Creativity takes courage.
I suppose I’ve always been an “art kid.” I started painting (strictly in the Merriam-Webster sense of the word) at age two, and I’ve never looked back (although my results have greatly improved). I’ve always found great satisfaction in making anything blank into something extraordinary. Having that agency, knowing that I can create something new and unknown even to me, has always been thrilling.
Granted, life is much kinder to art before college than after. Art can be one of the seven sacred tasks which someone decides should fill your day. Will you create a work this week? Yes Thou Shalt. I mean this in the best possible way; being told that your work is worth it is vital in an artist’s formative years. Moving on into college, everything becomes, to a degree, voluntary. Outside of graduation requirements, take the classes you want. Any number of majors can maneuver you into the same opportunities. And art—that vital form of self-expression I love so dearly—likewise becomes one possibility among many. To the chagrin of young artists, art becomes even a less-favored opportunity, losing social capital to other areas of study.
So with that portrait of the artist as a young man (pun intended, Mr. Joyce), there I was on Day 1: the first-year student who’d made the mistake of waiting until spring to take an art class. A surging number of first-year requirements and a first semester credit limit collided to block art out of my schedule entirely. Considering courses for second semester, art was non-negotiable.
Yes, some of my friends did question the idea of overloading to take and art class; but if I’m doing what I love, it’s not really work as such, is it? Art brought a familiar rhythm back into my life. The long hike to the studio. Knowing the weight of a full portfolio well enough to tell whether everything was present and accounted for. Fueling an introspective exploration of how I see the world with Beethoven and coffee. Spending time evaluating the scale objects with no other metric than a pencil stub. For about an hour each day (pardon the rough averaging) and often more, I had to pause and really look at things, using pencil, paper, and graphite to record them not as they are, but the way that I see them.
And that’s what I’ve learned. Art is ultimately about committing to being yourself. If da Vinci painted like the rest of his peers, would we have the Mona Lisa? No chance. Art teaches a habit of thought which encourages difference and irregularity as excellence; only outliers make art history. Looking back, I realize that taking his course was a case study: do I follow what I love? Absolutely and eternally, yes.
So there it is. A life lesson from an eighteen-by-twenty-four-inch piece of paper. And I won’t be forgetting them.