Tomorrow I am going to give a talk to a group of young women. I've given a lot of lectures lately and I love to do it. It is an opportunity for me to recognize and sort what I have learned about art and life. Giving lectures is challenging in that I am always asked interesting questions for which I have to be present, careful and ready. I feel accountable for what I say. Speaking to young women holds much more weight to me than speaking to adults because they are still in an impressionable state where as adults have more solidified opinions. With adults I can be inspiring and motivating and the worst that happens is negative judgement toward what I have to say and that's harmless. With younger minds there is more to be responsible for.
The reason this lecture has given me restlessness to the point of actually getting out of bed is that the subject I've been asked to speak about is one that is painful for me to recall, even if it's a story with a happy ending.
People are often critical of blogs because they can be a portrait of only the loveliest features of the subject. Well here is a sketch that isn't posed, it's more raw and vulnerable and not very pretty.
As a student in high school and even previous to that time, I was mediocre in everything I can think of. I wasn't super pretty, super smart, super talented or super anything. I knew, like it had been written before it happened, that I had something inside of me that was important and great. It was a story that hadn't happened yet. It was an energy that didn't have a purpose or a name.
My adolescence was awkward as I floundered through it, running around, falling a lot and never getting anywhere. I loved to draw and had a desire to create but didn't have the substance to draw from nor the skill. That lack of substance, skill and super anything followed me into college. That something inside of me that was important was falling victim to other's opinions of me based on my lack of skills, talents and accomplishments, at least that's what I thought. I had nothing to offer, but deep and quiet inside of me I still felt that something that burned.
I took art classes my freshman year in college and I was terrible. I was the daughter of young superstar art guy, James Christensen so there was a critical eye on me always. That time is a little painful to remember. There were all of those other students around me with natural drawing skills that I just didn't posses. The thing was, when I was drawing, exploring, seeing, feeling and giving physical manifestation to all of that, I felt something. I heard a hum that on the inside of me and on the outside of me felt in harmony. It was "that" energy. But as good as it felt, it wasn't skillful or pretty or even clever enough to have beauty in it's ugliness. So my awkwardness and insecurities weren't only inside of me, I was putting them on paper for the judgement of others.
Looking back, I can't believe I stuck with it. That thought scares me. What if I had given in to my self-consciousness, what if I wouldn't have pushed past my lack of skills, what if I would have kept believing that I was too mediocre? People are always telling me that they wish they had talent. People tell me that it's in my blood. The reality is that I was one of those people without talent. I had no skills and I didn't have a story to tell. I just had that burning and it was buried pretty deep.
Somehow I kept swimming upstream, wishing I could do it without being noticed but always under the cynical eyes of others. I remember my second epiphany. My first epiphany was that making art was the thing I liked to do best, so even if I wasn't good at it I still wanted to give my time to that rather than a vocation that might be more... "responsible." My second epiphany happened in a drawing class. I was sketching a chair. It was an assignment; sketch that chair sitting up on the table. I was concentrating so hard, measuring, erasing, fixing, fixing, fixing, erasing, hesitant, self-conscious and then...by accident, I lost myself in it.
I forgot to worry about trying to hide my drawing inadequacies. I recorded the process of seeking out that form in front of me, pushing and pulling that graphite, on the paper. My teacher, Bruce Smith, looking at my drawing told me that I'd just had a moment of genius. That was the very first time I'd had a moment of genius and I understood what I'd done. I had changed a weakness into a strength. Instead of my lack of draftsmanship skills being a burden, it was a gift. My drawing of a chair was far more interesting that any drawing of any other chair in that class no matter to what level of skill it was executed because my drawing was a record of a painful journey. It was a record of searching and finding that chair. It was beautiful it look at. That drawing told a story, a story of a painful struggle that was mine.
That was the beginning of me learning who I was. It was the something super. That burning deep inside of me grew into a fire. A fire that warms and gives light... but at the same time has to be contained because it can also destroy.
I'm grateful today for my painful, self-conscious weaknesses because they are also my strengths. When I speak to those young women tomorrow I want to tell them that if there is something that they love, that is a worthy pursuit...hold onto it, work hard and keep working hard because being able to do the thing that I love doing the most is worth all of the awkwardness and criticism a million times over.