My brother was diagnosed with aphasia when he was about 4 or 5 years old. School was rough for him. Nothing was easy and it was much harder for him to learn things than it was for the other kids. But the one place he excelled was art.
My brother won award after award for the pieces he created as a kid. He excelled at art, and he seemed to have an eye for it unlike others. So my parents set up an art room for him, and as he spent more time in there, the walls were filled with drawing after drawing, until vivid colors covered every inch of the walls.
And I was in awe of my brother. As a small child, he was my best friend. He was so kind to me, and had a patience for teaching me things. And he created such beautiful things. I just wanted to create beautiful things too.
I’m convinced that my brother taught me how to be creative and make art. In such a formative time in my life, with completely unartistic parents, I imitated and emulated my brother’s style in my drawings. They were never quite as good as his, but I enjoyed the time we spent together making them, in our little colorful art room.
And then my brother got accepted into a special arts program for kids that showed promise in the arts. He got to go draw in studios on the weekends, and I wanted that too. So, when I was old enough to apply as well, I did, and I got in. But we never ended up going to those arts classes together.
My brother stopped making art. I don’t entirely know why but I have a few theories.
First of all, kids are mean. My brother was artistic, not athletic as a child. And they made fun of him and called him ‘gay’ or ‘feminine’ for enjoying art. He was pressured into doing more ‘manly’ things, and was socially conditioned to feel shame about his enormous artistic talent.
But even deeper than that, art pulls out deep emotions that arent always pleasant. Staring at a blank piece of paper and deciding what to draw can somehow bring out dark emotions that were under the surface. There’s a reason why- in our Drawing class at Duke- almost all of the assignments where we had free reign to pick a narrative, we chose death, destruction, and chaos. To be an artist may mean to feel things deeper than most others feel, or to be in contact with deeper parts of your mind more often. Art has a message and a purpose, and sometimes it can be painful and taxing in the process to create it. Just ask Van Gogh.
So maybe my brother stopped because it was just really depressing too.
But I didn’t stop making art. I continued to in small ways, whether it was weekend classes or choosing the more visual option for a school project, I continued to enjoy to draw and create. I often avoided making art depicting heavier topics though, as I didn’t want to pull out dark moods over an enjoyable activity.
And then, miraculously, after over a decade of avoiding anything arts-related, my brother re-picked up art. He is graduating in a few months from UC Santa Cruz, and in his time there, he realized that people celebrated art and envied his abilities. This environment encouraged him to create and praised his work. He started making art again- but not only that, he primarily made art for others. He would make elaborate posters for events, drawings as gifts for people, and so on. He would draw light, fun, vivid images and people loved it.
And I’m happy for him. While art may not be a dominant part of his life (or mine) anymore, he has rediscovered some element of himself that was shoved away. It’s always been fairly easy for me to keep art as a hobby. I wanted to take the Drawing class at Duke, and nobody made fun of me for it. I tended to avoid darker topics in my pieces anyway. But it was never that easy for him. It was always a source of discomfort or shame, and now it isn’t.
I’m really excited to bring my portfolio back home to show him over summer. After all of the improvement I’ve made over the course of this class, I might finally have something worthy of hanging on the wall of our art room that I made myself. Or maybe he’ll outdo me again. Honestly, I’m fine with either.