Anything (But) Art

By Katie Melzer

“Hi, I’m Katie and I’m an art major” I typically say it tripping over the words. It’s like wincing while setting a bomb off, and in a flash of light my friends and family's expectations of me drop to bedrock. Then they’ll quickly rack their brains to say something to hide their disappointment and lighten the mood. The reaction weirdly mirrors what I imagine it’s like being told your legs are getting amputated, just utterly hopeless. I can hear their thoughts, “Wasted potential-- I thought she was smart? --It makes no sense.” Yet others tell me I have a talent, and if their thoughts could speak, they would say “you are right where you belong...I’m just sorry it had to be here.” I am wholly embarrassed living life as an artist. Afraid I might dress too much like one, embarrassed to take out a sketchbook, to put up art in galleries. I always think about how different things could have been if my thing was anything other than art. Maybe science... writing... nursing. Anything but art.

I originally drafted a whole essay on my struggles with reading and writing (to avoid talking about dreadful art) but decided it could be put in a simpler way. It was hard. Really hard. I can think in complicated ways, and I have promising ideas, yet it’s a language my mouth doesn’t seem to understand. I tried reading more to train my mouth to be complicated, and it worked a bit... but not a whole lot. Painting was one of the only times my hand seemed to move faster than my brain. It was just something that I could do, without constantly feeling like I was falling behind. I could paint something and interpret it after it was done... it was a bizarre backward feeling compared to my experience with reading. Today, my art makes me feel disconnected from myself and my brain can’t catch up with my own work. My High school art teacher, who wore a kilt and a t-shirt with his name on it, would ask me, “why did you paint a  self-portrait on 100 apple stickers?” I would answer him I didn't know, and he would tell me “Because you feel like a burden in every sweet situation.” “Oh.” My art seems to know more about me than I even seem to understand, just like the texture of my paintings seem clearer  than my own skin.

When I was 6 my parents handed me a diary. Black with a pink ballet dancer centered on the front cover. On the inside, there was lined paper, for words. Yet on the first page, I drew a picture of a giraffe.  Followed by a drawing of my sister as a stick figure. Then my school dance dress. A dream I had one night. My dog. In my childhood “diary” one might notice that there are no words at all, just pictures drawn over the lines. My childhood diary was more than silly crushes, family problems, and quick ideas, it was a picture of my mind. My crushes would be drawn how I saw them, and their eyes would light up the page, my dress would sparkle and flow, and my sister would still be a good one even if she said something mean. The drawings in my little black ballet book could capture a complexity and life to things I never understood as a kid, and all I had to do was draw them.

MelzerMy whole life has seemed to follow the same pattern. I like art, I love art, then I try to find something to distract me from it. Art is not something I see as useful. Being an Engineer is useful, so as an 11-year-old I decided I would be an engineer. It happened when I talked to my  grandpa one day in a restaurant. He was talking to me about investing in a new and upcoming stock, but even I knew his version of the stock-game was just glorified gambling. He talked until his mouth puckered dry, and he reached for a glass of water. Silence. Dim lights shadowed his wrinkled face as I filled the air, “I think I’ll be an art teacher.” My young smile faded quickly as he set down his glass. An uproar. He told me that would be a waste, and the lights seemed to flatten. So of course, I decided I didn’t want to be a waste. 
I studied engineering for seven years as the only female in classes of thirty immature boys. To the reader of this writing, I can tell all about being confident in my true literacy. Yet, I can’t describe the pain of not being confident in one you wish you were. The feeling of walking in a classroom with a mouth stapled in uncertainty... stomach tied in a tight bow with hot glue  burning off my fingertips. I tried to change my literacy, but my fingerprints kept growing back over the burns. Now I'm an art major, but my goodness I do not say it with pride.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of running into an artist drawing caricatures with a black felt tip pen. I stood in line for a bit and was seated a few feet in front of him. Half listening, he asked my major (to which I thought I might just lie to avoid the embarrassment but quickly shook it off as I realized that was ridiculous). I dropped the bomb that I was an art major. He froze. Paused for a bit too long, and looked at me,

“Do you have time to switch? It is a life of suffering.” I was calm.

“I know.”

He smiled wide at me. Then we talked about our dogs. 

This interaction, I hope, comes across as pure confusion for most people, except artists.  Being an artist is more like a sickness than anything. They’ll sniffle and cough no matter what they do, so one might as well buy some tissues to try and forget about it. So, we forgot about the conversation, both knowing we would always be sick together. 

MelzerEverywhere I go I can see art, but I can also feel it. I’ll walk around a grocery store and get excited when I see tomato soup following the rule of thirds. I’ll feel a warmth in my stomach whenever I pass the Popeyes on route 47 with complementary colors standing side by side  perfectly in harmony. The night air and the effects of color  theory reflecting off the blue sky. My mom often tells me to  describe the obvious things to her, so I tell her what I see. I  look at Vincent Van Gogh's portrait and see the technical  mastery, he was the king of color. The orange and teal blurred  looks black, yet he never once used black because it would  flatten the image. Instead, the colors force him into the  spotlight, and might I add, one he does not enjoy being in. He’s  exposed, with an offset uneasiness in his cheekbones and sunken eyes, a thick guilt of red laid on his ear, with that numb gloom in the white of his eyes, and his downturned smile painted over,  and over again. She tells me I have “an artist eyes” while I just see grey ones.

Now I have grown tired of talking about the thing I devoted my life to. Hopefully one day I’ll be content working in a boring little white office cuticle, with a guy named Jerry sitting  across from me eating a very pungent soup. I’ll yell at him to never bring that soup again while I  dream about my own art gallery with my name big on a wall. Maybe there could even be a  receptionist named Jane wearing a new Navy top, handing out little business cards to anyone that  walks in. That is where I hope to end up. Dreaming. So at this moment, I like art. Tomorrow I  might just love it, and in a year I could be a carpenter.

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