This is my latest attempt at abstract art. This painting is called The Birth of Idea. It represents a spark inside of us, and how that spark can ignite, grow, and effect change.
I love art, particularly abstract and surrealists. Dali makes me swoon. Of course, from what I have heard, Dali tended to make many girls swoon. But that’s for another day. But, as much as I love it, I have never been any good at art.
My first memory of art class was in second grade. We were assigned to do western themed art for a chance to appear on display at the Houston Rodeo. You know, those little booths where they have framed art from all the little kids for the everyone to ooh and awww at, and say, “What cute little kids those were.” And of course, if were so lucky to win this distinguished honor, our art would be bestowed upon this gallery with a plaque reading, “Jane Smith, Age 7,” and then right under it the magic words, “Bammel Elementary.”
Rodeo art, as Ms. Miller exemplified, wasn’t just about you. It was about you, me, the entire student body at Bammel and the Great State of Texas. I rather thought the whole rodeo thing was quite redneck, and was completely mystified with the entire fascination. I really would prefer to read The Baby Sitter’s Club and swoon over Michael W. Smith. But alas, I was a good kid, so I took my stab at it.
So, we sat around these big tables with special paper, the sort that blurred the line between paper and fabric. And Ms. Miller brought out her special colored pencils and enlisted Ms. Destiguer from across the hall to instruct us. Ms. Destiguer had inside intelligence on what the judges were looking to find. “No sun,” she told us. “The judges think the art in the past has overused the sun, and don’t want to see it.” We nodded. After a few more instructions, we began our entries.
John Hartley drew this great Segura cactus. Simple, but nice. Although, being from the Houston suburbs, none of us has ever really seen a cactus, except in the floral department of the grocery store where you could buy a potted cactus. Which, never made any sense to me. Why would you want to own a cactus? Just in case the water pipes broke? But, onward John drew and Ms. Miller approved. Until he asked if he should put a sun in his picture. Ms. Miller wordlessly went to the board, and wote in huge letters, “NO SUN!” Then she proceeded to vociferously lecture us on the meaning of the words. “No sun peeking out. No sun far away, no sun in the middle. NO SUN!!!” She repeated herself and clapped her hands for emphasis.
Then she and Ms. Destiguer circulated around the sweatshop and helped sharpen colored pencils and gave ideas and made sure no one drew any suns. I sat next to Lacy Noel who wore her curly blond hair in perfect braids and had an endless supply of those neon plastic rings that you put in the bottom corner of your T-shirt to make it look like you had it knotted. Lacy drew these magnificent brown Cowboy boots. They were strewn across the floor at an exacting haphazard angle, and even included silver Spurs. Then there was Robert, who ate glue, drew a green field with some flowers and a sun peeking out of the corner. I thought Ms. Miller’s head was going to explode.
I decided I was going to do a Texas Longhorn. Granted I had never seen a Longhorn, and I didn’t quite even know what they were, but I thought it would make Ms. Miller happy. So, I went through about ten sheets of paper drawing something that could have been a longhorn, could have been a dinosaur, or could have been a house. It was interpretative art.
Ms. Miller didn’t even waste a head gasket on me. She simply asked if I would like to read while the rest of the class finished. I wasn’t even patronized. This was the best idea I had heard all week. And so, this would set the tone for how I would approach art for the rest of my life.
Some people were Lacy Noel’s, able to produce exquisite work at the drop of a hat. Some were Roberts who had no clue that they had no clue, or that there even was a clue at all. There were John Hartley’s, who managed to do well, but not excellent, just by keeping it simple. Such is life, I guess. Then, there was me. Stick to what you’re good at, was Ms. Miller’s unwitting advice. And I was none too quick to take it. I was one of those people that couldn’t do art. And I was okay with that.
Over the next couple of decades I would, from time to time, check in with the gods of painting to see if we were still at odds. We were. There was the ill-fated Rothko imitation that never dried because I didn’t know you couldn’t do a painting entirely in oil. Then there was the Chinese symbol, simple black against white canvas, that I imitated from something I had seen at an art store. But mine just looked…dumb. Then there was the sun that looked like a giant yellow blob in the middle of the canvas. I even put spikes. This was all okay. I just wote more poetry.
Until about a week ago. I had an opportunity to paint. I sat at the table and thought and thought. I thought about what I had been learning in my brief foray into Photoshop for my poetry book. I thought about what had gone wrong with my previous painting attempts. I thought about my friend Caitlin, the artist, who paints all the time in our community house.
And so, I painted. It was fun and relaxing. There was a sense of satisfaction and pride as I unlocked places inside me and released them visually. I knew this feeling well from writing. But I had never experienced it visually. I guess, my point is, you never know what you can do until you try. And sometimes our attempts are not perfect. In fact, sometimes they suck. But you get out there and you do it. And you just might find a new part of yourself.