Letters: A is for Art and Anxiety

paintingmonstersThis is the first of twenty-six posts soon to come. Each is an anecdote, rant, or musing based on a letter of the alphabet. It seemed like a nice idea, alright?

In Junior High, I knew a girl. She may have liked me, and maybe I liked her, but there was something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Both of us enjoyed art. She would go to school each day with a little red folder, and everyone would gawk at her skill and talent. Perfect, smokey visages of celebrities floated off the copy paper she used—sponged down with sparkling reflections and glittery highlights. The only problem? Beneath those pretty faces was a hollowness. Void. But I applauded anyway, “Good work! Keep it up!” I said. She’d tuck the folder into her bag with a satisfied grin.

I played a lot of music at the time. Melodies were therapy, and chords, a pleasant distraction. But deep down, I enjoyed artwork. A year before, I’d been left to my own devices while my mom was staying late at work. During those few evenings, I picked up an evening ritual of drawing with the ballpoint pens I had. The hours would tick by at a leisurely pace, and I’d sketches zombies and monsters.

Clearly my mind was in a different place than this girl’s.

Some days the habit would bleed into other hours. When music grew exhausting before class, I wouldn’t hesitate to scribble away in the courtyard. One day Ms. Glitter-Gloss craned her head over my shoulder during one of these sessions. “Oh? What’s that?”

“Eh, I don’t know,” I remained focused, “just a little bit of sketching.”

“Oh yeah? That’s interesting,” she said, and walked off.

Outwardly, I probably didn’t appear any less phased. I continued with my piece, acknowledging a sliver of something in the air that meant bad news. But I didn’t think twice of it. I sketched, and before long, another day had passed.

Repeat the part where I’m sitting in the courtyard. Ms.Artsy is back with her red folder again.

“You know,” she says, “my dad insists I’m a good artist. I mean, the other day, we drove by this peddler selling his acrylic still lifes or whatever, and my dad tells me ‘y’know, if he can get away with selling that junk, you’ll definitely make it in the art world.’”

This time I looked up, “Yeah? That’s cool. I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

There was an almost disappointed look on her face as she stepped closer to eye my ballpoint mess. “Yeah, that cartoon stuff. None of it sells. Like, you really need to be more realistic.”

And that’s when I realized what that foreboding shard was. “Sure,” I said. Maybe a hint of annoyance snuck past my teeth.

“And yeah… Why do you draw like that anyway?”

“That’s what I do. I enjoy it.”

“Oh,” she gave her eyes a half-roll, “well that stuff’ll never sell. Just want you to know.”

It’s been a long time since those words came out of her lips, but they still light a raging fire in me. I wish I could have explained things better. I wish I could’ve told her all the ways she was wrong, and how realism doesn’t always mean “good,” and how you-bet-your-bare-ass-impressionism-and-other-styles-sell-thank-you-very-much.

But I didn’t. I let those words sink through and stab my passion over and over again.

After that, I gave up on art mostly. Now and then I’d sketch, or maybe get out the watercolors, but doing so gave me a nasty feeling.

And God how I wish I could go back and repair that damage. I wish I could’ve had it in me to not give a flying fuck what she thought. But it’s alright, because I think what actually happened is a lot better.

My relationship with art was like a soft divorce. I wandered aimlessly, searching for a love I couldn’t be sure was there. My passion temporarily sparked to life and then dissipated through the years. Then one night, a little less than a year ago, me and my friend got on a wild hair. My depression was pretty bad, but it turned my lights on to think about painting again. So we drove out and picked up some supplies.

Art has been such an important part of my creativity since then. I paint just about every day, and doing so has never been more enjoyable. The act of writing takes you to a different place, while artwork takes you to a different state of mind. There’s an openness, a “zen” if you will, when you can layer up an image. That’s something I never could’ve enjoyed had I not learned to distance myself from those deconstructive opinions.

That’s really what it’s all about. Do what you enjoy. Corny as it sounds. Don’t let other people destroy it for you.

Oh, and that girl from junior high? I don’t think she makes much art anymore, last I heard. Perhaps she’s found a better way to gain attention.

If you’d like to see more of my artwork, check out my Instagram. And let me know if you’ve ever had something similar happen to you!

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