Back to the Drawing Board: Or Why Art is Good For You (or at least, me) and a Great Art School is a Kind of Sanctuary

First thing to know: I have an amazing sister. She knows me from way back—all her life, actually—and she is a kind and loyal friend. So, when she started to suggest that I get back to making art, I had to at least listen. She had been taking drawing classes and feeling really good about flexing new neurons and skills. And she knew that in my deep dark past, I had loved to draw and that I always loved to look at art.

But truly, I was terrified. Making art—strike that—trying to make art is really personal. It can be astonishingly liberating. But it can also be painful. I remembered that feeling of trying to do something and the utter frustration of just totally failing. I knew art could make me cry with helpless rage at myself, the drawing, everything. And my everyday adult existence allowed me to go day to day without that kind of angst. Did I need to invite it back into my life?

Maybe. I did feel an emptiness following the death of my father and the subsequent Sisyphean job of settling his estate, selling his apartment, finding homes and buyers and galleries for the art, books, rugs... I was worn out just remembering it all. And with our only kid in high school, I could foresee an empty nest in my future. And it sounded like fun—scary fun, but still.

Luckily for me, I actually did know where to start to look for a class. When he was younger, our almost-grown son loved to take art classes at a school in a neighboring town. So I knew that The Art School at Old Church was a welcoming place that treated art and would-be artists with love and respect. Even better, I knew and liked the director, Maria Danziger, who had become a friend when Dennis and I ran a film series at the school years before.

So I gathered my courage (really) and called Maria and asked her advice. I wanted a class where I wouldn't freak out--where I would be helped to get over my fear. She suggested I try Polly King's painting class.

I've now been painting in Polly's class for a couple of years and I have shed a few tears—although not many recently. I have made drawings and paintings I actually like and many others I plan to paint over. A couple of my paintings have been displayed in student shows at the school’s gallery and they didn't look too bad... I have made friends with some of my fellow students and occasionally been annoyed with others. This year one of our fellow painting students died unexpectedly, and while she sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, I was sad to hear the news and I remembered her best qualities—her humor, her bold painting style, her love for her family. I guess we have created a kind of community.

In class last week one of my fellow painters remarked on how inspirational the space we work in is. Of course the school itself was once a small church and our studio boasts soaring ceilings and wonderful light. And that reminded me that the school is a place we gather together to share something joyful and communal.  I am not a religious person, so I don't use the “sacred,” but perhaps it applies.

Last fall our school, our community lost a very great friend, leader, artist and teacher. Mikhail Zakin founded the school, inspired generations of potters, stood up for underdogs, hosted visiting artists and led by example and with courage. I knew her a little—and had the privilege of serving on the board for the school alongside her—but I think I really see her scope when I see how much she created and how much she is and will be missed. You can read about her at:

She lived quite a wonderful life—full of love and creativity and courage. Her legacy is in her pots, her friends and in that little building that looks like a church but is consecrated to art and community.

You should really come check it out!

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