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Take a look back…

January 19, 2015

As an artist, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the progression and development of your skills. The painting you did only a year ago probably looks somewhat regrettable in comparison to what you can do now. Just when you think you’ve “nailed it” and you can’t possibly do any better, you learn a new trick or a different way of seeing that completely wrecks your previous attempt. Artists tend to think in terms of “what’s next.” If you ask an artist which of their pieces is their favorite, they are most likely to point out the one that they most recently completed.

Today, I’m asking you to take a look back. Think back to the first kindling of your artistic flame. Where were you when everything finally clicked and you had that flashbulb moment of clarity and everything made sense – an artistic epiphany, if you will?

My first moment of artistic clarity came early as a child. I was sitting with my mother at church – squirming, whispering too loud, and waving at people trying to listen to the sermon. To keep me quiet and entertained, my mother would draw little doodles. As I watched, mysterious things began to happen: a pear shaped object with ovals on the sides became a cow’s head. A rectangle with a circle on either side became a tractor with a faint plume of diesel exhaust coming out of the smokestack while a stick figured farmer manned the steering wheel. I was quite enamored of my grandfather’s dairy farming operation at the time, so all of these rural references were not lost on me.

Her most “famous” drawing, however, was a cat. A small circle made the head with two triangle ears and whiskers. The body was a bigger circle and the tail was just a line coming out of the back. In all actuality, it looked like a cat-themed snowman. It didn’t even have legs, but somehow that loose configuration of shapes became not only a cat, but the iconic representation of all cats. My mother had somehow distilled the feline form into its purest essence and channeled it through her pen and onto the paper. I was awestruck. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, at that moment I had learned to deconstruct complex organic forms into basic geometric shapes. Rather than seeing a hard-to-draw animal, I began to see simple shapes instead of complicated anatomy and physiology. She had captured my imagination at just the right time for my tiny brain to make sense of it all.

Shortly after (at around 2 ½ or 3 years old), I did my first drawing. A lion with scribbles for the mane and two awkward circles for eyes was scrawled onto a checking deposit slip. I wanted to put the drawing in the “offering box,” our rural church’s more discreet version of the collection plate, but Mom kept it for her scrapbook.

It wouldn’t be much longer until I was trying to sell drawings to my grandmother to put on the fridge. Somehow, I realized there was a market behind all of this art-making. Perhaps my expectations were a bit high. Expecting $10 for such a pivotal work in a young artist’s career seemed like a bargain to me, but may have been a bit outside the range of the refrigerator gallery circuit. I would later go on to proudly tell my unbelieving kindergarten peers, “I am an artist” and I suppose I am still trying to live up to those words.

My two daughters (ages 2 and 8) have both been privy to sitting on my mother’s lap while she draws the same cat in church, and both of them show creative and artistic tendencies. Mom jokes that her drawing is the basis for all of my artistic foundation, and she might not be far off in her explanation. All it took was for someone to show me that the most complex of things can be made through simple lines and shapes and I was hooked for life.

One of the things I’ve learned through interacting with artists and creative-minded individuals is that it doesn’t take much positive encouragement to really set up someone for a lifetime of appreciation of the arts. Almost all artists I’ve spoken to seem to recall an early positive experience of drawing (or coloring) with a loved one: parents, grandparents, etc. There seems to be something very magical that occurs when our young, inquisitive minds collide with the magic of creativity. The entire world around us becomes something that we can explore and recreate, rewriting the rules as we see fit. If you’ve somehow lost the wonder of creating art, I encourage you to sit down with your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, cousins – whoever – and DRAW. Show them your tricks in a very simple and easy to understand way and watch as they spring into action. Who knows, they may teach you a thing or two.

I’m interested to hear about your earliest artistic spark. When did art first make sense to you? I’m always interested in hearing about the power of creativity. Send your responses to brandonlong@communityartscenter.net. I’d love to hear from you.