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August 4, 2009
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Art has always been a vital part of my life. When I was old enough to appreciate genuine fine art, my parents started bringing me to museums that housed some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen. Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Donatello, and Botticelli intoxicated me like only the finest of drugs could. El Greco pulled me down into the deepest pits of hell with his fiery, dancing figures. Just as I was about to be consumed by the flames, Caravaggio rescued me and took me towards the mysterious, heavenly light that permeated through his oil paintings. I was a blind man who was experienced sight for the first time when it came to Monet and Manet, and my heart broke at the sight of the stark realism portrayed by Daumier and Freud. The most contemporary artist I would regard as great was Van Gogh (who doesn’t love Starry Night)? That was it. Those were the “real” artists. After Van Gogh and the era of post-impressionism came what I saw as the Dark Ages of art: Cubism. When I saw my first Picasso, I was stunned. What on earth is this? Why is everything so flat and geometric? Why are random body parts detached and floating around in the background? And…is that an eye in the corner? The unease I had begun to feel in my stomach was now radiating in every cell in my body, and I hastily left the room. That was not art.

The first thought that came to mind when my art teacher announced that we would be doing a Cubist drawing as our next project was you have got to be kidding me. There was no way I could lower myself to the blasphemous level of Cubism. To do so would be to make a mockery of the true artists I held in such high esteem. Grudgingly, I began with the first step: finding and assembling the items I would include in my drawing. I didn’t care at all. The objects ended up being my used coffee cup, two paint brushes, and a porcelain Mardi Gras mask that looked like it had seen better days - the stuff closest to me. After lazily ripping out sheets of tracing paper, I carelessly sketched five different drawings of my assembled objects all from a different view point. Then, with the annoying encouragement of my teacher, I was forced to find a window and tape all my sketches up one on top of the other and then tape a blank piece of white paper on top of all the sketches. Apparently how you stacked your sketches would be how your drawing was translated onto paper. Even so, I piled them on each other haphazardly. It all looked like a mess of lines and shapes anyway, and I was more concerned with how many more minutes were in the period because, man, I was hungry. The bright light from the window shined through the transparent layers of tracing paper, making it easy to see each mark I had made. I copied the cornucopia of lines onto my paper with a black charcoal pencil stopping every so often to step back and look at the chaos that was wreaking havoc on what used to be a clean sheet of paper. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finished. My tracing paper sketches were inconsiderately crumpled up and tossed into the trash, and in my hands I now held the skeleton of my Cubist drawing.

That drawing had to be one of the most surprising things I had ever experienced. It didn’t look like a five year old had puked on a sheet of paper. My eyes were able to journey down the black charcoal roads and pluck out the shapes of the items I had chosen: the stalwart coffee cup standing straight and proud, the paintbrushes flitting in and out of focus, and the porcelain mask basking in its new found beauty. Considering the nonexistent amount of effort I had put into this, it looked pretty good. A part of me screamed in defiance. This was Cubism. I hated Cubism. I had committed the most severe form of blasphemy, and could not be forgiven. And yet, that part of me was growing progressively quieter. A warm shadow crept across me as the drawing I held in my hands pulled me deeper into its core silencing the opposition. I took up the charcoal pencil and began to thicken and darken specific lines, but this time, I took my task seriously. I scrutinized the amorphous shapes in my drawing and determined which ones needed to be emphasized and painstakingly enlarged the lines around them to just the right size. I was soon shading certain shapes black. For the next couple class periods, I slaved over darkening the perfect amount of shapes and thickening certain lines just enough so that they brought out important figures. It had to be absolutely perfect. I probably would have continued on with this task had my teacher not realized it was the fifth class period I’d been solely working with the charcoal and demanded that I start to introduce color into my piece. I didn’t feel like the charcoal portion of my piece was finished yet, but Ms. H. looked like she was going to murder me if I did not immediately take out my color pencils. I had an idea of the color scheme I was going for; the feeling of the piece called for semi-muted colors that were at the same time vibrant. I settled on a palette of browns, blues, oranges, and purples. The process of the charcoal portion was the easiest thing in the world compared to this. The objects had an air of transparency, and I had to make sure the way I colored them in reflected that. The color had to be applied just light enough that the shape wouldn’t look solid. But not every shape could be transparent. Some shapes needed to be completely opaque to bring out the translucency of the forms around them. Also, the same colors could not be used right next to each other or even too much in the same area because it would look repetitive and bore the viewer. Some figures needed to be given depth, some needed to remain absolutely flat, and others needed to be somewhere in between. My eyes screamed in protest as they were forced to concentrate over and over again on the meticulous task of perfecting the color of every single form. My head developed a continuous ache as I stared at the multitude of bright colors swimming in front of me. Eventually, all the lines and colors would blend into a puddle in front of my eyes. It was only then that I knew I had to stop or risk irrevocable damage. My task was only half done when I finished coloring the coffee cup, paintbrushes, and mask. The background was still white. In a moment of inspiration, I quickly threw together a table on which my objects would rest. It was lopsided, the corners didn’t match up, the perspective was wrong, and it was tilted so much that the items on top looked as if they were about to slide off. Yet it was perfect. The table was homage to Paul Cézanne, the artist attributed with linking Impressionism to Cubism. Behind the table was a wall of windows pointing every which way and showing the color of the sky during different times of the day. On the ground was a pattern of orange and blue titles heading in separate directions. I did it all in about three minutes because I had forgotten my drawing was due that day.

When I put my finished drawing up on an easel for the class to see, my teacher looked at me with her huge, crinkly-eyed smile and simply stated, “You are a Cubist.” I waited for the revulsion to come, but it didn’t. My recollection of what else she said is nonexistent. At that moment the world stopped moving and nothing existed except the artist and her work. I could not help but relate myself to a character I had just read about in class. Trip Fontaine, an arrogant playboy, in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides had spent years going through girl after girl, never staying with a particular one much like I had spent years going from project to project drawing realistically from what I saw and even trying to copy the style of the Master’s at one point. But ever attempt I made would never turn out how I wanted it to, or I would be so frustrated with what I saw as my lack of artistic ability, that the project would be left unfinished. I knew something was missing, something vital that caused me to fail every time, but I didn’t know what it was. My work at that very moment was the still point of the moving world much like Lux Lisbon was to Trip that fateful day when he ducked into her history class. Looking into Lux’s eyes, or in my case looking at my drawing, captivated him because there was something hidden in its depths that he had never experienced before. The similar magic contained in Lux’s eyes that mesmerized Trip was present in my work. My cubist was the best piece of art I had ever created not because I had spent the most time on it but because I had felt it. I experienced the amazement when my charcoal drawing turned out well, I suffered through considerable frustration trying to perfect my black lines, I delighted in breathing life into the drawing by adding color, and I felt the anxiety as I rushed to finish the background. All of these emotions manifested themselves in my work, giving it the vivacity that none of my previous creations had had. I was a cubist. Prior projects had never worked because they forced me to see the world in a way I was not made for. They wanted me to see what was; I saw what could and should be. They pushed me towards the real, but I was drawn towards the abstract. Pride and joy coursed through me; there in the plethora of abstract colors and shapes was the coffee cup, the paintbrushes, the mask, and even the outline of an eye in the bottom corner. Cubism set me free, showing everything I knew, everything I was, and everything I wished I could be. I had found the missing link, and in that second of realization, the world began to move again.

Join the Discussion

This article has 19 comments. Post your own now!

Yukine said...
Apr. 27, 2016 at 8:31 am
I love the emotions put into this essay, and how dynamic you were. This essay really stood out and taught me a few things in life.
meowmeow said...
Apr. 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm
This made me cry.
thomaswaddill said...
Mar. 16, 2014 at 10:36 pm
Well, hah, I realized that I'm writing this in April. Sorry if I'm a little late to the game, which I am. Hahah. Sorry. Hope what I said was helpful on some level anyways!  
thomaswaddill said...
Mar. 16, 2014 at 10:34 pm
Great piece, great writing. As to the length debate that seems to be going on, here's my two cents: I think as a standalone piece of writing it's great. Length is fine, narration spotless. But as a college essay, I would agree that it's a little long. Its length isn't a detriment to the artistic merit of the piece, but is, I believe, a detriment to its being a part of an application to a college. I would trim it down so that an admissions officer would get the gist and a... (more »)
Buttons said...
Sept. 28, 2012 at 11:37 am
I'm glad you found a type of art that suits you best. This is a really beautiful piece. I think you have just converted me to cubism! Haha
nchic said...
Sept. 16, 2012 at 1:11 pm
I really enjoyed this, I think I've read it 3 times now! As an artist myself, I enjoy all the technical details, and I can appreciate them. I think JoshuaChen and jonnathang just can't appreciate all the detail as much because they are not artists and just don't really understand what all the description is talking about. And that is not a critisism of Joshua or jonna, just an observation. I loved it, I hope you will write more!
ChickenLegHouse said...
Sept. 7, 2012 at 9:05 am
I loved the details, this is about a peice of art, you can't appresheat that then why did you read it? And lots of other people seemed to like it so cut it out with the whole 'readers' thing and just say 'I'
ChickenLegHouse replied...
Sept. 7, 2012 at 9:07 am
This was at JoshuaChen by the way, hit the wrong button.
archery-nerd said...
Aug. 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm
I totally agree with you. I loved all the immense details and the process that changed your point of view. Every word was a step closer to the realization that the style you detested most was actually an intense passion waiting to bloom. 
archery-nerd said...
Aug. 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm
I have never read anything quite like that before. I love the way this peice is put together, and the passion that you described made it all the more realistic. I can definitely relate to your passion because I have felt it too. Anyone who has felt that much love for something such as art would be able to relate to this article. Well done!!
HauntMystic said...
Aug. 11, 2012 at 7:11 am
Amazing - simply amazing. Your narration is perfect, and you certainly think like an artist. I'm glad you opened your mind to other styles. I'm still not partial to Cubism, or abstract (as an anime stylist), but I still understand the importantce of respecting all pieces of work to a certain degree, if the artist truly meant it to be art. I love this work. 5 stars from me.
JoshuaChen said...
Jul. 25, 2012 at 12:12 am
I have to agree with Jonnathang. You lost me in the third paragraph about a quarter of the way in. Any professional writer will tell you that you should aim to convey your idea in as few words as possible. What's the idea, the theme, that you're trying to express with this? That people should always be open to new ideas? That all forms of art are beautiful in their own respects? Whatever it is, all those extraneous details about the construction your art project itself are not helping. Writing ... (more »)
Trixie44 replied...
Jul. 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm
Sorry but I disagree- writing isnt about the writer, this wasnt written as a novel about to be published, it was written truthfully and from the heart and to tell an interesting story. If you are captivated by the title/first few words, then you should read on till the end. This piece has detail, feelings and emotion and I think it is great. It really captures the writer's thoughts. Well done! :)x
Ronronner replied...
Aug. 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm
Trixie44 - just because the beginning captured my attention, I, as a reader, feel no obligation to continue the piece if it begins to bore me. Feelings are very nice, yes, everyone has feelings and emotions to talk about - but it is only a bit of constructive criticism in saying that by cutting down your piece to a palatable length, you will capture that many more people's attention, and that many more people will read it through to the end. As opposed, to, say, reading the first paragraph, ... (more »)
JoshuaChen replied...
Aug. 26, 2012 at 11:47 pm
Problem is, it has too many details. That much description bores reader.
jmac1780 replied...
Sept. 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm
Well sorry to say, but not all genres/topics interest everyone. Everyone has their own opinion, just as I have found this piece magnificant and a ork of art itself. Well done ;) xoxo
jonnathang said...
Feb. 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm
the essay has to be shorter because people don't want spend too much time but is really good
Evyfan111 replied...
Jul. 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm
I disagree. I think the piece is a perfect length. I was captivated the whole time. I wouldn't change a thing.
JoshuaChen replied...
Jul. 25, 2012 at 12:19 am
Kudos to Jon for constructive criticism. The comments section of some articles is just a huge list of compliments. Nice to know that some people are willing to be critical.
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