I was in art class the other day and the instructor, Mrs. Reginald, kept talking about the "vanishing point." This was at the Goodman Community Center, right across the street from the Badwoman Community Center. They are rival Community Centers, one might say. They adopt different approaches. Opposite approaches, occasionally. One day ten years ago, for shits and giggles, they agreed to alter their respective marquees for 24 hours. Hence, the place where I'm taking my painting class became the Badboy Community Center and the one across the street became the Goodgirl Community Center. People in the community seemed to like it- well, at least they liked it on Facebook. I know, I know, I know- Facebook data isn't necessarily gospel truth, but still- I'm just sayin'.
In any case, I'm there in class, and Mrs. R keeps going on and on about the "vanishing point." I start to get the impression that it's a pretty spectacular and maybe even critical point in the creative process. During break, I sidled over to the cabinet/bookshelf combination where all the supplies and other stuff are heaped up, and had a quick peek at the dictionary- there were two definitions, and I'm going to share them now with the sort of readers who are interested in this sort of thing: (for the ones who aren't, kindly skip over the next couple of sentences and continue making your merry way thru this narrative.)
1. A point in a drawing or painting at which parallel lines seem to meet as represented in perspective.
2. A point at which something disappears or ceases being.
For instance, I was sketching Lake Michigan. I don't think there's anything so bizarre about that! But then again, I'm "living" in Madison now, and probably should be spending my hard earned free time sketching either Lake Monona or Mendota- these are the major bodies of water around here that most community members "like" and appreciate. (yes, both lakes have their own Facebook page, I'm afraid.)
In any case, there I was, merrily sketching out the preliminary outline and grid, listening to Mrs. R drone on and on at great length about the vanishing point. It's a good point, I get it- a fantastic and most likely unavoidable point! But she kept insisting, more or less, that we take it down into the very heart of our painting. "That's what Van Gogh always did" or "That's what keeps Gerhard Richter going after all of these years" or "Bob Rauschenberg certainly didn't mess around when it came to the vanishing point in his combines."
But combines and aren't the same thing as paintings, Mrs. R, I piped up.
No they are aren't, young man- no indeed. They are not.
(I should mention perhaps that Mrs R is about 80 years old)
So the vanishing point is probably on a different plane, also.
Yes it is, punk ass- yes in every sense of the term.
So then I need to go all the way back to the beginning?
I'm afraid so, simple fellow. All the way back to basic drawing and coloring. It meets on Sunday afternoons at 4 o'clock. At least 75 percent of the students are under 10 years of age.
But Mrs R! Mrs R! I'm a middle aged man! Indeed, some people might even put me in the next bracket up!
You mean old age, wise ass?
That's one way of putting it, yes.
Well, don't worry about it! Those kids will teach you way more than I ever could!
Ya think, Mrs. R?
I know, sir- now get back to work! (leaning over my work in progress) It appears as though you have entirely disregarded the vanishing point!
I'm sorry, Mrs. R- where should I insert it?
(continuing to study the drawing in silence for a couple of minutes)
(points to a place near the lower left hand corner) Right here, would be my first guess.
That's the best you can do, Mrs. R?
Hey, I'm still figuring out this perspective business as I go, just like you.
Still not entirely satisfied, I grunted some form of assent, and huddled over my sketchpad, wondering if I could absorb the costs of a second art class on Sunday. Mrs. R made some good points- there's no or at least very little question of that- the vanishing point is probably a critical part of any well made composition. I'd been drawing and sketching on my own for several decades with very little success. It was only in the last couple years I'd made the leap into actual painting. It was a reckless move, probably. I still hadn't mastered the basics. I guess I was just tired of the pencil smudges all over my hands, face, and clothing. True, now there were paint smudges, but those are at least a little more interesting. I know, I know, I know, interesting is a terrible word to use in a situation like this- I'm just trying to get thru this art anecdote with as little fuss as humanly possible- that's a strange thing to admit, especially when you already know that I've based my entire life's purpose on the goofy Goodman Community Center. Wait. That's unfair. It's not goofy. Scratch that. It's entirely serious. It's a serious Center that likes to change its name on occasion to provide the outlying community with unrestrained shitting and giggling. That's perhaps a crass way to put it, but look- you already know I'm back to the basics. That includes my creative writing endeavors as well. I was in advanced poetry, but guess what? I'm back in basic storytelling for children! Mrs R. convinced me that I was already way too far out on the limb. I needed to come back to the trunk, to the core, so to speak. She advised me to start this goofy blog and volunteer at the central library branch when it reopens this autumn. I walk past it every now and then, gazing up at the cranes, the equipment, the concrete, the glass, the pipes, the small army of workers. It's no minor job, as anyone who has also seen it underway will attest to.