I am an artist. Simple as the sentence may be, it encompasses years of my internal struggle. As a child, I was an artist, and I didn’t see it. Like many children, I enjoyed drawing, painting, and coloring. I was always making something. Recently, my mother told me about how I would enter every poster contest in elementary school, place, and earn a ribbon every single time. She said it got to the point it was a joke between the adults in the PTA. I remember making the posters, but I don’t remember winning, and was shocked that I was getting recognition at an early age. Similarly, my parents always told me how much talent I have, and I discounted it until I went through a bin of work from elementary school, and I saw the details of the drawings I made. My jaded adult-self had to admit there was clear talent in those early pictures. Frankly, I am probably one of the few people on the planet who disappointed their parents by not going to art school.
In high school, I was an artist, and I didn’t see it. I kept sketches, and drawings, and read about art and artists. Saturdays were oil painting classes, and I would spend hours in a run-down recreation center enjoying painting with adults twice my age. I had a full arsenal of supplies, and I used them regularly. I would paint en plein air with my mentor, a local artist, who somehow found the grace to encourage a learning artist, allowing me to follow him about painting landscapes in local parks. My first boyfriend dumped me, and as a mollifying statement said, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to be a great artist one day.” My second boyfriend dumped me, and contritely said “I’d still like to see your gallery opening one day.” In intense moments of teenage love and angst, in the process of hurting me, those closest to me avowed my standing as an artist, and I didn’t believe them. Being told I was an artist felt like a consolation prize. I minimized the fact that in ending relationships, those leaving felt it important to affirm my art.
In college, I was an artist and didn’t see it. I took ceramics, painting, drawing, art history, numerous art and culture courses, art and censorship, and anything remotely related to art. I interned at Tacoma Art Museum. I had sketchbooks, and a portfolio. I desperately wanted to study graphic design, but I didn’t. I allowed fear to rule my decisions. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t make it. Meanwhile, I drew pictures of my first “real” love as we sat on the couch watching TV. Our romance was unpredictable and tenuous. In one of our many intense arguments leading to an off-again in our relationship, he gave me the apologetic “I know you’re going to be a great artist one day.”
As an adult, I continued to create, research, and view art, and took up scrapbooking as a hobby. Creating things was as much a part of my life as work, raising my daughter, or making dinner. Despite life surrounding me with friendships changing or ending, illness, death, and the burden of maturity, I was an artist, and I didn’t see it.
My world crashed around me at my daughter’s 3-year well-child visit. The pediatrician noted her behavior, and in a serious tone he had never used with me, asked “You know that’s not normal, right?” For three years, I adored my opinionated, sensitive, fragile daughter and her long outbursts and screaming fits. As an infant, her first night home, someone sneezed, and she screamed. Every time someone coughed or sneezed, she screamed. She hated taking off her coat, she loved wearing her Tigger costume, even though it was 90 degrees outside and August. For three years, I adapted to her needs. In rare instances, her fits scared me; the doctor in the emergency room sent me home with a printed handout about how to deal with a fussy child, which made me feel stupid. Suddenly, behavior that I had become accustomed to as normal was not, and my perfect little girl, wasn’t. My heart broke, my soul withered, and I went into a deep depression. For once in my life, I was no longer an artist. Beginning that day, everything sat untouched.
Depression took its toll. My life fell apart, I lost myself. Eventually, I got help, and things slowly got better. I divorced. I remarried. My daughter, diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, responded well to occupational therapy. She entered Kindergarten and exceled, she was an amazing big sister to her new little sister, and she exited therapy. Art was out of my life.
Over wine one evening, a friend, who had known me for 15 years, realized I hadn’t made anything as we were conversing about losing ourselves, pondering whether midlife crises ever happened in one’s thirties. She asked, “Are you serious? I can’t remember a time when you weren’t creating.” Her face darkened with the realization of how far astray we had wandered from ourselves. Despite clarity, nothing changed.
On a summer’s day, Heather, who is also an artist, shoved paper and glue at me, pulled up a scrapbook sketch, and told me to make something. As soon as I finished, she made me post the layout online, and share with a Facebook group for commenting. With that, I began to create. Scrapbooking became collage, collage became altered art, and altered art became mixed media, which brought me back to drawing and painting. I started a blog, and I started studying contemporary designers and artists. I still never dared to call myself an artist, despite others pointing out that I am.
I longed to be an artist. I kept reading, hoping to learn and became inspired. I found insight in “Linchpin”, “Ignore Everybody” and “Steal Like an Artist”. One night, I thought about the definition of artist. In my mind, artist indicated fame, even though I knew many artists were not famous or even understood in their time. I had a romanticized vision of an artist having a studio, and attending their gallery openings sipping flutes of champagne. I considered this, and some realizations became apparent.
I have a studio. Well, maybe I don’t have a studio, but I have a house, and my art is important enough to have space for work and supplies in the corner of the living area full time. Granted, I share the table space with my girls. They color and play at the table, and I create at the table. My dining room table is a mess of crayon marks, dried glue, dried paint, stickers, and pen marks created equally by my girls and me. It looks awful, and I love it. When I entertain, I cover the evidence with a tablecloth, and put the supplies away more orderly. Mainly, it is the area where we create: a shared studio.
I don’t have showings, and I am not famous. Honestly, not admitting that I was an artist kept me from pursuing the chance to show work. The non-existent credential that I thought needed to be a real artist and participate in the art world was a barrier set up by my mind. Granted, I need to learn how to navigate the world of showings, but I also need to look at the resources I have around me, and just do the work. I need to follow up on the Art Walk showing that I offered to me last spring for this year.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I am an artist, and that I could say it, unapologetically. The only person I ever needed to justify anything to was myself. My whole adult life, I have kept myself from it. I am enough, and I am an artist. This revelation brought a surge of joy.
Still, I looked for validation. I texted my friend. “Am I an artist?” Heather is a friend that will hold no punches when a real question is asked. She is also an artist.
This text conversation confirmed everything. First, I am a dumbass. For years, I have had affirmation that I am an artist, and I didn’t see it. Second, I have let fear drive my ambitions. What I haven’t done has always come from a fear of not being enough. I saw Heather that night, and we chatted a little about my revelations. “I thought if I called myself an artist that I would be saying I was like artists like Picasso, Matisse, or Michelangelo.” I explained. Heather looked at me, “You’re nothing like them, you’re like you.”
I learned from my depression that the mind makes things real that are not. As much as I had learned, I didn’t notice the negative self-talk that I addressed during my depression had always been a part of my perception of myself as an artist. I understand that now, and it has changed everything.
I am Venetia, I am an artist, and I can see it. One day, you can come to my showing and sip champagne in a flute with me. I know I am going to have one, and I know it is going to be great.