This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Not to break too huge a story or anything, but artists occasionally do drugs to tap into their creative sides. Whether slamming 100 bags of heroin a day to manifest abstract masterpieces like Jean-Michel Basquiat or simply getting drunk to help yourself shit out an endless stream of soulless kitsch like Thomas Kinkade, artists from across the spectrum have been turning to mind-altering substances to aid in their work since the first cave painter chomped down sun-fermented fruit.
Unfortunately, the time, resources, and encouragement to explore creativity are luxuries far too few of us get to enjoy. With the National Endowment of the Arts fully defunded under Trump's budget proposal and already underfunded school districts dropping arts programs left and right, America's relationship with art is about to be more strained than ever.
One company, Cannabis Tours, is offering a class called Puff, Pass, and Paint that uses the recent legalisation of recreational cannabis in a number of states as a springboard to help average adults in those areas harness their unexplored creative talents. Cannabis Tours also offers similar classes that combine weed with a variety of other relaxing hobbies like cooking, pottery, and knitting. I went to a recent Puff, Pass, and Paint session in Las Vegas to see where the Pollocks and Warhols of tomorrow might first discover their talents.
As state governments are still more persnickety about cannabis than they are with booze, my class was not held in a strip mall retail space like those wine and painting classes PP&P is clearly drawing from. Instead, we puffed, passed, and painted in a house the company had rented in a south Vegas suburb. Ironically enough, the red tape still surrounding cannabis has pushed it into family neighbourhoods, at least for the sake of my class.
Inside, host and PP&P co-founder, Heidi Keyes, sorted me out with some wine and a bowl of Blue Dream, a hybrid strain meant to facilitate "gentle cerebral invigoration." Keyes seated me at my station amid a table of fellow PP&P first timers and a guy who was already back for his fourth class, using his newfound love of painting as a way to stay away from alcohol. I was given a paper plate full of bright acrylic dollops, three brushes varying in size, and a blank canvas on which to paint my masterpiece.
While PP&P had told me beforehand that it couldn't guarantee pot would be available to all attendees and encouraged students to bring their own stuff, I showed up empty handed and was still offered bowls, joints, and blunts from both the hosts and my classmates. Once everyone had settled in and was starting to feel their high, Mike Cassini, our painting instructor, revealed the example we'd be emulating: rolling hills of mushrooms. Cassini gave relatively barebones instructions, mostly keeping people on pace to complete their painting within the two hours allotted for class rather than offering brush stroke pointers.
We dove in on the background sky and, immediately, a variety of styles began to emerge on the class's canvases. Keyes walked around the room offering the ever-positive and nurturing encouragement of a kindergarten teacher to each station she popped by. "Hey, I love those brush strokes! Wow, I really like how you went darker up there! What a great idea to add a sun up there!"
Most of my table didn't feel comfortable being interviewed or photographed for this article due to the stigma still surrounding cannabis, but the couple to my right, Brandon and Ryan, visiting from Detroit and Inglewood respectively, had no qualms about opening up. "Bae came to me talking 'bout, 'We're gonna go smoke and paint,' so here I am smoking and painting," Brandon told me when I asked how he wound up in the class. He later revealed that this was his first time ever putting paint on canvas, and it's not likely something he would have ever tried without enrolling in the class.
As class progressed, the uniqueness of each painting became more and more defined. Inhibition was discouraged by the hosts, and students were told to just go with their guts, resulting in some getting mega abstract and others abandoning the mushroom suggestion entirely in lieu of humans or tigers.
While Brandon and I chatted about the semiotics of our respective pieces of art, chef Kristal Chamblee emerged from the house's kitchen to inform the class that a medley of cookies, brownies, and other baked goods were available in the next room. At the end of our chat, we went to the kitchen only to find the baked goods spread had been picked clean by our classmates. I spun the disappointing news by informing him that since we'd officially starved for the sake of our works, we were truly artists.
The class ended with everyone shuffling around to stonily laud one another's work and clean up. As I cleaned up and hunted down the last remaining cookie, I asked Keyes about how her classes might help in a future where art is under attack. She told me that she finds the proposed NEA defunding "extremely alarming" as she believes in "the calming power of art, both as an activity and in adding to the beauty of our existence."
Beyond their goal of destigmatising cannabis, Keyes hopes that every painter from her classes "walks away feeling relaxed and inspired, having laughed and smoked and made new friends, even if they didn't create a painting they deem a masterpiece." She noted that "Puff, Pass, & Paint isn't about making a perfect piece of art, it's about the experience of being able to legally consume cannabis while tapping into one's creative side."
I had fun getting high and painting, and it seems that the rest of my class did as well. For those who've never taken a stab at art and are maybe too perfectionist to allow themselves the freedom to play around in an unfamiliar medium, a cannabis painting class might be just what the doctor ordered to remove some of those inhibitions. As great as the experience provided by Keyes and Cassini was, I just hope it's not the only training America's future great artists will be afforded. Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.