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  • Writer's pictureAmy Bass

Art for Art's Sake

As I started my adventure writing ONE GOAL, I did what might be considered a rather unorthodox thing. In the midst of researching and interviewing and compiling data and creating connections, I took a landscape art class at the local community center. For three hours each Thursday, I headed into the basement of a nearby temple and sat with a group of mostly retirees (okay, all retirees) and painted and drew and sketched. I learned that you never ever use the black paint (then why is it there?) and that one should decorate one's sketchbook to reflect favorite things and inspirations.

I cannot measure how much impact the class had on my observation skills, but it did influence what I took away from any one scene I was writing about -- perspective, sounds, colors, tones. Writing, reporting, with great description had never been part of my oeuvre but with ONE GOAL, that changed. My camera became a constant companion, storyboarding chapters visually before finding the words I needed.

It cannot be an accident that many of those photographs landed in the book.

Now, years later, in the midst of a global pandemic, my writing, I felt, was in a rut. So I returned to sketchbook and signed up for a two week winter session intensive -- four hours a day for two straight weeks -- with a colleague. The class, simply titled "Watercolor", met online, meaning my kitchen turned into an art studio for the better part of fourteen days. Everything became a subject, from the goldfish who lives in a bowl on the counter near the toaster to the birds who devour seeds in my backyard each morning. I added "fresh flowers" to the grocery list, needing new subject matter, and went for long walks on Tod's Point to find inspiration near Long Island Sound.

It was a revelation. My colleague, Alka Mukerji, a stunning painter, gently guided us through the fundamentals: light to dark, top to bottom, layers and washes. She added more sophisticated touches as we went along -- how to use salt to create texture; how to add pastels; and -- my favorite -- accenting with Sumi Ink. I remembered, for the first time in decades, an exhibit my parents took me to in Boston that featured Chinese ink artists, thrilled that I was now gripping a bamboo pencil, dipping it into ink, and learning how to create lines fine and thick.

It. Was. Hard.

I painted far into the night, going through reams of paper, and woke up eager to see what my young classmates had created each morning. I kept one phrase of Alka's front and center in my brain: "Remind yourselves that you are using the subject to create the watercolor," she told us. "not the watercolor to recreate the subject."

As a professor, I learned what it was like to be on the other side of an online class, appreciating the engagement that Alka created, and the respect that each student showed her. Each day, Alka connected some of my favorite artists -- Cezanne and Wyeth -- to the techniques she taught us.

When it was over, I found myself both relieved and disappointed. I could not continue the rigor and also stay employed -- this I knew. But the outlet it created, the part of my brain that it stirred...I did not want that to go away.

I don't know how long it will be before I can do something like this again, but taking a leap into the unfamiliar yet again proved to be worthwhile. I need to remember that, the feeling of genuine fear that accompanied sharing my first piece with the rest of the class...the feeling of joy when someone muttered "I love the soft lines."

And now back to the words I go.

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