“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
~ Carrie Fisher
I've been doing a lot of art these days and I've been forcing myself to post it on social media outlets. While I grew up doing art, I've did it privately, was highly self-critical and only showed pieces that I deemed "good enough" to be subjected to the (imaginarily) critical public. My self-criticism somehow grew to the point that instead of pushing past it and taking classes, I pushed away from art, eventually throwing away every single piece of art I did throughout high-school and college. Eventually, I stopped producing art entirely. By making myself publicize the process of my resuming relationship with art, I'm also making myself embrace the learning process and accept (and even relish!) in the fact that I don't have to be perfect. I can allow myself to just make things and tack them up on the wall and not worry about it, thereby actually enjoying the act of making for the first time in my life.
My childhood was well-spent doing copious amounts of art. From finger-painting, to a brush and easel to making and glazing clay figures and houses that my dad would fire in our kiln at home. Having an artist for a father meant many different things. It meant that he would cut out little wooden fish for us to paint, and stick them on stands so we had waterless aquariums. We used hot-wires to cut 3D foam shapes for school dioramas. We made jewelry, candles, woven bookmarks on little wood & nail looms he'd make for us, we rode on hand-carved rocking horses and it was second nature to be always holding a pen and a pad of paper, doodling away while doing a secondary task. It also meant other things, like he was more of a play-mate than a parent, and that he struggled like many artists do to turn his art into an income stream to support a family. My aunts on that side are artists too, and despite my Grandfather on his side being a colonel in the Air Force, he too was an artist. My mom, spent much of her youth engaged in musical theater and singing and was drawn to all things artistic (including my dad) while also being a linear-thinking engineer. She is an interesting juxtaposition of hard logical, left-side of the brain thinking, over-analytical and free-spirited, rose-colored-glasses-wearing-Janice-Joplin-loving-hippie. Creativity and imagination were two of the guiding tenets that we were raised with. My sister and I inherited a special mish-mash of their intense personalities and gifts in our veins. From the minute we could grasp a pen in our pudgy little hands, art has been a constant in our lives.
In sixth grade my teacher scolded me repeatedly for my messy handwriting and my inclination to draw on any and everything I was doing - from class notes to final drafts of essays, the pages were surrounded by doodles and drawings. Drawing made it easier for me to sit in one place and listen, something I'm still not good at today. She attempted to embarrass me in front of the class and told me that all I would ever be is a tattoo artist, but I didn't take it as an insult. I recall thinking that it was a pretty good idea and that I'd probably make more money than she ever would. In seventh grade, my homeroom teacher encouraged that creativity and in ceramics class I flourished. In high school I took a basic art class that I hardly recall, partly due to smoking a lot of weed that year and partly due to the basic nature of the class. The color wheel, making rudimentary marks with different tools, I spent most of the time working on whatever I wanted instead of the task at hand. I continued through high school, and while I got good grades and excelled in AP classes, I loved most the days that we had to incorporate something creative into the lesson - draw a timeline of history, depict a character from a book, create a magazine - anything that let me use both sides of my brain. Junior year I took Portfolio Art - I skipped all the prerequisites and just brought my work to the teacher and she let me in. We got to sit upstairs away from the rest of the class and work on cooler shit. She taught us how to linocut and it's become a lifelong joy that I only rediscovered a few years ago. She encouraged us to take the restrictions off our minds and just let the art out. Most of my classmates figured I'd pursue art as a career, but that wasn't on the table. I had to get a degree first before my mom would even consider letting me think about anything else.
The last two years in high school through the end of college were a shit show. My family was a mess, my relationships were a mess, I was a mess. My only real outlet for everything was via art. I'd come home from school or work and lock myself in the garage, headphones, my old CD player, a pack of cigarettes and whatever mind-altering substance I had to help process my life and I'd paint. And paint. And paint. And paint. Naturally, I began to associate art with trauma in the same way that an alcoholic associates violent vomiting with drinking. As my life improved, I found myself having something akin to writer's block. I would sit before an empty page or a blank canvas and after a life of images springing forth, barely being held back - there was dead silence. Devoid of intense emotions, I no longer knew how to create anything. I felt like I had traded my sanity for my creativity without knowing what I was trading. From then on, a part of me felt hollow. Years later, my therapist suggested that I silenced that side of myself in an effort to distance myself from that troubled time. Fucked up Rose made art, but boy, was she a train-wreck. But creative Rose, while a bit wild and unstable, also had good things to offer, and is also a vital, vibrant and necessary part of myself. I sat down again in front of art - and nothing.
I'm not sure what changed. I picked back up lino-cutting as it was relatively safe. Draw something, carve it out, roll ink on it and stamp! I was still reluctant about it, and felt uninspired. Last summer we had a strange incident where my neighbor died suddenly, and I wound up inheriting a ton of beautiful jewelry making stuff and some art supplies. We set up my art room in a more usable fashion and I began to think about it more. It seemed a shame to not use her beautiful stuff, and it felt silly to have a room full of art supplies that I didn't use when I damn well knew how to use them. I bought pencils and paper again and realized I'd never actually change my path with art if I didn't get some basic exercises and routine in, so I bought a book that got me to think about drawing differently and started to draw a little bit more. I missed art deeply, but still couldn't really get back there. I randomly asked for some watercolors and pastels and paper and charcoal and stuff I had never really played with for Christmas. I figured it was safe enough to suck at something you'd never done, right? And then I started playing, and it finally the hard, protective shell I'd created to cut myself off from that side cracked right open and let the light back in! After some encouragement, I signed up for a watercolor class that I'm taking once a week.
Since December, I can't stop doing art. I can't stop looking at the way different light casts shadows. At what color the clouds really are. At the soothing feeling of graphite scraping across paper. How delightfully time and anxiety and stress slip away as I chip away at something. And while it feels utterly silly to keep posting pictures of stuff I'm working on, exercises really, it's a triumph. Each and every time I go in my art room and I make something, I feel like I'm celebrating a return to myself and to something completely vital to my well-being.