When I ask my creativity students, what is the story behind the piece you are working on, they usually begin to describe the composition, colors or materials. I even had one woman respond when asked, there is no story; and I replied, well that IS the story. The story I am inquiring about is not what the painting represents or what you see, it is your creation story. The story answers why you create like you do. It answers the question about your creative urgings, yearnings, musings and more. Artists over time have taken both extremes in describing their work or remaining mute about the meaning of their work.
There are millions of artists in the world today but only one of you. What makes you, well, you? What is your why? You may describe the technical aspects of how you made your art, but unless it is related to the underlying why, you are not digging deep enough into your creation story. You may be formally trained or self-taught, but that really isn’t important to know unless it informs the why. I was both. I grew up in a family of scientists and artists and I never believed that I had to decide between the two. As a child growing up in a small border town of Mexico and Texas and later in a little larger town further from the border; there weren’t art classes or studios in school. I painted with my great aunt Santa Duran who had studied with a well-known Mexican painter. She taught my brothers and me and I learned oil painting at the age of six. What I learned, besides the obvious techniques of color mixing and application, was that it was ok for me as a child to use real art materials. This is the personal why of the story. The other important piece of the story is that learning can be found anywhere.
When I was a few years older we moved, and my brothers and I went to take classes a few afternoons a week with a neighbor who was a retired art teacher. The woman lived with her brother and sister. They all seemed ancient to me as a 9-year-old, but they were probably in their sixties or seventies then. We did everything from drawing to pottery, ceramics to cloisonné and even marionette making and sculpture. It was just my two brothers and I, I was the youngest. I have such fond memories of our creative afternoons and some funny memories as well. Once we found the cat sleeping inside the oven when we went to put our enamel work into the oven to melt. The why - this is when the seed of my fascination for mixed media was planted.
Growing up with parents and uncles that were doctors, nurses and scientists awakened another path of inquiry and curiosity for me. As a small child I loved to play with the anatomy models that my father would bring home from his office. There were the parts of the knee joint that you could take apart and reassemble. There were models of a heart, an ear and my favorite was the hand. As a young child I learned about anatomy and then I discovered hidden worlds when I looked through my father’s microscope. This was a big aha moment for a 6-year-old. My brother had a telescope and I fell in love with space. Time was another concept that fascinated me as I tried to comprehend eternity. These experiences shaped my reality. When I bring the two together, I understand the why of my story. Science and bringing light to the hidden worlds has always inspired my art whether it was cutting gemstones, making paints or building labyrinths.
Why do I work with so many different materials? Why do I experiment and push the materials to become something other than what they were meant to be? Both my creative life and my scientific life were kept separate for many years. I had always made art, that just seemed to be who I was, but as I got older and prepared for a career, I wanted to be a scientist. I never imagined how the two could exist in the same realm. I pushed my artistic self under the bus and began to pursue academics. I never had an art class in high school only science and academics. I even pushed myself to graduate from high school early. Months before my graduation my father suddenly died. My life took a vastly different turn. Instead of going to the University of my choice I went down the shadow path for many years until I finally learned how to bring both sides of myself together. Art was about being a rebel and suffering.
The creation story at that point could be summed up as, you gotta suffer if you wanna sing the blues.
I did finally return to my studies and I received degrees in art and science. I was still pushing the academic path until my mentor retired and I had a wake-up call to leave that path behind. I fully embraced my art again and as I found my authentic voice. I remembered who I wanted to be and not how I was supposed to continue in my father’s footsteps. I let go of the person I thought I should be and embraced me, with all the scars and history. I discovered that I loved to use all kinds of materials to make real art. It didn’t have to be oil paints. I would mix up paper pulp and combine it with ash from wildfires and build sculptures. I found my happy kid that could make puppets, draw with charcoal from the campfire and disassemble anatomical models and put them back together in unusual ways. I rediscovered my why. I found my path of curiosity and I call them my What-if Wonderings. What are your What-if Wonderings?
Why do you use the materials you do?
Why do you paint or create the types of things you make?
What is your journey?
How can your story help someone else discover a bit about themselves?
When you share your story, it invites someone else to honor their voice.
Your struggles and successes may be just the thing someone needs to hear today.
Be generous and share your truth, your story and your what-if wonderings.