacher. Obviously, they reckoned, it was another mistake, bloody NZQA, etc. Her portfolio was printed on the front page of the newspaper with readers invited to judge for themselves.

    So the portfolio was checked, but there had been no error. It was a legitimate failing grade. Which is a pretty embarrassing to have in the inevitable follow-up story in the local paper.

  5. cbjames – I have to agree. Looking at the two art pieces I think my masterwork “cats in sweaters” has more going for it.

    Gruntled – This is about me being old right? Well, sonny, Dinosaurs had long passed from the Earth when I was at school and I can tell you, us Neanderthals were well pleased.

    Fflur – I know! Right? I became really self conscious when I talked to him because I didn’t want him to think I was noticing his nose so I tended to look at his forehead or his beard. Actually, this probably explained a lot about my lack of artistic ability to him – he probably thought I had eyesight problems.

    Robyn – Ouch.

  6. It was more of an exclamation of my sudden and shocking realisation that people were alive before I was, mixed with an old inside joke you played a part in a few years ago.
    But your reply was thoroughly amusing.

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