The other day, one of our new adjuncts looked at the walls of my office and exclaimed, "You did these things? You're a real artist!"
I immediately felt a bit bad, because I don't do much visual art these days. I have some of my paintings and fabric art on my walls, not because I think they're so fabulous, but because I needed something to tone down the starkness of those white walls.
Actually, I do like my paintings and my fabric art. Are they "REAL ART"? I don't pretend to know. I look at some of the art done by people who have MFA's and are presumably professionally trained, and I think that some of my art could compare to theirs. Am I Picasso, Monet, or Matisse? No, of course not.
But here's my radical thought: I could be, if I devoted myself to the visual arts, the way that they did. I'm more committed to my poetry, so I have my eyes on a different prize.
I'm not a big believer in innate talent. I believe in practice. We get talented at whatever skills we practice regularly.
I've always loved the visual arts, but I stopped doing them at some point during high school. I returned to them in 1996, after a friend and I went to an exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at the High Museum in Atlanta. Nothing makes me want to paint like seeing paintings. We were in Atlanta, so we went to one of the Pearl art supply stores there.
What a delirious experience. I didn't have lots of money, so I had to be judicious. I bought a set of liquid watercolors that were on sale, and a set of paintbrushes, also on sale. I probably also bought some paper.
For weeks, I was paralyzed. I didn't want to mess up my art supplies. I didn't want to use them up--then they'd be gone! Eventually, I broke open the paints and had fun with color. I bought different types of paints and experimented. I worked on really seeing the world. Amazed, I realized that I really could draw, if I stayed present and concentrated on what I really saw before me, instead of what I thought I was seeing.
For example, I used to draw people with arms down to their knees. My spouse stood before me and said, "Look at my arms--how low down my body do they really go?" Shocking! Just down to the top of their thighs. I'd been thinking of human beings all wrong.
I also learned to look at negative space, as well as looking at what was there, filling up the space. I read countless books on art and theory and what to do with the pencil or paintbrush in your hand. I painted, painted, painted. It was exhilarating. I miss it.
A few years ago, I started experimenting with fabrics, threads, yarns, and layering techniques to keep them all together. I played with beads. I made one creation a week. I'm not sure what to do with them. At least poems don't take up the same kind of space.
One of my goals for Lent is to return to the visual arts by making a visual art creation each week. Yesterday, with a school holiday, I decided to get started. I had a great day off. This week is a heavy week at work, with accreditors in town, so I made a pot of broccoli cheddar cheese soup and a pot of beef stroganoff. It will be good to have meal prep done for the week. I also did laundry. And I had time to read and to paint and to write. My spouse spent hours playing the violin, while I painted. It was much more peaceful than it might sound.
I'm a grown up now, aren't I? My idea of a good day off: to get caught up on household chores and to enjoy a cozy domesticity with time for creative endeavors.
If I'm honest, that's how I've always preferred to spend my time: cooking and creating and companionship. Let other people go to distant sites to enjoy drunken Carnival and Mardi Gras festivals. I'll stay home to paint and write poems.
Everyday Poetry at Radio Free Nashville
3 weeks ago