by Mark Love Why did I stop making art at 14? Why did it take me 38 years to start again? What could I have made in those lost four decades, and how could I have grown as an artist in all that time? I mean, how good would I be now if I’d never stopped? These are the questions nagging me as I walk around the gallery taking in each work, reading each artist’s statement, wondering at the minds - even more at the hearts - of each creator.
“Art is important to me because it lets me express different feelings,” writes eight year old Cynthia.
“Art calmed me through tough times,” says Malia, 12.
“With art I can express what I am feeling without having to speak. I express myself with the strokes of my brush,” explains 17 year old Andrea.
I wonder if they understand how fortunate they are? I wonder if they know how many artists have to grow up without the thrill of hanging in a gallery like this, without a teacher who actually encourages a teenager to express herself (mine just wanted me to stop expressing myself so much).
13 year old Mia’s statement pulls me deeper into my own story: “Art is important to me because sometimes life feels like a tiny box, but when art enters the picture, the box breaks open.” Mia gets it.
My own tiny box was 1980’s Houston, not a setting that inspired or valued creativity of any sort. My tinier box was my home, run by well-intentioned parents too distracted by family drama to nurture or even notice my sprouting artist-seed. And my tiniest box was my own bedroom where I sat every night with a #2 pencil and a piece of copier paper (stolen from my dad’s office) drawing rock stars and football players and girls I liked by lamplight. Dogs, cars, cows, buffalos, ships, birds, motorcycles, whatever inspired me. These were the hours that broke open the tiny boxes and took me somewhere else in my mind. Somewhere beautiful and different, somewhere full of people who noticed and understood the magic of light and shadows, the importance of shapes and proportions. A place with people who knew that art lives at the center of the soul, not around the edges.
A place where I might have met seven year old Catherine who says it simply, perfectly: “Art is important to me because it makes me happy.”
I knew as a little boy, by experience, not to bother showing my art to grown-ups. Not because they were critical, just…indifferent. Which, an artist knows, is just as painful. Sometimes moreso.
So I wonder as I make my way around the walls of the Wimberley Community Center, what difference would this have made for me? To have adults notice my art. Frame it, hang it, label it, and most importantly look at it carefully. To see it. To see me, through it.
Pushing the door open back to the parking lot I feel overwhelmingly happy for all of these kids. Not because they don’t have their own tiny boxes full of enormous challenges, they almost certainly do. But because someone - a lot of someones - have chosen to meet them at that place where boxes break open to a world of unlimited creativity, of infinite possibility, of borderless exploration. A handful of grownups have decided to honor their self-expressions rather than stifle them, to celebrate their budding creator-seeds rather than ignore them. The sadness I felt for my own story is now eclipsed by the hope I now see in theirs.
Not all of them will keep doing art.* But the ones who need to, I think, probably will. That’s how powerful this sort of thing is.
I’m proud of Wimberley for this generations-old tradition of valuing creativity in its children, including my own two. I’m amazed at these crazy people who make up this art league, spending so much of their energy putting together shows like this student gallery. I suspect that each of them has a story that’s a little like mine, a memory of a spark that wasn’t fanned as vigorously as it might have been. But more importantly a hope that we can make a different future for our little portion of the next generation.
Wait..did I mention how amazing this art actually is? How you won’t believe that this stuff was made by kids? Stop in and see what I mean, the show hangs until May 9th.
* The verdict is still out on little Via, whose artist statement reads, “Ode to Ms. Gary. I didn’t want to do this. Ms. Gary made me.”