About 25 years ago I and some other parents were being carefully “handled” by
my son's kindergarten teacher. We were told why our children
were not being moved into first grade but instead were about
to receive one more year of enlarged kindergarten material...to
better prepare them for first grade. This phrase was used more
than once: "Some flowers bloom in Spring. Others in the
Summer. And still others in the Fall."
Both I and my son continue to be late bloomers. I was nearly
40 years old before I was motivated to begin my life as an artist,
and my son, now age 30, is wrestling with the matter of what
it means to be an artist, to express oneself and to expect little
material or financial compensation. To be an artist is to risk...risk
appearances, risk exposing once private thoughts, risk criticism
and embarrassment...and certainly to risk investments of time
and money. Some degree of bravery is required for some of us
to expose ourselves in this way.
As practical business people will say, "Time is Money",
and artists often choose to invest their time in activities that
have little opportunity to see returns of cash. We usually create
on “spec”...speculation that what we make will sometime
be purchased and/or appreciated. Few artists have the luxury
of a patron waiting list for their creations...or much assurance
that sales will continue to support them. That is why, like in
the performing arts, we become wait staff and clerks and manual
laborers...or hold on to the teaching jobs.
To be sure, there are returns other than money which are encouraging
and which offer adequate reason to keep on art making. It is
these things that have kept me active for over 26 years. These
returns are usually quite intangible and may even have their
value questioned by others in our culture. BUT, sometimes these
returns are extremely useful and centrally important in an individual's
life...helping us grope with the meaning of our existence, enabling
us to find balance and joy. The art making process seems to link
us with the creative forces in the Universe, as exaggerated a
claim as that may sound.
I have a limited knowledge of art therapy, but I believe in
it strongly. From personal experience and from some decades of
associations and readings, I have faith that persons engaged
in some creative acts can benefit thru the pleasures and discoveries...and
purging...that comes thru the making and expressive exploration.
And I have no doubt that given the right opportunity and motivation,
that anyone at any age can begin to experience the positive results
found thru sincere and honest creative activities.
Young folks, old folks...seemingly healthy or challenged. Chronological
age should not be a barrier. Finding and taking the opportunity
to create is obviously the key to testing this thesis. With me,
that commitment came later in life than some...when I finally
listened to voices that had been in my subconscious since I was
What happens if a "calling" is ignored? What is lost
if one does not "follow one's bliss"? How does one
fill the potential psychological and emotional gaps in one's
life if some activity, some longing, is not fulfilled?
So it was with me since my high school days when personal considerations
of entering art school surfaced. As a seventeen year old I was
entirely dependant upon my parents and their support. I was naive
and without means, without experience or independent thought.
I had no courage to argue, so my future was not being written
by my own inclinations. Thereafter from my first year of college
en route to becoming an elementary teacher until age 40, there
was something missing from my life There was that recurrent nagging
just below the conscious surface, and a sense that something
more existed that might give me greater fulfillment as my own
human being. I say with all honesty that there was a prolonged
period in my early twenties when I consciously sensed that some
part of me was being concealed, calloused over...displaced by
the exigencies of adult life, teaching, responsibility and an
imposed regrettable duty to neglect an important aspect of my
life. It did not die, but it did get buried over.
I wonder how many others feel the pestering sense that some
aspect of their lives is unfulfilled, that there is some element
not yet discovered. Personally, I did have bouts of art making
during my earlier searching years of maturation, but nothing
enduring or especially meaningful. It was with the birth of my
two sons in 1979 and 81, and thru associations with the raw,
elementary and often enthusiastic approach of young people, that
I personally turned my serious attentions to art making. Beginning
with basic materials of clay, paint, canvas and found objects,
my life began on a path that had been denied twenty years earlier.
I began to bloom...
Other associations were gained by joining a community of art
makers which further propelled exploration and growth. Wisconsin
Painters & Sculptors, at the time experiencing 83 years of
existence, was operating and offering opportunities and networking.
By becoming a participant in that group, by doing work with and
for other artists, I gained new experience and motivations that
added meaning to my existence. I have no doubt that such experiences
can be gained thru parallel efforts with many other artist organizations.
(FYI, WP&S has just changed its name to Wisconsin Visual
Artists, Inc., and is beginning its 109th year of operation.)
In such groups one will encounter all the quirks, positives and
negatives, found in any body of individuals. For some artists
the difficulties and disappointments inherent in these organizations
can be reason enough not to join...but helping to mold such a
group and assist other individuals can also be reason enough
to endure that which is not pleasant. One can grow, improve...find
satisfactions and joy by active participation. This, of course,
depends on the personality of each person. But...just being a
member, even if one remains shy and apart to some extent, can
provide moments of insight and growth.
While I have gone beyond the point of no return in my participation
in the regional art culture, the other late bloomer in my family,
my son, has not yet made a commitment to “being an artist”.
Despite the meager financial returns, and despite the exposure
and some disappointments he might experience thru making and
exhibiting art, I am hopeful he commits to art making as an important
part of his life. I believe he has the temperament, natural inclinations
and eye for this field. I suspect that if he does not make such
a commitment, then like me, he may continue to wonder why it
is that he remains a bit discontented with life. He may wonder
what it is that lurks just under his skin and in his subconscious...why
he senses that his life is not yet fulfilled in some way.
And how is it with you, Dear Reader? Are you an early or late
bloomer? Have you yet flowered? Are the roots of your experience
in life supplying your interest and “need” to create?
If you are not a visual artist are you a writer? A dancer? A
musician? A gardener? A nurturer of other living things...children,
animals or plants?
Have you found what might be your bliss? Are you yet ready and
willing to listen to some calling...perhaps a distant but constant
one? Do you already know what direction you want to take, but
is your light still under that bushel, fearful of coming out
and being exposed?
I leave you with this quote from one of my favorite books, a
novel called “Boy's Life”, by Robert R. McGammon:
“When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern,
and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present, and
into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall
it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic.
We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside
us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and
see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic
educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked
out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and
told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up,
for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because
the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and
youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad
of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.”
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