Sunday, December 2, 2007

3:30 a.m.



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.
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10 comments:

Laura A said...

My heart aches for the you of the past. I'm SO glad that you pushed passed it and have a happy story today. And not just for the benefit that your art brings to my life, but for your sake as well and the journey of personal growth it provided.

Nigel said...

I remember once,in a painting class, Bruce Smith told a kid "I wish I was unable to paint what I see like you do." At the time, the rest of us thought of it as sort of a back-handed compliment. But I think he really felt tethered to and/or burdened by academic drawing skills. At least you didn't have faculty telling you. "Maybe you'd be happier in illustration or graphic design..."

batty said...

I love your last paragraph. You are a great role model. I didn't know you struggled, I thought your talent just popped out of you. Knowing all you have gone through to get where you are just makes what you do that much more amazing. The young women were lucky to have you share your story. You never know who really needed to hear it. I remember people telling me the "right" way to do something, and it always frusterated me, because I wanted to do things my own way. Now I know better, and am trying to teach my girls to listen to teachers but don't always believe everythiing that they teach is the ONLY way. I had someone tell me I painted (my house) all wrong and I just told them I didn't care, that I guess was always going to do it wrong then. Hmmm... Anyway, I'm so glad you perservered. You're awesome!

clevercraftsman said...

Cass,
Thank you for being so gracious to Ethan and me at the Window box show. Although you have defected from our Springville neighborhood, you re-confirmed what I have said before that you truly are gifted at inspiring people to love what they do and do what they love.

Although he was shy (out of character for that 9 year old lad) and didn't say much, Ethan was very glad that he got to see and talk to you--a real live Artist! I had reminded him that you and Dan were the first major influences on him and his older brother in regards to being creative and drawing whatever they wanted. Thank you for that. As a result,our youngest son that didn't have the privilege of being your "pupil" learned the "Barney Methodology" from his siblings.

It has even cascaded over into the design of the Pinewood Derby cars which we are in the thick of preparing for on 12/6.

Life is good...
Take care,
--Mike

The Petersons said...

Amen

cassandra said...

Whew! It felt good to say all of that out loud and the thing is...when you work for something it means more. I really do feel like the luckiest girl in the world when I'm in the studio. Re: Bruce Smith, sometimes having even one person that you respect tell you that they believe in you is enough to push through a lot. Nigel..you've done well, Laura and Batty...your artistic creativity is manifested in beautiful happy things and Mike...glad I got to do a little good in the world, that feels nice. Petersons...honored to have your attention. THanks everybody! I did some good work today. There is a low that follows the high after a show. Your comments evened it all back out. SO really...thanks everybody!

Krisann Charles said...

I am thinking back and remembering my humiliation in college head drawing class. I was trying so hard to make something work, watching everyone else sketch around me thinking I needed what they had. How very long it took me to realize I had to let go and go to my own place. I do remember wondering how much more pressure you felt as the daughter of a successful artist. I also remember that freshman year, you were a hoot to be around. I remember you and Dan Barney in figure drawing class, we were all friends but you and Dan had this "connection". And I remember when we did our self portraits in sculpture studio your project had butterflies coming out of a big slit in your head. I almost cried when I first saw one of your paintings just a few years ago in a publication...there were your butterflies.
We all have to evolve. How amazing it is to see where you are now. I mean this in a Goethe kind of way that to me you paint flowers and thorns... painfully beautiful.
How liberating to speak publicly to others about your life. You have many people to inspire. Me included.

cassandra said...

Krisann!!!!! I can't believe it's you. I'm so very happy to hear from you and Jimmy Charles. I've wondered wat happened to you more than once. Do email me and tell me what you are doing besides stomping around the world.
Hugs...Cassie
...and thank you!

Jeanne said...

I don't know if you'll ever see this because I am commenting in July of 2010 on a blog post of Dec. 2007... oh, I just saw comment moderation, so you probably will.
I came across your blog because of Mormon.org and I have been sucked in. I was so glad to read this post. I am not a young woman, I'm a 36 year old mom of 5 and I am still that painting. I think I have talents, but I hide them because of my weeknesses.I haven't developed it. Also, I have trouble balancing the desire to be creative and being a wife and mom. I feel most fulfilled when I have allowed myself to do something creative even though I have a kid hanging around my neck. I think it needs to be part of my life and after watching your profile on Mormon.org, I cried, because I know that it is true that Heavenly Father wants us to be individuals and use the gifts we've been given, but I haven't figured out how yet... but I am working on it. I am so glad that in my soul searching I came across your profile as well as others that break the traditional mold, not that I have a problem with traditional- I'm pretty traditional in many respects, but the parts of me that aren't great at some of the things I think I should be (say for example canning, but that's not the only one), I tend to punish myself about and with-hold doing the stuff I long to do because I haven't mastered the others.
I just want to thank you for being confident with you and sharing that. I've been a "mormon" since I was 8, but the website has been so helpful for me in the last 48 hours.

Amy, Ryan and Baby K said...

You are a true inspiration, this story resinated with me more than you know. Thank you for sharing.

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