My Artistic Awakening

Artist Awakening. Beginning of my life as an Artist. Earliest art making memory…. whatever you want to call it, I began thinking about how art was first introduced to me as a child. My father was quite the artist in his day as well as his father. One of my earliest memories was asking my grandfather to draw a coffee cup. He would draw a very simple cup with liquid, steam and a cast shadow. And at 8 years old, I would copy his drawing  until I became frustrated that it did not look like his. He has left this side of life and gone to that other place, where I’m sure he’s looking down on me, laughing hysterically.

While my grandfather was my teacher, my father was my critic. He would always say “Draw what you see. Does that look like that? Is that a hard edge or a soft edge? Does a nose curve like that or like this?” He would pop off questions that would aggravate the hell out of me…And I would try to give up, walk away in a huff but of course… I always went back to the drawing.

My great- aunt was incredibly short. Looking back, I highly doubt she cleared 5 feet. Everything in her house was short. But the most important item in her house was her gas heater that sat in the far corner of her living room. On top of the heater, were maybe 20 candles of Jesus and Mary…. possibly some saints. I would sit and stare at the images on the candles, 1) trying to figure out how they were attached to the candle (sometimes I was…slow. The word “Sticker” never even occurred to me) and 2) admiring the beautiful images glowing from the lit wick.

My grandmother and my father were my pushers. Enablers. Connections. Hook Ups. Sources. The ones with the s***. They supplied YEARS of art supplies, colored pencils, chalk pastels, a plastic pottery wheel, watercolors, coloring books, sketchpads, craft sets, scissors, paint brushes, paper, paper and more paper. And Books!! Some of the best days were Thursdays when the downtown library stayed open late with free parking and my Dad would drive us when he got off work. I spent hours on a bean bag chair, reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ( Don’t judge me)

My brothers provided the competition because I could always “do it better !”

I remember aunts and uncles asking, ” C, what do you want to be when you grow up?” And I always had a different answer. 1) An artist was never one of the answers! Can you believe it?! At any given moment, I wanted to be a hairdresser, a police officer, a nurse, a teacher or…. Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Regardless of the answer my mother would chime in and say, “She’s going to be a writer.”

A few years ago, I asked her how did she know that I would be a  writer versus being Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And her response, I’ll remember forever,” You were always writing little stories all the time. So I bought the composition books and you kept writing. You wrote all the time, these little stories.”

So… what is your earliest art making memory? Who was your enabler? Who was your critic? Did you want to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Looking back what led you to be an art educator, artist, critic etc? Feel free to leave a comment. I won’t kill you with a stake to the heart.




Is an Audience necessary??

A few days ago, I was In the studio struggling with a new painting…. We all know how that goes, right? You’re off to a great start, the idea is solid but your execution… Eh not so much. As my mentor says, “C, you need more hot grits!” In other words, the punch line is missing. The one element needed to finish the piece and bring it all home is missing. Damn that aggravating. I’ve been yelling at people on the bus, flaking out on assignments, and  all over a painting!! God Almighty! Oddly enough, this beautiful struggle is what  I Iive for. To be even more of a cliche, I live, breathe and eat this $&*+, so when I hit a bump in the road I keep a pushing along.

Being in school, surrounded by other creative people, the urge to ” critique” work is always in the air. A friend once told me ( and I believe this to be true), that everyone wants to be that person to help you break through this rough patch. People walk into your studio, they pop off questions , tell you how much they like  it, give you the name of every damn white male artist as some jumping off point and leave probably feeling good about themselves when in actuality…. You are left unfazed and sometimes slightly annoyed. A good rule of thumb, people : sometimes you need to ask before you enter someone’s studio. It is similar to going to someone’s house . You don’t just walk in and proceed to look into their panty drawer! You ask first, ” C, could I go through your underwear drawer??? I admire your love for Victoria’s Secret! ” You get my drift. 

But I digress. One of those eager art lovers )that is actively producing work that looks a lot like the work of a deceased white males), came to me the other day and said ”  I think you should think about who your audience is, like … Who is your audience??”

And I immediately shot back, “Why do you need to create work for an audience?” In my mind,I also wanted to know why that was recommended to me specifically. Now, before you assume that I am overreacting, I had the same “critique” sometime last year. Who is your audience? Are you saying because I am creating work about otherness that I have to create work for black, brown red, yellow people? Because I am a Black woman, I need to create work that speaks specifically to Black women?? So would you say Barbara Kruger made work for white women? Or Jeff Koons creates work for white men? What about Rashid Johnson or Carrie Mae Weems? Mark Bradford?Ai Wei Wei?  So it lead me to thinking: Can you create work without an audience? Can you create work with a specific audience in mind? Or can you just create work aligned with your concept and screw the “audience” bit? Is it possible that you limit yourself by creating work for someone else? Is it not plausible that an audience has jack $&#* to do with the creation of work and your execution is your bread and butter, not necessarily who you think will “like” it? Truthfully, after conversation with artists C.Coleman and  art educator C. Esekawu, I now understand why that is a question of sorts… but it’s tricky. The information presented in your artwork, can go over some folks heads. However, I’m not sure you should censor your work for the sake of an “audience”.  Or you can create work for a specific audience and take (and accept) the risk of the work never going beyond a specific point.

For me…. I just need more hot grits. 


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