It never fails...when I am teaching an evening painting class, a teen wanders in. You know the type; excited by the mere presence of paint, ink, clay. Just lives for art. "Can I paint?" they ask. I have to reply, "well, this is a class. You need to register for this". "Oh, can I just watch?" "Sure." And so goes another night of painting at the Y Arts Studio.
When most people think of the YMCA they think of "swim and gym" and then maybe about the week they spent at a Y camp as a child. And then of course that song runs through their heads. Thanks to the Village People and popular culture the Y will probably always be identified as the only place that has its own song and dance.
In recent years many of the Y's have added art studios, so now we have a place to work our brains as well as our bodies. The East Area Family YMCA offers classes for budding artists of all ages which creates an interesting blend in the studio.
On a typical day we see little children covered in paint and glitter being led to the sink to clean up, as the adult clay classes wait anxiously outside the studio craning their necks to see if the kiln has been unloaded and whether or not their piece survived. There is a music lesson going on in Music Studio 2, providing a soundtrack to the setting. Outside the studio, in the bustling hallway people glance through the windows on their way to or from their workout.
Monday and Tuesday evenings are always busy, and those are the nights I teach painting. There seems to be a non-stop procession of people on their way to the gym; always in a hurry. But on the way out, they are moving much more slowly and often stop outside the studio to watch the painters' progress. If we are working from a still life, our audience spends a bit more time checking the paintings, making comparisons and often giving a thumbs up to the artist. My adult students don't seem to mind the audience and in fact will often turn their painting toward the windows to give a better view of their work.
But I really enjoy watching the students who are so involved in their painting that they have no idea that anyone is watching them. Working intently on mixing the right colors or capturing the curve of a line, they suddenly look up to see group of teens holding basketballs and gym clothes, grinning at them, nodding enthusiastically. Painting in the Arts Studio is somewhat like painting in a fishbowl. You are always on display. Often art is a solitary pursuit, where the artist has absolutely no contact or feedback from anyone until they have finished their painting. In some ways that is good, but we also need community. We need to share ideas and provide positive commentary. Little missteps we make in the course of creating our art are never quite as upsetting when we are surrounded by a supportive group of fellow artists to get us back on track.
And when you get back on track...you can usually count on a thumbs up from someone in the hallway!