“You’ll all be seeing each other in your swimsuits. You just have to get used to it.”
I heard this a few months ago from a lead instructor in the physical therapy assistant program I’m trying to get into. And, I’ll be honest, it was slightly jarring. I mean, there’s this constant clash in my mind of “it’s just a body – who cares? You’re a free spirit! We’re all going to die soon anyway!” and – then – sudden blindsiding bouts of inhibition and shyness.
While I know the former to be true, what drives many of us would-be exhibitionists back in sheathing our flesh is… “Is everyone else inwardly snickering like a teenage boy about it? Are they judging the bits of my butt that still jiggle?” Whether it’s for science or art alike, the body is an amazing tool for telegraphing emotions, teaching us about the vessel we inhabit, and helping us connect overall. And we spend our lives covering it up. Disconnecting from all our circuitry. So, when I read a Vice piece on this university art teacher, Ricardo Dominguez, whose final class project is for everyone to get naked and sit in a candlelit circle, I felt another split again – a couple times over. Firstly, because (as one parent put it), my cynical non-artisty side wanted to side with the anonymous mom of one student who called him a perv. On the other, though, it’s not mandatory. You can do the alternative option – displaying the equivalent of stripping down, but in some unique performance level that parallels it via emotional vulnerability.
Does that seem like a fair set of choices?
True. I mean, the problem is that no one in the history of Dominguez’s class has ever opted for that other assignment. So, I’m torn. Because on the one hand, in the world of art – where everyone’s trying to be more edgy than the guy next to them – taking off your clothes is one of the edgiest things you can do, right? So while the rest of the class is doing that, you’d feel like a pariah what with being the only one to take the “emotional nakedness” alternative. No one chooses that because no one else in this instructional exploratory elective tribe who they’ve been with all year is doing it. But on the other hand – the only “blending in” an artist should ever do is with their media. Not their identity. Why not break from the tribe like you’re meant to do? The upside is that that gives you wings to be better than everyone else. There are so many routes you could go with it. For instance here are just four I’ve come up with:
1.) If I wanted to be a smart ass, I think I’d grab a stool, sit in front of the class – staring into dead space for a minute, then slowly rise, head to the chalkboard, and scrawl across it: “Being the pioneer for this alternative assignment makes me feel… emotionally vulnerable.” And then go back to my seat.
2.) Or you could go for a literal interpretache. Zero effort. Just put on this emotion-display sweater and sit there:
3.) But if I really wanted to delve into the display of emotional vulnerability – I’d commit to doing something I do in private in front of the class – maybe a private practice (like that time when Marina ‘bated over a P.A. beneath the floor of the art gallery so everyone could hear her). Or bad habit (I think a girl binging on Ben ‘n Jerry’s with a serving spoon and then puking it into a bowl in front of everyone while quietly crying would be a good start.)
4.) Or, if I was feeling particularly Abromavic-y, I’d do some Rhythm 0 equivalent of being unwrapped by the class like a giant present – make them do the undressing. And they have to wear sunglasses as they do it. Why? ‘cause while, obviously, my main egoic takeaway would be that I’m better than them (because I’m doing it in broad daylight while everyone else needed the comfort crutch of darkness and candles), the artsy symbolism for me would go back to that whole judgment thing. A shared experience for humanity. Because someone’s always undressing your character in the privacy of their mind without you knowing. Since you dunno when that’s happening, you can’t judge for a micro-expression reaction the moment it happens. So, for full emotional unsheathing, I’d be surrendering to being stripped sans reaction detection.
Hence, the peeper draping shades.
IKR? In a way, though, it’s not terribly different from the health-field learning institution I’m applying to next year. ’cause every piece of meat I meet (including me) will be judged in our near-nudity, as well. It’s just that there everyone’ll be less fixated on the aesthetic stuff (’cause everyone’s too worried about failing to be distracted by turning it into the stripper equiv of a beauty pageant). Instead, the X-factor panel level feedback will be based on our swaybacks, valgus, uneven hips, and overall shitty posture.
And, TBH, I’m not sure which is worse.
Hey, maybe I can ask about an alternative assignment…