Sunday, November 22, 2009

Social Media and the Art Thing

Thanks to this post by Dave Rowley, a pencil smudge has reappeared on the side of my hand for 4 days straight now. {Giggle.} I haven’t had that smudge in 25 years.

From my earliest memories, I enjoyed art. The absolute standout Christmas gift of my early childhood was The Big Box. The Box contained every imaginable child-friendly art supply and craft kit. It was rapture…and kept me busy until the following Christmas.

When I was 5, I won a coloring contest sponsored by a local (but famous) department store. This was the first of many, many coloring and art contests in which I would snag prizes during my childhood. Usually, I didn’t win first prize, but I earned enough gift certificates and event passes to keep me (and my family, who got fringe) very happy. When I was 12-ish, I won first prize in the National Kellogg’s Stick Up for Breakfast Contest. The magnitude of this win was apparent to me when my mom and I visited a lawyer to help me complete the paperwork to receive my prize. Among other things, I had to sign an affidavit confirming that the entry was really my own work and allowing Kellogg’s the full rights to further use of the drawing. I began to realize that perhaps I had talent beyond the norm.

(Kellogg’s sent me a coveted prize for the 1970s: an Atari video game system. We hooked it up to our TV and played Pong in all its first generation glory. Dad—my regular Pong opponent—and I still love video games. This will be another blog post.)

When I was little (6 or 7?), my older sister had a summer job as a playground director. A guy would come to our house every other weekend and teach her how to do the playground crafts for the upcoming weeks. After he'd left, I’d try all the projects he'd demonstrated. Sometimes, someone would teach a short art class at the playground. I remember being instructed to close my eyes and feel a mystery object. Then I had to draw it from this tactile memory. I drew a bumpy vase and a basket with some fringe at the ends of the handle, which I can still see in my mind’s eye. My drawings were very accurate, to the general astonishment of everyone except my sister.

When I was a bit older (maybe 10 or so), an elderly neighbor liked to sit on his front porch and sketch. Emboldened by the natural curiosity of childhood, a friend and I trotted up to him one day and asked to see his picture. After that, he’d regularly teach me drawing basics. He gave me his sketches, often a portrait or an animal, and I’d take them home to copy. When I returned with my attempts, he’d coach me on how to improve them. I learned a lot from Mr. Chiara.

In high school, I took history in summer school so that I could fit two years of art into my schedule. I took my art very seriously, even selling some paintings (for about $20 each—imagine). I fancied myself to be part of the artsy circle at school, hanging out in the art room during free periods, trekking to the art museum on weekends with the hipster art teacher, and celebrating when my work placed in the Scholastic Art Awards. I was art editor for our award-winning school newspaper, made sports team banners and posters advertising the drama club’s plays, and designed covers for our yearbooks and other publications. Years after I’d graduated, a logo I’d designed was still gracing the school newspaper’s literary page.

By college, my drawing skills were relegated to poster making and a couple of class assignments, pushed aside in favor of other distractions (like physical chemistry and differential equations). My parents had encouraged my art, but strictly as a spare-time, stand-alone hobby rather than a gift to be channeled into my future pursuits. (In retrospect, my nose-to-the-grindstone parents had strong objections to all of the arts—seemed to view them as livelihood-threatening potential addictions. Since they lived through the Great Depression, I can see why pushing their offspring into more stable, practical, predictable pursuits was so important to them.) So, when life and career got busier, I stopped making art, except occasionally on vacation or by special request (“Hey, Shell, design a tee shirt for our alumni clambake!”). It seemed like the adult thing to do.

In all the years that I designed databases and web pages, I was able to sneak a little of my artistic eye into my work. It also is evident in my home décor and even in the way I dress my kids. But after years of creative neglect and a lifetime of hearing the message that art is for lightweights, I have trouble grasping that art is something I must do if I am to show gratitude for my God-given gifts, not something wickedly stealing time from worthier pursuits.

Now, after a year of seeing the worthwhile work of artists, authors, creativity coaches, and others I’ve “met” through social media, I’m finally waking up to the point that becoming who I was born to be means I must take 15 minutes a day to sketch. When I look at a finished sketch, flaws and all, I am 15 years old again and the world is full of possibilities. I can go forth and do good work in other areas of my life with renewed creativity.

Also because of social media, I not only have a ready-made venue to learn and receive constructive criticism about my artistic attempts from seasoned professionals, I also have encouragement and support from the same wonderful friends who fed my artsy side when I was 15. We had a particularly rebellious high school class and, although we’ve all grown up and gladly shoulder our responsibilities, my inner creative rebel is sparked by my fellow rebel sisterhood. (Love you guys!)

Who knows, maybe if I start to revive my heretofore shunted-aside talents, I may even find that there is a joyful living somewhere within them. In any case, it makes me giggle to see the smudge on the side of my hand—that alone does my heart good.

Thanks, social media.

Addendum: Gotta add the sketch for day 5:


katshepherd said...

Have you seen/heard that Patti Digh's new book is titled "Creative Is A Verb"? It's uncanny how you have rediscovered your artistic passion the same year I have rediscovered my passion for writing. I recently told someone that the writing I've done in 2009 has helped me to support my family but more importantly, it has reacquainted me with a younger, impassioned self that I had left sitting on the sidelines for too many years. Please keep sharing your work - I really appreciate it and would love to have you sketch Girlie sometime!

distortiongirl said...

No, I hadn't heard that. Is it coming out soon? I am intrigued by what inspires creativity/innovation (have been for a long time) and have been exploring social media as a way to build creativity/innovation within business. Funny how the exploration itself made me--and, apparently you--feel more creative, too!

creativechai said...

Oh wow! what a thrill to read this. Your drawings are wonderful. I loved hearing the story of your relationship to your art through the years--it's great to get a sense of how you came back to drawing. I agree that social media is a great way to get inspired, there are so many great artists putting stuff out there on the web, it really gets the creative juices flowing. I'm glad that pencil smudge found its way back home to your hand. Enjoy your fifteen minutes a day and I look forward to seeing what comes of it :)