Written by Rucha Desai, Columnist
I am not an artist. In my high school ceramics class, I made a vase without a bottom, and my mother, after seeing nothing could be put inside of it, confirmed that art (all art—the breadth of her conclusion was wide) was not my calling.
In New York City, however, anyone can be an artist, and all proclaim themselves to be.
Once again, we were assured that we had not foregone our true callings for other livelihoods.
It was my first night of Spring Break. With that euphoric, fleeting liberation that comes only with the beginning of a school vacation, I skipped over to Chelsea, the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc clinking in my bright yellow, dirtied, and otherwise empty backpack.
As my sister and I waited for class to begin, we watched the rest of the group stream in: a big, rowdy group celebrating a 40th birthday; a quieter family of women (mothers, sisters, daughters); two young girls—foils to my sister and me—who sat in front of us and ultimately scored highest (in a grading system born from the dark, competitive crevices of my mind); and one lone woman, enjoying her art and her Chardonnay and her solitude.
As if a caricature of a starving artist, the instructor was a professional dancer and singer and actress, and, evidently, was also very talented in acrylic painting. Step-by-step, with patience and kindness, she taught us how to imitate a work by Graham Gercken, one of the few artists celebrated by the Painting Lounge who is still alive (he sells his work on Etsy). Unlike the binary of gifted/ungifted on which I was raised, the instructor told us she was merely giving us guidance, that everyone had their own interpretations and their own visions, and that it was up to each of us to create something from the blank canvas. All of our pieces, she said, were beautiful.
I didn’t buy it. I’m too old to be soft. I’m almost done with law school, so I knew that while the piece was subject to a multiplicity of interpretations, only one would prevail. Only 10% of us could get that evasive, determinative A. There is no empathy in law school.
After the first five minutes of explanation of dashes and splotches and double dipping paints, I became immersed. I stopped sipping on wine, threw the sandwich back in my sister’s face, and began concentrating on perfection. I would be the next Graham Gercken.
Of course, my piece was not at all similar to Graham Gercken’s. I painted my yellow backpack red out of frustration. I guess there can be only one Graham Gercken.
We walked home, our paintings and backpacks and all, to drop off our stuff before venturing out for our second dinner. We discovered El Camion, likely one of the few Mexican restaurants in New York City with better food than drinks. We winced slightly at the margaritas, but rapidly and silently shoveled the fresh, wholesome tostadas and fajitas into our mouths.
After watching an episode of The Wire and listening to my roommates loudly bash Donald Trump in the hallway, we passed out. We slept sweetly and soundly, with paint on our hands and nothing heavy in our hearts. Our polymath instructor was right—we had but a blank canvas, upon which we created a lovely, memorable Wednesday night in New York City.