I’m in North America right now and, according to the shopping malls, the Christmas season is upon us. You know what that means: hideous crafts.
I’ve been writing this art-related blog for a while now, and I fear I’ve kept a secret from you all.
Straight-up: I loathe tole painting. I loathe it with the fire of a thousand suns. It drives me banankers. It drives me so banankers that I have to make up words to describe my distaste.
Tole painting is the “folky” painting of whittled ducks and other carvings, old boots, tin cans, driftwood, curio cabinets, rocks, and whatever else you can find that is moulding in your attic or has washed up, rusty, from your pond.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for upcycling, but if it involves painting flowers à la Bob Ross, get me right out of there.
Again, don’t get me wrong; Bob Ross is awesome—but awesome in a be-him-for-Halloween-when-you’re-20-something-and-feeling-ironic kind of way, not in an actually-put-his-art-on-your-wall kind of way.
The reason I brought up tole painting is because of rocks. Let’s talk about rocks.
No, let’s talk about painted rocks.
No, let’s talk about painted rocks in reductionist, black-and-white terms.
Here’s the thing: they’re ugly.
DISCLAIMER: Listen, tole painters, don’t take offense; I’m happy you love what you’re doing, and I agree that everyone should have an artistic outlet. I just never want this stuff in my house; it is so far—indescribably far—outside of the realm of my personal taste, and there have been very few exceptions (though my mind is yours to expand).
The Medicine Wheel: A Super-Fun Toy?
Here’s a story about rocks that might begin to explain why they drive me so banankers: My mother built a medicine wheel in the backyard of the house I grew up in. A medicine wheel, to a child, is just a big circle of rocks that you trip on whenever you try to run around (“Seriously, right in the middle? That’s where we play baseball.”). It was probably good for my soul in ways I just can’t see, because I trust my mom, and I guess I’m starting to get it; the project certainly learned us some things about aboriginal history and interacting with nature in a reverent manner.
But the medicine wheel encroached on our backyard and our everyday lives: I remember multiple instances, on the way to or from somewhere, of stopping the car because my mom had spotted a rock that she wanted. Serves me right for growing up in the Canadian Shield, I guess. And having artists for parents.
Sometimes my mom used the found rocks for her medicine wheel, but sometimes she painted on them. Yes, I’m sorry to say it, but my very own mother was guilty of tole painting. No one is safe! Luckily, she mostly went for slate, which is a flat, edgier rock than the typically round, “cute” ones most people paint on. She wanted a canvas, I think, and not a paperweight. Fortunately, she seems to have recovered from the rock-painting phase, and her artistic repertoire is way, way bigger than folk art, which redeems her in my eyes (also, she’s my mother, so I love everything she does).
I can’t get away from rocks; I’m marrying into a rock-loving family. My almost-mother-in-law is a cellist and music teacher who, in her spare time, takes geology and paleontology courses, and her vacations are planned around fossil sites. Her house is like a museum of natural history, but with dishes. And even dishes are basically rocks.
I joke, but it’s admirable; my almost-mother-in-law is passionate about learning, and she knows what she likes. What she likes is really really old things, like elephant-bird eggs and trilobites. And music. What I’m saying, essentially, is that she rocks. In every sense of the word. (“Aww…“)
Here are some fossilized tetrapod footprints—the earliest thing that walked out of the sea and onto the land (what?!)—that were found in Nova Scotia, Canada (where I live these days). They’re a bazillion years old, by which I mean 350 million years old. That’s old, man. That’s older than Creationism itself.
My rhymes-with-Beyoncé likes fossils too, because he is an oceanographer and a sweet mama’s boy. I have fossils in my apartment now, fossils of the ancient ocean floor. Apparently rocks count as presents.
It’s all very cool and everything, but am I going to have to cart these heavy things across the country in boxes the next time I move? I mean, seriously, folks. My rock-free years, golden and carefree, will soon be a thing of the past. Alas!
Speaking of natural history, here are some amazing butterflies, painted onto rocks:
I’m not big on butterflies (or ponies or frilly pink things—though I do like sparkles). In fact, I only like butterflies because Victorian naturalists did (à la A. S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects), and I like Victorians. I also like butterflies as a symbol (as in the “Patch Adams” movie). Now symbols I can get behind.
Speaking of symbols, here’s one thing I like about rocks: monuments. Inukshuks, headstones, statues of people who have had a positive influence on the world, memorials. Use rocks for those things, absolutely.
On that note, check this out:
I still don’t want these things in my house.
But I guess my ancestors did. Caves, after all, are just giant rocks:
Real Art Rocks
Well, I can’t win against anthropology, so it looks like I’ve written myself into a corner. A corner in which I loathe tole painting slightly less than I did a few minutes ago.
In fact, when you remember that tole painting is a subset of folk art, which has been an important aspect of human life for millennia, it’s difficult to loathe it at all. Crikey.
Curse you, tole painting, you sly dog (painted on a rock)!