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BREATHING ROOM: Once upon a time, I was an artist

BREATHING ROOM: Once upon a time, I was an artist

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Once upon a time, I was an artist ... and I dreamed of being an artist. A painter, a photographer, a portraitist.

Without much understanding of the process involved, not acknowledging my fears and thrills of travel to unknown places, I told a videographer upon my college graduation that I hoped to be a photographer for National Geographic.  

Those were times before the advent of digital cameras. A strong memory survives of a photojournalist showing me his first digital camera and telling me this was the way of days to come.

From my early days, I relished in the praise of those who saw the gift of colored pencil drawings. Hungering for more engagement and to hone my skills, I practiced. Copy the Master. Paint what you see. Dabble in various media. Explore. It was tremendous fun.

People are often ready to tell children and adolescents of their giftedness with art in all its varied forms. But the stereotype of the starving artist prevails. Too much talk of capacity, talent and genius can send a young person scurrying down a path of potential ... and disappointment. 

Milton Glaser writes, rather matter-of-factly, “A characteristic of artistic education is for people to tell you that you’re a genius. ... Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely.”

’Tis true. Yet beauty occurs every day. The feather fallen to the ground. The seeds cracked open. The wilting flower. The so-called weed, striving to spread its own beauty.

Glaser goes on to talk of the concept of artistic “genius” versus “failure.” As if it is always either/or.

“So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. [...] There’s only one solution: You must embrace failure.”

Those last four words carry weight. “You must embrace failure.” Painful, true or false, “brutiful,” as they say: one must embrace it. Yet the greats never give up trying.

Paint more. Draw more. Sculpt more. Animate more. Build more. Not for the sake of “more” but for the sake of exploring one’s passion. These are the ways to grow: owning one’s strengths and pursuing them; crafting partnerships with other gifted persons; watching an artist’s process while listening to their stories of pushing through success and failure. Again, as if it were an either/or matter.

Once upon a time, I was an artist ... and I dreamed of being an artist. A painter, a photographer, a portraitist. Then, I became a writer, a professional, a mother, a mentor. One medium or another came to the fore.

And I listened to the stories of how others push through, embracing failure yet transforming it. Beauty from ashes came. A kiln of life, burning away that which could not be seen, hidden, and revealing a beauty as yet unknown.

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