Enough about Art

Did I tell you about that time I went to something called Art Outside the Box? It was one of the kick-off events here at N.C. State’s homecoming and it was a gathering of artists and non-artists who wanted to try their hands at art. It was amazing! I got to eat free food (every college kid’s dream in life), I got to turn recycled paper into a pumpkin, hold hands with clay between our palms, walk through an art museum, and turn a rod of glass into a brilliant glass bead. I got to spend the afternoon trying new things–and it was amazing.

But isn’t that enough? I mean, it’s only “art” after all. Right?

Let me tell you about another time: It was November 16. N.C. State’s fourth annual Cabaret–a variety show the GLBT Center puts on every year. We had dance groups, comedians, LED-hula-hoopists, singers–individually and in groups, drag queens, photo montages, and me–spoken word. I was nervous to get up there and perform in front of a crowd of easily more than a hundred, maybe two hundred people–but I did it. I read a poem and parts of an essay I wrote here, and when the applause went up, I didn’t back down.

I’d like to say I wasn’t nervous, but that wouldn’t be completely honest. I’d like to say I was just doing what I naturally do–but what I naturally do is write, not perform. Yet if you read yesterday’s post, you might have seen this:

I find, when I’m writing, I let the words come like I would speak them. I imagine myself like the great orators of history, those philosophers who would stand in the forum speaking, not merely to their disciples crowded closely around, but to the masses, begging for all with ears to come and listen, begging everyone with a heart to hear me. Sometimes, it works; sometimes, it doesn’t. But all those unsuccessful attempts only make those moments of brilliance more amazing. So don’t think poetry is needed to make things evoke empathy. Poetry has structure, form, but passion is not required. Instead think of the spoken word–your spoken word–and write from the heart.

When I wrote that, I was already practicing for my performance, so it’s no surprise I actually mentioned spoken word in there. It was on my mind. It was on the line.

But what is the spoken word–what is the written word? Words are only words. They can be twisted, turned, misused and abused, made into something not at all what they’re meant to be–they’re objects of insight and purveyors of deceit. Words are only words.

What do they matter?

And if I may, there’s one more time I’d like to tell you about: This happened only this week, Monday night in fact, at a Crafts Center Open House–but you probably don’t know about the Crafts Center here at N.C. State, do you? It’s only this awesome place where you can attend classes on drawing, glass work, jewelry making, wood turning and carving, pottery, painting, and so much more. And in honor of finals week, they were having an open house where–for free–you could go take some quick art classes, relax, and learn something new.

Now, you may not know this, but back in the day HGTV was more about homes and gardens than just curb appeal and real estate–you could learn so many awesome things in the mornings that I couldn’t even attempt to list them all. This was, admittedly, before the DIY Network was a channel and all the handiwork, crafty shows moved there, but one in particular I recall watching every morning: The Carol Duvall Show.

If you’ve never seen her show, I pity you. I learned about metal working and painting and glass mosaics and molding clay and knitting and so much more from just watching her show for an hour or so each day. I’d always liked arts and crafts–I remember having “field trips” to A.C. Moore with the homeschooling groups in PA–and being able to make things with my hands was just awesome. I like to think, when I hear that we’re made in God’s image, that it means we’ve got the power to both create and destroy–and what are crafts but an opportunity to create–to be God-like?

(Keep that in mind–it’ll mean something in a few days.)

But I think I’ve rambled along long enough and have, in the course of this discourse, missed my original intent: Monday night. The Crafts Center. It was a three-hour event organized into three courses: First session, second session, and third session–with the same offerings each session, so you could feasibly try three different things (except that by the time you made it out of the first workshop, the second’s sign-ups were full, so two tended to be an average maximum–but with art-on-paper options available for all three hours, the possibilities really were effectively endless). Of the classes I can recall were wood carving, wood turning, glass bead making, beaded rings, the potter’s wheel, clay modeling, and chain making–like chain mail, they said.

When I heard that, I thought, “Chain mail? Swords? Sorcery? The Lord of the Rings? OMG–The Hobbit comes out in less than two weeks–and I totally have to make chain mail, like, right now. Right. Now.”

I was set–“Chain-making it is,” I said as I got into line to sign up.

Except when we who had signed up for chain-making got to the class, it was revealed–dun Dun DUN–that there had been a misunderstanding, there was to be no chain-making, and instead we would be making wire rings. Now this in itself was not too bad–need I remind you of the Carol Duvall Show and all the things I got to see that I had never gotten to try?–and although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be making mail, I was not disappointed to try something new.

To set the scene: We were all gathered around the work table, sitting in front of our supplies. I was the only guy in a room of maybe fifteen or sixteen. And the girl to my left looks at me and says, “Are you making it for someone else?”

Of all the things I could say about this wonderful evening, this is what I remember: Not just the words, but the tone in her voice–the tone that said, in crystal clear Dolby Digital surround sound, “Why are you here? You are a man and you do not belong in this class–unless you’re making this ring for a girl, and then it’s sweet, but guys shouldn’t wear rings, so guys shouldn’t make rings. Why. Are. You. Here?”

I smiled to mask the sudden sting of her words and simply said, “I thought it was chain-making,” as if that would suddenly make right everything that had come out of her mouth. Inside, I was still roiling. I thought this place was full of open minds. I thought this place would be someplace where people wouldn’t care, where people didn’t care. I hadn’t met a single person on campus who had a problem with my being gay, who had said anything less than supportive about not fitting into the stereotypical gender binary, and then here was this girl, maybe eighteen, blond hair, an innocent smile.

And she ruined that.

In seven words, she reminded me the world is not always as it seems–that some people are still stuck in a time when experience should be limited by the genitalia you were born with and to deviate is to condemn yourself to the fiery furnaces of hell. In seven words she ruined my evening. I barely enjoyed hammering the wire flat or twisting the cable through the beads; I had fun and made something cool, but suddenly I felt like I didn’t belong.

When I attempted water-colors between sessions, I had fun and made an interesting illustration of my NaNoWriMo story, but her words still hung in the air above me. I saw as many guys as girls that evening, and they all looked like your typical straight guy, and somehow that made me feel worse–I bet they weren’t making glass beads or wire rings. I bet they were having a good ol’ time carving wood and whatnot. I bet they weren’t being asked why they were there.

During the third session I learned how to use the lathe. It was awesome. I made something slightly reminiscent of a chess piece–I had the White Queen in mind, of Alice fame, but a friend thought it looked more like a candlestick. But let’s not forget it was only my first time (and I’m going to take classes on wood turning in the future–it really was a lot of fun and I liked it a lot). And although there were two or three girls in there with me, I didn’t turn to them and ask them why they were there, because isn’t working with wood a man’s job?

No, I just chiseled the corners down and carved shapes into a spinning circle. It was like three-dimensional integrals in Calc II. Just keep spinning around the axis until another shape forms.

In my political theory course one of the last pieces we read was Mill’s “The Subjection of Women.” Regardless of the fact you could replace a lot of the words and have a fantastic argument in favor of equal rights for the LGBT community, in class our discussion was focused primarily on the effects of his argument for full legal equality of the sexes and whether or not it has been–or should be–achieved. My comment–which is the same reason I largely disagree with the notions of feminism and women’s rights activists–was this: Despite culture becoming more open to women living it up in traditionally masculine roles, the same equality of opportunity has not been extended to men–that is, culturally speaking, men have not gained the ability to do traditionally feminine anything without it being an affront to masculinity everywhere and society’s health on all levels.

It becomes perversion. Degradation. Vile and inhuman.

And it makes blond girls ask, “Are you making it for someone else?”

Well, I think that’s enough about art.

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