Can you be bad at art?

Earlier this month, I decided to explore my inner artist. While I am creative in the sense I write and cook, I have never given visual art much of a go. I don’t read the comics, because I don’t relate to the images. I’m a word girl.

I started with a simple decoupage project to make coasters out of stone tiles. Coasters with inspirational quotes, because I’m a word girl. I was talking with my neighbor and said I was experimenting with art. I mentioned the coasters, and she said, “Oh, you mean crafts.”

That seemed a bit pretentious to me, the differentiation between arts and crafts, but whatever. I plodded on. All but one of my coasters is in the trash, and the other one is headed there soon. I don’t like the way the coasters look, and they don’t even come close to what I imagined in my head. However, I enjoyed the effort and am not quitting on decoupage just yet.

My next stop was a two-day class in making clay masks. The class was offered at a nearby arts center, and it was part of a grant supporting art therapy for women veterans. I’m a veteran, so the class was free. Nothing to lose, right?

Well, not so fast. I didn’t feel comfortable as a veteran or as an aspiring artist. The other women were a lot younger and have stayed connected to various veteran’s organizations. I got out in 1977 and never looked back. The women veterans I know got jobs with defense contractors and built high-profile careers.

These women didn’t have jobs and spent their days tending to husbands and children and juggling appointments at the VA hospital. I did my best to listen, contribute and be supportive. Three of us had bouts with breast cancer, and on a break, we compared scars. One woman told me she was 100 percent disabled from PTSD resulting from MST. I asked, “What’s MST?”

Military Sexual Trauma.

It’s heartbreaking to see such vibrant women defined by the bad things that happened to them. But here they were. Making art. Laughing and telling their stories. It wasn’t my community, but I was glad these veterans found theirs and were so open about their experiences. I was also happy they were good at art. I mean, somebody has to be, right?

Because it would not be me. Oh, I know all the talk. You don’t learn to play a violin by picking it up once. There’s no such thing as artistic talent. You either do art or you don’t.

All I know is my mask looked awful, and it got worse by the minute. I thought paint would help, but that was the beginning of the end. There was no rhyme or reason to the colors I picked. Toward the finale, I was just slapping paint on there, whatever color was left, eager to be done with it.

Go me – I finished first! The teacher will now put the masks in his kiln, and I guess we go back in a couple of weeks to pick them up. I don’t even want mine, but maybe it will serve some yet undisclosed purpose.

I suppose it was good to get outside my comfort zone, but honestly, I did not enjoy myself. I don’t have a deep appreciation of art in general. There was a little gallery adjacent to the workshop, and they invited me to look around since I was (of course) the first one there, but I could not have been less interested. Try as I might to change, I think I’m still all about starting and finishing tasks subsequently evaluated on the basis of perfection.

Hearing about the terrible experiences of these women veterans depressed me. I know. That is so self-absorbed. One of the women who had worked for the VA said she quit because it was too depressing, and she often sat crying with the veterans who came in for help.

The women and their stories left a mark on me. Maybe that’s why I was supposed to attend this class. It wasn’t necessarily good for my mood, but it was probably good for my soul.

At the end of the day, I don’t think art is my thing. Maybe my neighbor was right. I’m more likely to enjoy making crafts. Something that has a purpose – not just art for art’s sake. I know arts and crafts take practice and patience, but I do feel bad that so far, I suck at it.

On the other hand, I’m glad I opened my eyes to the possibility of creating something crafty or artistic, if there is indeed a difference.