Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Rules

I got to spend some time today leading a drawing class at the Warrior's Canvas and Veterans Art Center in Johnson City, TN.  This was my second time leading the class and, like the first time, it was a lot of fun.  The students, all vets from all services, were enthusiastic, game for whatever I threw at them, and highly irreverent.  Everybody in the room was fair game for pointed but good-natured abuse, including me.  I'm looking forward to the next class already.

The Warrior's Canvas is not your typical gallery and art center.  Most art centers seem to cater to hobbyists and are about as edgy as a beach ball.  The kind of place that your Aunt Zelma would think was "nice".  The Canvas, though, was created by and for veterans and their families - people who have been through quite a few wringers in life, have heard every kind of BS you can think of and many more you can't, and who developed appropriate coping skills.  Like the irreverence that I mentioned earlier.

I noticed the Center's rules today, posted on a chalkboard.  A normal art center might have rules that say something like "Please be considerate.  Please remove your trash.  Please do not bring animals into the studio."  Rules that Aunt Zelma would understand.  They don't apply at the Canvas.  Not only were there two dogs present and occasionally participating in the class, the rules were geared toward a very different audience.  Here, then, are the
Rules of the Canvas:
- Keep it positive.  If you are negative, you will be removed forcibly to the curb.
- Clean up after yourself.  I am not your mother.
- You have trust and respect until you Bravo Foxtrot us, then you will see my war face!  (Editor's note: don't ask what "Bravo Foxtrot" means.)

Aunt Zelma would not approve of the tone, she'd be horrified at the idea of actually shooting arrows inside, and she'd faint if she knew what Bravo Foxtrot meant.  But veterans?  Vets would read the Rules, nod, say something like "Fuckin' A", and get to work.  And probably go outside to shoot the arrows.  But not always.

There's an understanding that vets have with each other that comes from shared and similar experiences.  We rib each other unmercifully, cut each other a good bit of slack, and jump to each other's aid when needed.  David Shields and Jason Sabbides, the two vets who created the Warrior's Canvas, have built a remarkable veterans' center in Johnson City.  I'm very proud and humbled to be able to participate in this project.

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