November 4, 2010

Things I Found Not To Be True

This article was originally posted online, April 2005.


Way back, decades ago ... how can that be? I was facing a panel of "Real Life Working Artists" also known as my professors, waiting for their verdict on my Senior Project. The project consisted of a one-person art show in the university. Unfortunately, I'd failed my first one. The renderings were accurate enough, but they were too illustrative for my avant garde, non-representational loving mentors who, I realize now, did me a favor. They thought so at the time, because when I returned months later with my second show, I passed hands down, grabbed my BFA and, having honed that starving artists, dark-eyed appearance down pat, promptly started . . . planning a wedding.

"We know you are getting married," they'd said. "Don't you get busy and forget about your art. Don't you forget to paint, or you'll lose your talent," they warned.
I nodded, "Of course, I won't stop painting."

But I did.

I fell into someone else's life, and before I knew it all I wanted to be able to do was keep the house clean enough and raise children unscathed by a difficult marriage.

Slowly though, like tiny plants under the snow in winter, ideas, images, colors, sounds, rumbled around quietly in the depths of my personality. A book idea here . . . a sculptured figure there . . . a life drawing class . . . a painting trip to North Carolina . . . a box of pastels . . . a watercolor of nothing but water. I started to keep notebooks: "Drawings," "Dolls," "Writings." I registered copyrights and started to learn piano.

Weaving in and out of the day-to-day life of a mother, I pulled along a ribbon of creativity and it lightly swished past my face and through the memories of my children. I held onto it after my divorce, and wiped my tears with it more than once.

I didn't forget and I didn't lose my talent. They were wrong. Everything I experienced as a young wife and mother fell into the pockets of my invisible painting smock and waited there, patiently, for me to gain the wisdom to view them anew. When I did, creation turned out to be so much easier than it had been in my twenties. I only had to please myself, and I became free to try anything. I also was free to fail. Free not to be "the best." Free to enjoy the process. Free of the fear that I would never be an Artist.

Today, I was in the grocery store. "Put that down, now!" exclaimed the young mother behind me in line, in that tired mother voice that is so often heard in grocery stores. My first impulse was to be critical. Does she know how angry she sounds? I thought. Then I turned around. She had a baby in the front of the cart and a young boy of about three was trying his best not to touch the brightly colored impulse items hanging at his eye level. My heart softened.

"They are the same age difference as my boys are," I said, smiling. She replied in a much kinder voice as well, and stated her son was usually well behaved.

"It's hard not to touch these things, they are irresistable." I told her that my children were now in their twenties, and how fast it went. I also said I remembered what it was like to be so tired and have so many demands as a mother of young kids.

I paid for my groceries, wished her a good day and moved along. Home. Home to my business where I draw, paint, design, write, edit and make a living doing what I love. And, being a mother. How great is that?

The professors were wrong. The talent doesn't leave. The creativity doesn't leave. There is time in life for each phase of life and there are ways to keep creativity alive during the fallow years. I wish they had told me that instead. I would have had more hope in the future.


Jessica Bell said...

What an inspirational post. My gosh, a book about fearing the loss of one's talent and how to overcome it would go down quite well, I think! ;o)

florence said...

"There is time in life for each phase of life..."
This is something I wish someone had told me..I think I have always felt that if you missed your chance to learn something or do was lost to you forever! In the last couple of years I have found that not only do I have TIME for developing talents undiscovered before, but that I also have TALENTS that I was totally unaware of in the earlier stages of my life ..or lives.
I have come to think that the stages of our lives are like different lives..each requiring different skills and time committments. Now that I am a "senior citizen"??? I have time for indulging my interest in art..especially painting..and I am learning at a furious pace, as much as I can from every source possible. I always thought that there was an "artist" inside of me just waiting to burst forth and lo and behold in this stage of my life "she" has been given permission to come out into the light! And another thing I believe is that when the student is ready, the teacher(s) will appear. I am so grateful to all of the teachers who have appeared to help me learn the skills that are now as necessary to me as the air I breathe..and as God is good, I have been given the time to learn them and the leisure to express myself in this way. I am so very grateful...God IS good!!

Janice Phelps Williams said...

Flo, what a wonderful follow-up. What I felt was missing in my life as a young woman was older women who would tell me these things. I was not surrounded by artistic people (though, thankfully, my parents were very supportive of my creativity).

I think it may be difficult for today's 20 and 30-year-olds to imagine the isolation and narrow-mindedness we felt back in the '60s, '70s, and '80s -- living in small towns with folks who were all pretty much just like us. Without access to the wider world. But our opportunities were so much more than my own mother, now entering her ninth decade, faced. Her father saw no need for a woman to go to college, but her grandmother supported her and my mother, having only two dresses to her name, walked each day quite a long while to business college to learn what she needed to obtain a job she would work at productively her entire life. I didn't appreciate that when I was a child as I do now. She wasn't in the arts, but she was used her creativity to create the life she wanted to have with what she was given. Our life is our greatest creative work, right?

I am so glad I am alive right now with all the connections it is so easy to make, all the information (visual and textual) that I can find, all the world that is there at my fingertips.

Our U.S. culture is so youth-centered, celebrity-centered, as far as the media is concerned. But I think there is this undercurrent of women-to-women encouragement and empowerment, and support, particularly in creative endeavors (see the book "Handmade Nation"). Or maybe I see that because it is where I am at. In any case, I feel hopeful that we can all access our preferred medium to express the talent within us.

Younger women, are you finding the encouragement and support you need to express yourself creatively?

Melissa Kline said...

Janice, I can completely relate to your experiences. I am a mother of two small children and have had to learn how to find myself and creativity again. I've had to evolve, but for me creativity has its own ebb and flow. There are times in life when it will be very strong and times when I don't feel it at all. I'm learning that it's most important for me to listen to my mind, body and spirit and honor wherever I am. I've also found that my children ground me and keep me present. They help me through my process. When I am off creating worlds in a creative cocoon for hours I need to be reminded to come back to earth. My boys are wonderful for that. I love the balance between creation and reality in my life.

As a woman in my twenties, I find most of my support through that wonderful women-to-women empowerment. I have had to break free from family ideals and stereotypes to become a strong, independent creative woman. I think it is so important for all of us to speak our truths, honor who we truly are and believe in each other.

Thanks for this beautiful post. It is something that I am truly passionate about!

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