Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I've connected some dots today...long post!

...this all started because of a book I am currently reading: "Drawing from Within - Unleashing Your Creative Potential" by Nick Meglin. A powerful book!

You know when there is something kicking around in your head and you know you are on to something important but it's just out of your reach? And then it bubbles up in an 'aha moment' ...and you know. And then you realize that it's always been there and you've always known it...well, that happened to me tonight. I have connected the dots to something that has always plagued me. And now I understand...and I feel so sad as I write this.

I have been making art my entire life. I remember clearly the first time I received validation that I had artistic talent. I was five years old and in Kindergarten. It was Christmas time and our class was painting Christmas trees.

I remember that we each had a large easel with crisp white paper, huge brushes and large cups of bright colorful poster paint. We were told to paint a Christmas tree. I remember painting it - no thought really, just a relaxed expression and reaction to the assignment. I painted the tree, added blobs of color for the tree lights. I put a huge red star at the top of my tree. I painted gift boxes with bows on them, a big bold bow on each present. When we were finished I remember feeling very satisfied and very happy. I had really enjoyed painting and I liked how my picture turned out very much.

After painting, the class was sent out to play on the playground. What I remember next is the 'connecting of the dots' of which I now speak. The teacher had me stay in for recess while the other kids went out to play. She told me I was really good at painting and she then gave me back my brush and paints and told me to paint gifts with bows in everyone of my classmates picture in my class. Being five and a 'good girl', I did exactly what Miss Dee told me to do.

The connection I made tonight is that at that moment when I was told to paint the gift boxes I felt very validated. Being told I was good at something and painting all of those pictures gave me a recognition I had not yet experienced before and I liked it - I really liked it. It made me feel special in a way I had not felt before. But it also killed the artistic spark in me...for in that moment when I started painting for the approval of my teacher, that was also the undoing of my love of art making.

I wanted to please my teacher. But I remember feeling very conflicted. I knew that the other kids would not like me for painting on their pictures. I also knew that they would not like their own paintings anymore (would you??). As a five year old, I did not have the capacity to say no to my teacher and so I did as I was told. It left me feeling really bad inside and I was not able to articulate those feelings.

On the last day before Christmas vacation the teacher gave our paintings back to us to take home to give to our parents as Christmas gifts. I remember feeling very out of sorts as that school day was ending. I no longer felt good about my own painting as it was now associated with the conflicted feelings I had about painting the other kids paintings, so just as I was giving it to my mother when she came to pick me up, I folded it in half and started to rip it, right in the middle. I managed to rip about five inches before my mother stopped me from completely tearing it up.

The dot connection I made tonight is that I have been trying to resolve that inner conflict since that day. I felt terribly conflicted by that event and internalized it.

I have created art my entire life. I don't know why. It's always just been a part of who I am. Some people play an instrument, some people do sports- I make art. Sadly, for the most part, my art making has felt very uncomfortable to me - like I am going through the motions, but completely disconnected from it. I have rarely felt exhilaration or the 'wow' factor regarding my art- even when published in national art magazines or winning art competitions. I have always felt apologetic about my art. I have always dismissed it around my peers. I have always felt conflicted...even guilty about my artistic ability...and now I understand why. I get it.

I continued art as a hobby. In high school I took every art class and joined the art club. When I went to college, I majored in fine art. I did all kinds of art and crafts while raising my children. I returned to college as an adult and studied graphic design. When I returned to work full time when my kids got older, I became a designer and worked 16 years as a package and label designer for the pharmaceutical industry. Today I sell my art online and in boutiques. I tell you all of this to show you that most of my life has been art related, and most of my life I have felt disconnected and conflicted about it. How very sad.

Incredibly, my mom had the painting framed and she hung it each year over the fireplace at Christmas time. When ever I looked at it, I would see the tear I made and would get 'that icky feeling' in the pit of my stomach...even as an adult! When my mother passed away, I ended up with the painting. I never hung it in my own home. Instead, I put it away, far back in a dark closet.

This past Christmas, for reasons I did not understand, I felt compelled to hang the picture. I hung it over my fireplace, the place of honor. The old feelings were there, but there was also a budding feeling of forgiveness - which at the time was odd to me. Looking back now, I see that my mind started working this out back then. Forgiveness of my teacher? Forgiveness of myself? Forgiveness of my parents? I think it's a little of each...

Writing this post has helped me to clarify and as I finish, I feel incredibly excited and hopeful that I will now be able to embrace my art and let go of the internalized conflicted feelings that have hindered me for so long.

Reading this book has been difficult for me. It stirred up a lot. There are parts in it that launched my cynicism and I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of what was written...but that's when I started to think....hmmm....I think there is something going on in me that is very deep and very important...and so I told myself to remain open to whatever it might be...

When the student is ready, the teacher appears...


L'Hélène said...

I used to love drawing. When I was in 7th grade, someone made fun of me because I had reproduced the logo of a youth magazine which that guy thought was uncool. Because of that, I have been unable to create for most of my life. Now, at 35 years old, I feel the need to try again. I started with scrapbooking and card making, and now I have a few mixed media projects in my head which i will do as soon as my studio is ready.

Thanks for this post, it really talked to me.

Judy Streger said...

This is very interesting and certainly insightful. How wonderful that you're progressing on your artistic journey.

Kelly said...

warning: long comment

I love you. I love your Mom for framing your work. I am so glad you kept it. I understand your teacher and I forgive her. Remember that time we painted scarves at the library? The teacher was complimenting your work and for me, it felt like everyone was coming up to our table to rave over your scarf. I put my head down and was trying very hard to "celebrate" my inner artist. If I looked at your work, I couldn't do my own. Then another woman came by and said "I really like your scarf." I remember mocking the words with my mouth like a little kid. Then you said, "Kelly, she's talking to you."

I never saw it from your side. The eagerness and ability to please the teacher repeated for each instructor or person. When presented with a task you can do what they want-but where is what you want? I'm sitting here knowing i have to get in the shower, I'm crying and so happy you've made this connection. I think you're on the cusp of a rebellion! Art for you! Not the gold star!

Lori Saul said...


Thank you for sharing your insights and long-held feelings. It is often hard to accept attention with grace and allow yourself compliments without mixed feelings. I'm learning too! Your artwork and blog are inspiring to peruse.