Friday, April 8, 2016

My Philosophy as an Artist

Dancing with Destiny
I remember sitting in the car next to my sister when I was very young while my mother took us to pick up my father from work. My sister and I were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember thinking I want to be free. I don't know if I said this out loud, I think I did not. I was probably a little short of 10 years old at that time. Freedom was my mantra all through my childhood and adolescence. I grew up in the era where women were just starting to get out into the workforce in great numbers.

Two Worlds
The first memory I have of the arrival of art into my personal life is of a Christmas when I was given by my parents a box full of art supplies. I cried when I opened it, and the feeling in my heart was like coming home. The beautiful pristine white paper, the colors waiting to become magical visions through my heart and my hands.

We'd spent our early childhood exploring museums all over the world with my mother, since we travelled a lot, living in various countries for the first 10 years of my life (Malaysia, Japan, Italy, England). I was awed by the fact that a human being can make something of beauty, tell a visual story that touches others, and this image can last for hundreds of years. 

Seeing the paintings in the museums was like looking at fingerprints of the artists who made them, taking me back in time, taking me to see the world through their eyes, though they were long gone. And the images were beautiful. Beauty made my heart sing.

Birth of Creativity
So, having fallen in love with beauty and the ability to communicate with it, my passion became art. In childhood, I graduated from Barbie dolls to shining white paper and colors, and spent hours and hours drawing little people, each standing on their own planet, the colors of their clothing coordinated with the colors of their home planet. Each person on top of their world. I was about 11 years old at this time.

I decided that I wanted to be able to draw the person with more realism, and I wanted to be able to do this without needing models or pictures so I studied anatomy. I wanted my images to be truly beautiful, depicting magical beings of human and animal form. And I found as I grew older that I loved depicting emotion. A little boy, trapped, his hand pressing against the window, or a setting sun, just a pinpoint of light surrounded by darkness. 

Death of Grandfather
To me, art was life, it was the godforce or creative source channeling through me like an elixer. I forgot the whole world when I was drawing and my soul felt alive when I was imagining an image I could express. I did not hear anything, think anything, forgot all bodily urges, and lost myself in the process of creativity each time I sat in the attic where I chose to live in my adolescence in order to have the quiet and privacy I needed to go to this magical place in my mind and heart.

As I grew older I continued to draw and paint and play with pastels and colored pencils and markers and watercolors and oil paints and ink pens and anything I could make a mark with. But I encountered resistance when I told my parents, who insisted I go to college, that I wanted to attend Pratt or Parsons, in order to learn from the best. 

They didn't tell me they couldn't afford it or that I hadn't enough talent; my father told me art was not a stable career and he would not allow me to go to art school so I had to choose a liberal arts college. Unfortunately, while there, I encountered the nightmare of a serial murderer, so I dropped out and ran off to California with a man I had met a few months after I came home from the year of the killings.

My Twelve-Tailed Dragon
While working, I drew and drew and painted and pored through catalogs of gorgeous art images no bigger than a postage stamp to keep my dreams alive. I worked in a specialized art store as the assistant manager, loving my customers, teaching my staff about tools, and making good use of my discount to buy supplies and how-to art books.

Take a chance.
I tried to keep a foot in both worlds - the world of working and bringing in money, and the very private world of creation that came from my mind and heart and muse. I spent time going to museums as much as possible. I counted the shades on the old masters' paintings - five colors from dark to light. I stored as much as possible in my mind as I grew older and started raising my little family - two children and a husband who continued to live life as a single man. Eventually we divorced and I had to choose out of my talents, which one would be the most supportive with the least amount of overhead, which was writing. 

Are we puppets?
So I worked two jobs for many years while my children were growing, writing for newspapers and doing freelance editing for university departments. I eventually landed a much coveted position with a university back on the East Coast, which included going back to school and earning credentials as a professional editor and subsequently, a distance education specialist. I worked at the university happily for 16 years while I raised my children, and was grateful the work was not repetitive, but dynamic and meaningful. 

Let's get serious.
During those years I found my way to the museums in the tiny town we lived in, and occasionally had a chance to get to the big city museums in New York, Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Still keeping that dream alive.

Towards the end of my career as an instructional designer I went part-time and started working with beads because it was something I could pick up and put down no matter the interruption, and with four teenagers and a second marriage plus career, I had to spread myself pretty thin to cover all the demands on my time.

Beloved Madonna and Child
I was able to dance with my bead-loving muse for several years, and even able to sell my bead creations through an online Etsy shop, as well as to my many colleagues. And fortune smiled upon me when one of my customers recommended me to a local museum and I was asked to do a show. I was able to mount two shows, garnering exciting sales that I split with the museum. Meeting and talking with the people who purchased my creations was very special and fun, and I loved the feeling of helping to support the museum.

I became the manager of the museum library, which filled my hours with more "keeping the dream alive." I met many artists, and I found that their lives were filled with all kinds of activities and friends, despite the vast need in each of us for the privacy and quiet time to do the artistic work that we do, and despite the introversion that type of dedication takes. 

Little Phoenix
I was chugging along, building my bead business and very quietly starting to build a body of visual work when I got blindsided by tragedy as my daughter was stricken with an illness that lasted a year and a half, eventually taking her life - and my heart and my will for life as well. 

My muse slept as I wept, though occasionally I could work with the beads and occasionally I could express myself on paper, but I had lost the confidence and magic and happiness bubble of my experience of life, nevermind the serenity and wonder and trust it took to allow myself to imagine anything, to feel any pleasure, to seek the higher realms. 

I learned at the ever-loving age of 56 that a person could cry every single day/night for a year and a half, and I had never been any kind of a cryer. I felt that I was totally vulnerable and there existed no safety anywhere. How could I tear my mind and heart away from the guardianship that mothers maintain? Grief seemed all consuming for a very long, exhausting time. 

Little Angel
But like a butterfly to nectar, I spent time in the local museum where I felt a sense of belonging, up in the attic logging in books by the hundreds, author, title, publisher, publication date, for each one. I was soothed by the history of the building I worked in, built in 1810, with a secret room that had been part of the underground railroad, facilitating urgent journeys of escaping slaves to freedom. 

Would this also be my road to freedom at last? My pathway back to life? My connection to others of like mind? The eventual exposure of my heart and soul, right there on the walls for all to see? 

Yes. It was my lifeline.

Many times I drove there after my daughter died, not being able to see the road, my vision blurry from anxiety and tears. The time in-between I forgot the world, I listened to the other artist elders, those of like mind, I soaked this connection up like water to a man coming off the desert. And the drive home was always more beautiful, the colors of the landscape, brighter. The swooping hawks, my sky friends.

And I began to feel my heart and soul sparkle slowly awake with the fire that comes from within.

My philosophy?

Art is essential to my life. It sustains me through the very hardest, cruelest, most shocking and isolating and vulnerability creating times of my life. All through the years it has been a haven. I love art and art has loved me back. My muse is there when I turn to her. In fact I wonder if I have several different muses, depending on which style of expression wants to come out. I love them all and they love me back. 

With my art I want to make the heart sing. 

I finish an image and it no longer belongs to me, it belongs to the viewer who will make of it whatever they will. The art that I create that pleases me most is the images that are most beautiful, soft, unworldly, balanced, with beautiful color and line. Sometimes they tell a story, which I hope to go deeper with as I grow back into my ability to express beauty and emotion.

In a way, I'm glad that I didn't go to college specifically for art. Though I studied, and continue to learn from others, my art has a freedom that appeals to my sense of exploration. I can begin with a plan in mind, but the images soon take me into uncharted territory, so that by the time they're done, I feel I've been on a journey of discovery.

I consider my love affair with art a gift, and I now have time to devote to its proper development, which has been a long time coming. I learn each time I work on a new image and the learning starts to show as I allow myself to grow in baby steps. And the dance continues to evolve. I hope, as I grow, that the singing of my heart while working will be visible and sharable with those who view my work.  



  1. Again, I am staggered by your writing and beauty of your art. I am so very happy you are back to doing what makes your heart sing.

    1. Thank you for your love and support my sweet friend : ) Every time I see you wearing a piece of jewelry I made I just love how it looks on you! Stay tuned for good things coming....