Ouch, I thought, a splinter? As my hands caressed the weather-worn, greying plank, turning it, examining it for weaknesses that might eventually compromise the finished piece, a tiny prick made me drop it as though it had opened a vein.
It was, after all, a good excuse to walk away.
I had sat down expressly to transform it. I had had some idea of what I wanted, but no inspiration. I saw red: not in the angry, metaphorical way, but the color red filling my imagination, bursting, a clouded Holi festival in every shade from rose to sanguis. It is in that space where all the joy and wonder of a creative moment, all of the air that fills my lungs spreads to my waiting hands, only to explode from my chest in a rush of despair.
“Why” begins to interrupt. Do I have a voice? Is it worthwhile? Who will want to see this?
The answer is an apparition.
It is often said of artists that narcissism is the first requirement. Thumbing through even the thinnest of art history books, one finds edgy, erratic, often abstruse behavior among the great masters. Art, it seems, requires a dance on the tightwire that hangs between sanity and genius.
Having grown up in a household where art had no value, I now find myself opening every creative vein I can just to find the one that flows freely. So far, none have. I push, every day, learning the tools and techniques. With each new medium I touch, with each surface I alter, I understand better and better the act of love that art truly is. Even as I write these words, I am utterly gripped by creating a melody within them that will compel you to keep reading. These are experiences I did not have at a time when painting a pig blue or a tree purple was the process in which one idea might fluidly transform into another. Occasionally, I color outside the lines, and I don’t feel the need to correct it and then, as I let go, more and more, I begin to love what I am touching and changing. It comes down to that one nebulous moment when I give myself permission to do whatever I want without needing a reason why. It is the moment when the wildfire clears the way for the new seeds.
To the many whom I’ve heard say, “I have no talent for art,” I say, expressing yourself doesn’t require “talent” in the traditional sense. It requires that you somehow package what you feel in a way that makes you happy. A year ago, I said I couldn’t draw, but I’ve changed that. I’m learning about the many mediums and tools. I’m immersing myself, and therein lies the danger.
Just as when I began to write publicly, I now study, rather than just view art. I find myself hyperfocused, deconstructing method, material, meaning. I become so lost in the detail, that I must navigate both the joy of understanding and the defeat of accepting that I will never create something so exquisite that it moves mankind century after century. And that is the moment I burn.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who is a successful artist. He spoke candidly about having an artist’s statement and an idea of the theme in his work. I realized that, fundamentally, art is a commitment to visually communicate something for which the artist has no words. Ultimately, I am compelled by an unusual tendency to assign color to emotions. I reach my roots into that fleeting moment, and that is when I grow.
Over and over, I’ll burn when I despair over how much time was lost to fear, but in between, in fleeting moments, new roots grip the ground as from my hands, something lovely comes.