Thursday, February 28, 2013

Thomas Bosket - my avenging angel

I arrived at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts for a week-long Drawing Class full of anticipation and excitement to meet the teacher so wonderfully described in the brochure, a woman from some college with an outstanding reputation and very cool artwork.  Imagine my distress then when class started and in walked a tall dark-haired man who looked to be at the most 19 years old – his goatee didn’t fool me!
He told us something had come up for the other teacher and he would be replacing her.  His name was Thomas Bosket.

I felt resistant to change – a typical response for me - but had no choice so I listened politely as he began the lesson.  I was signed up to get Master’s level credit for the class, so I had to be a good student.
Thomas began by teaching us about contour drawing then having us do it.  Contour drawing is an exercise when you follow the contour of an object with your eyes as you draw it on paper.  Thomas modified it a bit.  He had us squeeze a blob of clay with our hands then follow the contours of that not only around it but also through it, creating a 3-D looking contour map.  I didn’t really understand what he wanted us to do, but I tried the exercise, grinding my teeth and gripping my pencil tighter.  It was not something my new-to-drawing-from-life brain could comprehend.  I wanted to throw that stupid lump of clay across the room.

I’d come to Arrowmont feeling pretty self-satisfied because I’d gotten an exhibit of my pregnant nude drawings, all done from photos, after only having been doing art for about nine months.  I thought I was pretty good.

So to not be able to draw a stupid lump of clay really pissed me off.

Thomas made the rounds of the class and eventually got to me.  He noted my frustration and told me other ways to approach the problem.  He even drew lines on the clay itself so I could see precisely what I needed to draw.  My frustration mounted.  Rather than ignore my petulance, he spoke to it, gently, respectfully – he let me know he could tell I was frustrated.  That validation burst open my floodgates, and, before I knew what was happening, I told him exactly what I thought of his stupid exercise and that I couldn’t do it and I hated it – my two-year-old was unleashed.  Shockingly, he listened.  He stayed put.  He let my toddler have her say then he addressed the adult in me – he told me he understood my frustration and he could see how important it was to me to do it right – maybe if I could relax into it a bit, and try to enjoy it, it might be more pleasurable.

Relaxing into something was not a familiar concept to me.  But having him listen to me and be able to hear my frustration without ignoring me or getting mad or taking it personally or holding it against me shifted something inside of me.  Part of me recognized I was safe and that there might actually be space for all of me in that art room.

Later that week, I told him there were two parts of me battling for expression – the super-detailed, uptight perfectionistic part that can copy exceedingly well.  She produced the successful pretty pregnant nudes.  Then there was (and still is) the expressive, wild side full of emotions and passion who wanted time on the page and canvas too.  I was afraid of her – she was too unpredictable and the results of her work were ugly and hard to be with, and no one would want to look at them. I wanted desperately to integrate those two parts.

Thomas came up with an exercise for me.

He tore off two six-foot pieces of brown craft paper and taped them next to each other on the floor so I had a 6’x6’ piece of paper to work on.  This was evening, so there were only about 6-8 people in the room rather than the usual 25-30 who were there during the day.  Each was working on his/her own project.

Thomas told me to sit on the floor, in the middle of the paper.  He put 10-15 drawing tools in front of me – pencil, pen, charcoal, conte’ crayon, marker, stick, ink, stone – weird and mundane.  Then he blindfolded me and told me to just let myself go – express myself however came through me.  He set a timer for an hour.

Knowing there were others around me, I had some difficulty letting go, but I turned interior and moved the writing instruments over the paper however they wanted to move, switching from one to another intuitively.  I was lost inside my own experience when I heard some giggling and finger pointing near me.  Yes, I heard the finger point.  Thomas was there in a flash.  He told them in no uncertain terms that I was doing some significant work and they had no business whatsoever speaking about it much less making fun of me.  He dismissed them then whispered to me to keep going, not to worry about them.

My marks became furious, incensed, rageful.  Scenes of being made fun of as a child sped through my head.  I felt the hot heat of embarrassment and shame.  I felt Thomas’s indignation and fury and loved my avenging angel for his words.  I thought about my younger self and felt great compassion for her.  I played the avenger for her in those previous scenes.  My marks began to change as I felt the gentleness of understanding and comfort and compassion for myself. I let the pencil move loosely and gently across the page as the anger dissipated and was replaced by the joy of the mark.  I let the pencil hang loosely between my fingers and noticed how it felt as it moved across the paper.  I hummed to myself.  I imagined being on a swing.  The pure joy of creation filled me.

The timer went off.  I pulled the scarf from my eyes and looked at what I’d created, feeling It would be wonderful and beautiful and meaningful.

Frankly, what was there on the paper wasn’t particularly notable.  It was a lot of scribbles that didn’t make any sense rationally.  I could see where my anger had asserted itself.  I could see the gentle joy of creativity.  I could see the passages where I’d been feeling embarrassed.  It was all there on the paper.  I didn’t know if someone else would be able to see or discern all that.  I felt some embarrassment surface again – what would others say?  It was just scribbles.  Thomas came up and listened to me pour out my thoughts about it.  He listened powerfully and helped me own the experience AND the results.  He hung the piece, huge though it was, on the wall of the classroom so I could look at it time and again over the course of the rest of the week.

I went to bed that night full of feelings – confusion, joy, satisfaction, fear about what I’d unleashed, excitement that I had a tool to use to let my intensity out, curiosity about what others would say, strength that no matter what others said, Thomas understood it and would help me remember what I’d done.
At the end of the week, we all hung up all our work around the room for a final critique.  It was a melee of activity as we worked to clean up our workspace, find our work, and find a place to hang it randomly amongst all the other pieces.  At some point I noticed that my big piece was gone.  My stomach lurched.  I asked Thomas if he knew where it was.  He stopped the class and asked if anyone had seen it.  One of the women said, “Oh, I threw it away – I thought it was trash.”  Not meanly, just matter-of-factly.  Thomas tracked it down and hung it up with a determined flourish.

We spent the next several hours talking about the week, about what we’d produced, how it had been for us.  Thomas critiqued our work and gave us feedback of things we could work on once we got back home.  When we got to my huge piece, he pointed to it and said, “This is the most important work that was created here this week.  It took tremendous courage to make it and was the moment of a powerful breakthrough for this artist.  If no other piece stands out from this week, this one does.”
I felt such joy in my chest as he spoke that way about my scribbles.  I knew at some level that he was right.  It took courage I hadn’t possessed before to overcome my perfectionism enough to dibble and dabble and scribble and scrabble on paper, blindfolded on the floor, in front of others and to let my own judgments and worry go enough to express my true nature.  I’d explored my feelings and gotten to see them, literally see them, come up and pass through. 
My painting of Thomas done several years later after we'd worked together a few more times.
 I will forever be grateful to Thomas Bosket, my avenging angel and the teacher who helped me love my own intensity.

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