Raising an Artist's Heart

Raising an Artist Heart:  Seeking how and why art is born.

Essay and imagery featured in the May/June 2015 issue of CLICK Magazine.  Here's a peek at the spreads; essay below.

I face a canvas the size of my body, head-to-toe. I hide behind it like a ghost, frame directed toward the wall. My colors are hideous, laughing. Everything is ugly. I pray my professor doesn’t stop by for a critique. I turn off the noise by pushing paint. I am an art major yet barely passing. When the June heat rises, my canvases never make it past the dumpster.

We begin with a small, directionless song.

I sit at a folding table, ponytailed head, in the middle of a mall. Before me, rows of glass adorned with hand-painted flowers and a careful stack of Xeroxed business cards. My eyes burn. Beaten by fluorescent lights, I sell just enough to pay my entry fee to this fair. I reload my boxes, lug them home. Twenty-five years later, the boxes remain full, contents unsold.

We must feel brokenness to make something whole.

I am 4 years old. With a spilt box of crayons. They smell like grit and wet cardboard. Honey and wax. My fingers loop around their felted-skin. I can’t read what they say, but I can unwrap each one like a gift. Bare crayons pool at my feet. I push them one at a time into the radiator. Every bone in my small body feels on fire. The crayons melt into the prettiest mess these eyes have seen. My mother is yelling, but I am glorified. I have made something beautiful.

We must go backwards to see the light.

 It is excruciating work raising an artist heart. Most of our life feels like a hotbed of adolescence. We trudge about with too-long arms dangling at our sides. We make things behind closed doors until we tentatively decide to share — and then everything that had seemed right feels wrong. As artists, we must expect our earliest songs to be out of tune. But if there’s even a single note in our heart, we are being called to listen. Sometimes listening is all we have the courage to do. But we must begin somewhere. It’s what our artist heart is begging us to do.

I wish I felt no shame in thinking of myself years ago selling painted glass, failing miserably at painting on canvas, trashing years of work. Still, I had no choice but to believe the broken shards would fit together again. Years later I am learning to tether these sharp bits to my core. One of the greatest challenges in raising an artist heart is to honor the skeletons in your closet. We can burn our work, but we must remember to save the ashes. The richest soil is born from the greatest of ruins: bones, sweat, tears, ripped canvas, ugly work, rejection, fear. The shame of them is what fills our wings. The next time we soar, we’ll see ourselves below. Growing a little braver, stronger, and wiser than the flight before.

We must remember the artist we are raising in our heart is a child. Will always be a child. The only way to approach her is with great tenderness. Without rush. With deep patience and care. So often, letting go of the adult that binds us is exactly what this child needs —making for the sake of making is the essence of an artist heart. Creating without concern for right or wrong is what sets us free. We must push aside our craving for accolades, acknowledgement and praise, and live instead with the sheer joy of making. For the feel of your heart exploding when you know you’ve captured that shot. The one you didn’t need to look at on the camera’s screen. The one you felt because you closed your eyes and let your artist heart lead the way.