Staring At Screens painting #2, and some thoughts on technique/theory vs tips/tricks

Staring at Screens painting #2 (original photo)
Acrylic on canvas
worked on June-November 2009

An issue of layered solids

Although I have a BA in Art with a concentration in painting, I was never taught basic techniques how to wield acrylics or oils. Yet, at as artist, I’m highly skeptical of “tips/tricks/helpful hints.” in art. I was taught Technique — Hannon excersies in the form of life drawing for three years: one in high school, two in college. That was helpful. It validated the experiments I’d done, discoveries I’d made on my own around ages 13-15: there are no lines in the world, only variations in shadow.

In 7th grade, a piano teacher showed me how to “improvise”: certain cadences and arpeggios that could create a new piece or transition an existing song in performing with an ensemble (vocalist, instrumental). It killed, to this day, the composing I’d done on my own since I was 7. I felt I learnt more from music theory, which was pure math and pure ear, dissecting intervals, the algebra of counting, without any connection, any “tips”. “Ear” was what I felt naturally. While I didn’t always get all the math equations of the annual TMTA theory tests correct (but close enough to get a 95-100% score every year for 10 years), I aced the listening part of the exam every year. It was like the final round on Wheel of Fortune where you’d get R S T L N  E on the board: depending on grade level, there’d be 2-5 questions with different notes filled in. The moderator would play the whole melody and you’d have to figure out the rest; to use the Wheel of Fortune example by grade 9, you’d be lucky to get a couple of R’s and one N, I think the last one I took in 12th grade had the key signature and the first two notes out of 10 measures. It was also like “So You Want to Be A Millionaire?” in the sense that in the early years, you could ask the moderator to play over certain measures as often as you needed, by the upper levels, they could only play it through, no special requests, maybe three or four times. No colors or flashing lights, just melody, just intervals, just the distance between two things.

I also entered a new school in 7th grade, and enrolling in a new school means new competitions, chosen or not. A classmate, J., was a pianist and a good student, like myself. Yet we passively hated each other. She was a memorizer of literature, algebra, science, Chopin. I felt the knowledge I sought, and while I had an desire for it, it was a desire for utility, for creativity, not for… well, I still don’t understand people who learn based on memory to this day, over 15 years later.

What I was sold as “improvisation”, as creativity, in 7th grade connected empirical knowledge and interpreted emotion, irrevocably, instead of figuring out the connection on my own, as an artist. So, sure, I could probably take a painting class and be “taught”, but I’m so paranoid of the creativity being killed for life. Figuring out on my own how to paint layers that are also solid colors is a puzzle. With music, as with art, I have to use mathematic and scientific processes to work out and to feel, to creep my way to the solutions of the problems for myself

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