They called me “artist in the making”. I was a child who loved to draw and, literally, the world was my canvas ― everything from drawing books to the walls were game. Thus, my parents put me in art class. And Saturday mornings got a little better. From age six to 14, that’s how I spent Saturday mornings.
Learning to draw fruits and flower shapes and then colouring with oil pastels was the start. The subsequent move to watercolours was like entering high school. Colours have always fascinated me. While doodling on school books and newspapers, I imagined becoming a professional artist.
The other step forward in drawing classes was buying an outliner pencil; it was my favourite ways to end a drawing, which made my art look all the more real. Then came glue art, block prints, lino carving and crafts.
Art and craft class was my favourite in school – I bunked other classes just to be in the art room. I felt I was in a place I belonged and could express myself with ease.
I was always uncomfortable with systems and rules. Homework never worked for me. Sitting with the drawing book at the last hour of Friday nights to complete the work for the next day sometimes turned the passion into a duty.
Why did everything need to be like school?
I have struggled as a kid to do something when forced to do it. But that’s how institutions work. You make something ― you are judged and corrected for better results.
I could have completed the drawing throughout the week but there was this particular pleasure in procrastination.
I was probably being (or trying to be) a rebel at some level.
The classes were not so bad, I learnt so much. But it took me years to gather the courage to show people my skill.
I won’t say I am talented, but I worked for it and learnt something. I started participating in competitions and exhibitions in school. My teachers and parents thought that I had the potential to take it further.
That’s where the trouble began.
I sat for an admission test for a famous art academy in Kolkata and became a part of it for the next four years. An age-old institution with primitive teaching methods, it marked a huge shift from being taught as a student to being treated like an artist. There was no place for making mistakes or expressing myself. I started to take it as a step forward to adulting and tried to adjust with this new ambiance. But it got more uncomfortable with time – establishing strict rules in art cancels the whole point of it.
There used to be specific colour rules and instead of individually teaching a student, the teacher gave some instructions and disappeared. I spent afternoons in that larger-than-life room with a canvas in front of me but nothing on my mind. It was the first time I struggled to think what to draw and stopped liking anything I drew thereafter. There used to be exams by the end of the year and almost everyone got extremely poor marks, which was another age-old tradition used to ensure artists didn’t turn too confident but which in reality snatched even the last few shreds of confidence left in us.
I learnt to draw human anatomy here and I cannot deny that I fell in love with it. That was one class I loved to attend. But that too ended on a very bitter note. A guy in class drew a portrait of me and uploaded it on social media without my consent. I found out about that and reported it, and the post was subsequently taken down, but the 16-year-old me was terrified to even show up in class. The humiliation and breach of privacy shook me to the core. In history or literature, we have always learnt that being a muse to an artist is the highest form of flattery. Here I realised that punishment for breach of trust was meted out quietly, with discretion, more a matter of formality than a result of genuine outrage.
Art and its innocence were completely destroyed for me after this incident. I stayed in that institution for another two years, and each day got more and more sick of my passion.
As soon as it ended, I moved all of my art supplies as far as I could.
It has been three years now and I still haven’t gathered the courage to take of taking up drawing again. During the COVID-19-induced lockdown, looking at others on social media, I got a little inspiration and did brush my first stroke, but it was not the same.
Someday, I hope to get out of my block and give my art it the attention it deserves – but there is a long way to go.
Trisha Majumder is from Kolkata and a student journalist at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai with a keen love of storytelling.