Those of you who follow my blogging in other places (el tercer ojo and my new calligraphy blog) will know that I’m presently taking a calligraphy class studying the Gothic hand. The mixed ability (some students have been studying calligraphy for years — others like me are taking their first class) class meets once a week for three hours.
Like most art classes, the teaching style is very structured. Anyone who imagines that most art courses are about creative free expression hasn’t taken many. This is even more true of calligraphy, and within calligraphy, with learning a historical hand. While there is a vague sense other ways might exist, my instructor only wants to see one way — the way she’s teaching us. As we’re learning a medieval hand, the teacher also tends to mention life of early scribes and student scribes and their floggings. This, of course, prompted me to do a little burst of research to discover what a “palmer” might look like (see links for the images I found).
At the second class meeting I was delighted to discover that our homework was being collected. When I got home, Paul was pleased for me too, especially when I told him it would be turned back marked. The following week my homework was returned, with red inked corrections, at class a week ago Monday. Not all the comments were positive, as you can see in the included images. In fact, except for a closing “Good Work,” every red mark was negative (or constructive criticism as I believe they say in the biz). While I blushed to see my mistakes circled, it was great they weren’t being glossed over with a banal “Good Effort” or the like.
Last week I was actually called out a bit in class for not having practiced more during the previous week (it was not a lack of desire, but sadly other unavoidable demands on my time). Nonetheless I felt totally abashed at her slight disappointment, but again also thrilled because she’d noticed and thought it worthy of remark. I made no excuses for my lack of practice but simply promised to do better during the two weeks we have between classes due to various holidays.
The degree to which I’ve taken the criticism on board and am pleased and excited by it surprises me. This is not the way I generally react to correction (especially in relation to my academic work). My usual reaction is either defensiveness and / or anxiety, with both being most common. The hardest thing anyone can do is try and help me by critiquing my academic writing as I will defend my text to the death as though each word was somehow a child. Even being aware of this reaction only helps a bit. With my advisor I feel utterly chastened when she points out the holes in my arguments and I have to struggle to hide the hurt. With Paul, who is brave enough to do it, I feel misunderstood, angry and defensive. This is why writing workshops, with their group criticism sessions, have always been a special sort of agony.
Lettering is different though and not just because this is a hobby rather than an avocation. While sometimes I like what I’m producing, I’m aware that what I’m doing isn’t right and, however good anyone’s work is, there are still always mistakes (indeed, that’s one way to tell hand lettering from that generated by a computer). It’s why when I’ve imagined doing school scenes, lettering and handwriting have often figured into the fantasies.
Since this is the first lettering course I’ve had as an adult, I’m glad to find this acceptance, even embracing of criticism is my reaction. Although taking calligraphy courses has long been part of a long serial fantasy (one I may get around to writing some day), I’ve avoided actually doing it by making excuses about time and the like. But I think part of me was afraid I wouldn’t be able to accept the correction, would feel like my little hobby was being taken away. Instead, odd though it may sound, the corrections make me feel uplifted in a way that nothing except some heavy “discipline” play with Paul has done before.
That’s why, weird though this likely seems, I’m writing about my red marks, and showing them here. I feel the same way about them as I do about perfect tram lines.