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Field Notes 4/15/16

glombaguzm's picture

Field notes: April 15, 2016


I arrived to the center late because I missed the Septa, so I got there closer to 10am than my usual 9am. I find *Sam* in his station and apologize for my tardiness but he doesn’t seem to mind. He asks me what happened to my hand and so do all the other artists in his station. Many of them went on to tell me stories of times they have gotten a serious injury. Some of the artists are working on paintings while others are working on collages made from trinkets. *Sam* told me that he wasn’t “having it” today and that he was sorry if he seemed out of it. It was obvious that he was having a tough day, but he still managed to work with the artists in his station as he usually does—at least from my perspective.

Since I was here at a later time, I was able to hang around the artists as they had their snack time. They all lined up to pick up their lunches and went to the cafeteria area to eat. I entered the cafeteria and felt a little awkward because I didn’t know where to go or sit or even if I should be in that space. Pretty immediately one of the artists I had met a couple of weeks ago waved me over. He asked me how I was doing and what had happened to my hand. I was really grateful for this because I was feeling really out of place in this new environment and his actions really helped put me at ease. It was then someone’s birthday so they all sang happy birthday. Everyone seemed really excited about it. After snack, I went back to the station with *Sam*.

*Sam* wanted to give me work to do, but he also didn’t want to give me tasks that I couldn’t do because of my temporary one-handedness. It was a very particular situation to be in. In the center, I usually offer up my skills of dexterity, but now I no longer had that skill. He asked me if I could pour some paints for an artist. It took me a very long time because I couldn’t get the bottles open; I eventually had to ask someone for help. I felt embarrassed that it had taken me more than 5 minutes to get paint—something that I can usually do very quickly. *Sam* then asked if could draw some lines on a piece of cardboard. Since the lines were free form, I felt comfortable offering to draw them with my left hand. As I began tracing the lines, I quickly noticed that most of them were really squiggly and of different thickness. I felt bad because I felt like I ruined the project. *Sam* said that it was no problem and that I didn’t ruin anything.

*Sam* then asked *Paul* (an artist that was walking around) if he could thicken up the lines I drew so that they were all of consistent thickness. *Paul* said yes and began to do so. Once *Paul* was finished, he showed *Sam* his reworking of the lines and asked if he had done a good job. *Sam* said that it wasn’t his finest work and that he thought Paul was rushing it. At first, I thought this was very harsh, but then I thought about how that’s how my art teachers used to help me. So, I was a bit torn on how to react to the situation. On one hand, *Sam* is being honest with *Paul* and trying to help him grow as an artist. But on the other hand, maybe that’s not what *Paul* needs at the moment. Maybe that was the best *Paul* could do that day and what would have benefitted him was validation. I’m still unsure of how I feel about the event.

*Sam* continued to work with the people at his station and it was obvious that he was feeling a bit burnt out. One of the other teachers, *Tania*, came up to *Sam* and asked him if he wanted her to take some of the artists to her station. She told him that she “could tell.” I’m assuming that she means that she could see that *Sam* was having a bad day. I thought it was interesting how the teachers could pick up on someone’s mood so quickly. *Sam* said “yes, please” and thanked her. By this time, it was getting close to noon so I left to go catch the train. 


smalina's picture

You brought up an interesting point about Sam giving constructive criticism to Paul on his art, mentioning that your art teacher used to help you grow by offering similar feedback. I think, in our discussions of the center in class, it's easy to get caught up in the idea that empowerment here means a total absence of focus on productivity or standards. While it is true that a singular focus on productivity or standards in a conventional sense can be damaging and disempowering, I also think it would be disempowering to claim that the artists do not have their own, individual potentials that they should always be encouraged to work towards. If Sam knew that Paul could do better and that he has in the past, it seems empowering to remind him of that--he is holding him accountable and pushing him to grow, as long as he isn't holding him to expectations that do not apply to him. 

alesnick's picture

In my Tai Chi class, one of our teachers talks a lot about two things together: the importance of accepting where we are in our training, of being there, AND the importance of pushing ourselves. He integrates things often seen as opposing.  I think a relationship grounded in freedom and respect makes such integration possible.  Without it, only one or the other.  That's a theory, anyway!

Also, so struck by your "temporary disability" and how it changes you experience and role in the space. I appreciate your bravery here.