Is This Art My “Art Therapy” Art or my “Artist ‘Real'” Art?

This post is probably mostly of interest to other art therapists and those who are curious about art therapy and its connection to “Real Art” or “Fine Art”. There is also a big topic of “High” Art vs. “Low” Art and so called Outsider Art vs. “Fine” Art… Labels labels labels. We like labels when they help us define and differentiate, and we don’t like them so much when they limit us…

So, to begin with, for people who don’t know much about “art therapy” or “art psychotherapy”, there are usually two roads to becoming an art therapist, or two “Main” roads. One is the person who majored or minored in Psychology or took a bunch of psychology classes in colleges and got interested in becoming some kind of therapist. This person finds out about art therapy and realizes s/he also has a creative side and is interested in art making and how it impacts psychotherapy, so this person continues on the road to learning more about what art therapy is, and becoming an art therapist. Along the way, this person may have had his/her own personal therapy or even sought out an art therapist to try out art therapy as a patient. Some of these people skip going to therapy as a patient and end up in some art therapy graduate program after s/he has taken the extra art classes that are prerequesites to starting grad school in art therapy. Those who skip being a patient themselves are usually encouraged to go to therapy and at some point in their time as a grad student start therapy with a therapist, art therapist, psychoanalyst or some combination of these… This person may enjoy art making and even have a media s/he prefers working in but has not really identified as an artist before becoming an art therapist… There are many variations of this type of road towards becoming an art therapist, not in the scope of this post, so I don’t mean to have this description seem limited.

Then there is the other road, that of the “Artist” who then becomes an art therapist. Some of these people are what is called a “wounded healer”. S/he may have gone through therapy of some sort at some time in his/her life and had much more experience being a “patient” than some other art therapy students and art therapists. In any case this person usually finds out about art therapy at some point in his/her career as an artist and decides to obtain training to be an art therapist because of his/her experience as an Artist and Patient or as an Artist who is interested in the healing professions for some reason. Perhaps s/he has found art making to be transformative and healing, whether or not s/he has experienced the therapy process. So this person if need be, takes the psychology courses they may not have taken in college as prerequisites for going to grad school for art therapy…

OK. So now you’re in some art therapy graduate program. You might have gone through some training by attending some sort of Art Therapy Certificate Program to see if art therapy is for you or you just dove right into grad school. While in school, no matter what the philosophy of the school is, and there are many different kinds of art therapy programs with many different philosophies, slants, approaches. Where ever you are studying, at some point in some classes, you will be asked to make art. Some might be art directives from the teachers to get across some points on the subject they are teaching. You will probably make art in supervision class, either what’s called “Response Art” responding to your work with your patients at your internship or art work in response to a classmate’s case presentation. In some programs, there is a lot of art making that takes place in your training in the classes themselves. At the program I went to, my favorite class was my first year “Materials” class, in which we learned about all kinds of art materials and their uses with different client populations. The class was a place to do a lot of “experientials” which basically means you learn through experience of using the materials in your own art work in class and at home for class assignments. As a self identified “artist”, I loved the class as it was the class with the most art making in it, and I learned some new techniques and ways of using art materials that I considered useful both in my own personal art work and in the art I made with patients or witnessed patient making.

During graduate school at some point, the phrase “art therapy” artwork or something like it comes up and is understood to opposed to the concept of personal art work or art work that you are in process of making as an artist. I went to grad school many years ago, and a lot has changed since then. At the time, I continued to have my own art studio outside of my home, and I continued to have my open studios and continued to exhibit my work in various settings and to pursue exhibitions to further my career as an artist. I made this same distinction in the sense that most of the time, as far as I remember, I was working on some series of paintings or drawings that were very different from what I made in classes and at my internship. However, I also remember making some things that I thought of as my “regular” art work even though it was made as a class assignment. I also remember being surprised that so many of my classmates did not like making art in our classes. Even in the classes that involved more lectures than actual experientials, I would be drawing in my journal anyway, as I find drawing helps me focus on what the teacher is saying. Even these days, when I attend some sort of Professional event, such as a talk or conference, I usually draw pictures as I’m writing notes in order not to lose focus on what the speaker is saying!

Anyway, at some point in studying art therapy and then beginning to work as an art therapist, I saw there is a kind of division that exists between what people term their art therapy art work and their “actual” art work that they make at home or in a studio in solitude. I did not go to art school, but my first exposure to making drawings and paintings on paper was a very unique class that I have described more in another post, so my first experience of making art was in a room with a lot of people in it, including grad student assistants to the drawing professor as well as the professor. After I graduated college, I had the great fortune of having my first art studio, a very tiny studio but my own. I immediately began paintings that involved having friends sit for me while I painted. These were more than simple portraits, but I think, looking back at my very young beginning artist self, I see that I liked having people in the room while I made my art. Along the way, I eventually developed a taste for solitude and spending time making art alone. However, I see now that I began the process without a need for solitude and that making art among others or with others was very comfortable for me, so making art in classes at graduate school did not seem so different from making art in my studio or at home. I also along the way, probably during grad school, developed a liking for making art while watching TV, even though I always had an art table at home and an art studio seperate from home in which to make art.

As I developped my private practice, I noticed this split between art therapy art and so called more “personal” art, though maybe the art therapy art is more personal as the person is more loose and open while making it. However, I have always had art therapy grad students as patients over the years, as they sometimes want to try out art therapy as a patient, and I very much enjoy working with all kinds of students. With these art therapy grad students, they either had great discomfort making any art in my presence despite what they were doing in classes and would prefer to talk in session and make no art, or they would be quite comfortable making art in session with me, but tended to see the art they made in our sessions as their “art therapy” art, which basically means they would not think of putting any of their “art therapy” art in an art exhibition, while they might have work they were making on their own at home or in a studio that they would consider as art to put in their portfolio or an exhibit. They looked upon the art they made in school and in supervision much the same way.

Probably not everyone makes such a strong distinction in their work. However it is made enough that the topic has caught my interest and brought up questions for me as an artist and art therapist. Is there a difference between the two kinds of art? For me the blurring of the distinction began in my own therapy a number of years ago when I began bringing scribble drawings and other more “unconscious” drawings to my therapist. I noticed that a theme started emerging which I then developed in my “regular” art work. However, I still kept this sketchbook of therapy art work separate from my “regular” art work. At the time I was working with a great therapist who was not an art therapist but who enjoyed free associating with me about the drawings that I would bring in. Many of them I did on the subway on the way to therapy. A while ago with a different therapist I decided to try the same thing, with scribble drawings and bringing them in to therapy. However, this time what happened was quite interesting for me in terms of the complete blurring of the boundaries between these two types of art works that we art therapists tend to make. The sketchbook was started with making traditional scribble drawings, some of which I have exhibited in this blog. I would make a scribble with whatever I had on hand, pencil, pen, sharpie, etc. and then try to find people, heads, animals, fish, or something “representational” inside the scribble. Then I jumped to continuing that process and adding collage from magazines. My first scribble drawing with collage was a kind of bridge between the traditional form of scribble drawing and something new that began to emerge. I think the photos I’ve posted here show some of this transformation process.

Then something new happened. I continued to add collage from magazines, but I started going over the initial scribbles and making them darker and filling them in next to the collages. I think of these as a kind of “meta” scribble drawing, as suddenly the marks of the initial scribble, instead of being deemphasized in service of creating some kind of image with some of the lines, became emphasized on their own as ovals and curved lines which I then began to fill with collage elements. It progressed further to the point where I began seeking two kinds of images in random magazines. The first was patterns that resembled scribbles or marks or other kinds of black and white dotted circular patterned collage pieces that went with the repetitive drawing and filling of the scribble lines with tiny circles. This is what I see as the “abstract” “meta scribble” portion of these new works on paper. The other kinds of images started to develop repetitions, and I noticed I was looking for specific images of actual things, to be very specific: arms and hands disembodied, other body parts, animals, especially elephants, owls and birds, fish, peacock patterns, and also such things as light bulbs, dolls, strangely drawn faces, and I’m not sure what else will join this list. I also brought back a drawing of a face that was used in work I made a few years ago, so that some of these scribble collage works had drawings of this “face” that is probably thought of as a kind of self-portrait. Often I also find figures of females that are put in with everything else and often they seem to be watching the entire image or dreaming it. Words cut out from magazines have also emerged in some of these works.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the ideas of Outsider Art versus Fine Art and other such topics, but I think these works represent the closest I have ever come to merging my “therapy” drawings with drawings I put up in my studio as part of a series of works I am engaged in. In fact earlier today, for the first time, I took a bunch of these Scribble Collages and put them up on my studio wall. In taking them out of the sketchbook and putting them on the wall, I make the leap from the personal to the Personal Art I Want The World To See… The other sign of this transformation was that I went from the small sketchbook to a larger one and challenged myself to do these pieces on much larger paper. This happened in the same time frame that I began to actually work on these drawings in my therapy sessions on the suggestion of my therapist even though my personal therapist is not an art therapist. So this is uncharted territory for me… To be continued…

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Fun With Blogs: Tag You’re It!

In this posting game, I saw a post from Bipolar Muse http://bipolarmuse.com, and she invited people to try this out, so I thought I’d give it a go, for fun! Any questions that seem too personal for this kind of blog I will skip I hope!!!

There are 3 sets of questions from the 3 bloggers before this, so I’ll try to answer in order.
1. Post the rules that are a part of this game: here they are
2. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post, and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged
3. Tag eleven people and link to them on your post. Let them know you’ve tagged them! (but of course)
The Questions!!!

Scenario: You are in your house and a fire breaks out. You have five minutes to grab things, and then you have to get out. What do you take? – my family obviously, photos, computers with saved photos on them and hard drives, as many of my millions of journals that I can grab, art supplies and art work, and some personal survival items if I have time

  • What would you do with a billion dollars? -buy a beautiful big castle somewhere beautiful and warm with a gigantic art studio, Move to a bigger place in NYC in the same neighborhood but the whole building would be ours, with a great studio/office on the first floor so I can just come downstairs to work, start a summer art colony for underpriveleged kids somewhere cool, donate some money to some good causes and go on a shopping spree!
  • Do you have an unpopular opinion? What is it?- I think psychotropic medications are pretty much a necessity for people suffering from Bipolar Disorder, schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia and that there should be no stigma; it should be treated like insulin for diabetes.
  • What do you think your five most unusual quirks are?- I sometimes forget to brush my teeth. I make art in unusual seemingly uncomfortable positions– in a biggish studio I end up on my crowded desk doing art. At home I’ll end up on the floor instead of sitting at the table. I am very very forgetful, have a terrible memory that gets worse with age. I’ve been eating a lot of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I dress very uniquely and do not look like a typical “therapist”…
  • Do you think that you could ever kill a person, given the right circumstances?-I’ll just say that having a child changes everythin, and as a parent you can do almost anything to protect that child!
  • What are your thoughts on astrology, extraterrestrials, and the supernatural?- I’m open to this stuff. When patients talk about communing with the dead and describe it in detail, I believe them. When people go to a psychic and report what the psychic said that was spot on, I believe the psychic is to be taken seriously.
  • What was the last lie you told?- I probably exaggerated the number of patients I have in my private practice to impress someone. Embarrassing, I know!
  • What does the word “hate” mean to you?- umm, it goes hand in with love. Feel worse if someone feels indifferent toward you than if s/he hates you. It takes a lot of emotional energy to hate.
  • Contrastingly, what does the word “love” mean to you?- a lot of different things. I’ll have to post about it. Let me just say this there is a specific kind of gigantic love you feel for your children, and there is a very special love between a person and her cat or dog.
  • What is your definition of cheating?- We all know what it is. I will confess the last time I did anything resembling cheating it was eating smoked salmon at a funeral wake; I’m a vegetarian because I don’t want to eat dead animals. I guess the death of a person can make you do weird things like eat a dead fish when it’s against your personal morals..
  • Are you particular or picky about anything? Food and texture of food. I like bananas but not in pancakes. I like nuts but not in anything, especially not in brownies or cookies. I love food from all cultures but I hate most deserts that are exotic. Like Japanese food but find all their candies and sweets to be sticky and weird and icky. I don’t like to wear suits and dress in a very particular way, so I’m picky about my eclectic clothing.

2nd Set of questions!

1. If you could go back and tell your younger self something. What age would you go back to and what would you say? – I would advise my former self around age 20 never to be roommates with any kind of friend or share a dog with a friend.

2. Favorite food.- it depends on the day. As a vegetarian: Lately I’ve been into peanut butter and honey on toasted bread. I love vegetarian maki sushi. I love most kinds of pasta. couldn’t live without cheese or ice cream! Pre-vegetarian: steak, lobster, smoked salmon, pasta with clams or shrimp, fried chicken,  and fried calamari. I really miss the calamari and smoked salmon!!

3. When did you start your blog? Why? I think it was some time in the fall of 2011. I think I was inspired by a colleague’s blog; I had blogged before in a more personal way and missed blogging, thought it would be interesting to try a “therapy and art therapy” blog and challenge myself to blog weekly and work on my writing skills!

4. What do you think your best character trait is?- Empathy, compassion and openmindedness and tolerance of people’s differences- sort of one trait with a mixture of these.

5. What do you think is your worst character trait?- Sometimes lack confidence, and lazinesss

6. What is the last thing you read? – I’m in the middle of several books, “The History of Dreaming”, “Awake in the World” and the hypochondriac’s memoir, “Well Enough Alone” by Jennifer Traig, last one is a second read as I loved the book.

7. Hero?-Van Gogh

8. How much time do you spend on the internet in an average day?- too personal to answer! too much! Weird Facebook groups, and I confess I’m into fashion trends..

9. If you had to chose only one social issue to fight for what would it be?- Suicide Awareness and Prevention along side Mental Illness Awareness and Treatment

10. If you could live anywhere, where and why? – A castle in Spain or somewhere really warm. I love castles.

11. If you could chose to have the power to read people’s minds/know their thoughts, would you choose to? No thanks. I get to hear them daily from patients. That’s enough for me!

Now, Bipolar Muse’s Questions

1. How do you feel about Capital Punishment?? I’m opposed.

2. Would you want to be cremated or freeze dried? Cremated and ashes thrown in an ocean or the Hudson River.

3. Would you donate your body to the “Bodies” exhibit in Las Vegas at the Luxor casino? No.

She forgot question number 4.

5. If you could have one wish, what would it be? To have a couple of million dollars tax free to do some of the above things I answered.

6. Glitter or Adidas Superstars? I don’t understand this question, but I like glitter and glitter glue!

7. Hillary or Sarah?? neither. I dislike them both.

8. You are on a stranded Island, you already have rum (because I am nice)…which other 3 things would be essential for you? art supplies and good paper, journals, food (and of course my family)

9. Do you believe in monogamy? When two people have an understood contract in their relationship and both parties are happy with it, I do not judge how they decide to live. As long as they both agree on it, it’s their own business how they want to approach topics such as monogamy vs. polyamorous relationship. Monogamy is not a belief but a conscious choice…

10. Is it possible to have PLATONIC friends of the opposite sex? I assume you mean gender, and in fact when you think about gender it seems more obvious to me that one can have friends of different gender.

11. Do you believe in 1 soul mate or that we could have many out there?? I don’t know. Maybe both can be true at once the way something can be both a particle and a wave…

Now for my questions: beware a bunch will sound like your therapist is asking them!

1. What is your earliest memory?

2. What’s your worst childhood nightmare?

3. What’s your favorite dream you ever had (dream while sleeping)?

4. What was the first career you talked about wanting to do when you were a child? How old we’re you when you first said, “I want to be a…”?

5. Are you a morning, early bird, an afternoon ish person or a night owl by nature? Are you able to follow your real nature or does job or parenthood or relationship get in the way?

6. Who was your first crush? How old we’re you?

7. Do you have a favorite color? What is it?

8. Which family of origin member do you consider yourself closest to, ie. a parent or sibling?

9. If you could do any job, have any career and not have to be practical, what would it be?

10. Have you had a cat or dog that was mostly yours? When and what?

11. Have you ever cut someone out if your life that you used to be close to and why?

Now I need to nominate 11 bloggers out there: this is hard as I’m new to blogging these days!

These are kind of quickly chosen among many blogs I follow: I hope you see yours. I guess it would mean you’re reading my blog, as I do not know how to list these as links for people to be able to go right to these 11 cool blogs… Sorry guys. I hope you see yours and answer these questions. It’s fun, and it seems like I do not have to answer my own questions! (Just as well.)

1. Intuitive flow

2. Kit Troyer’s Blog

3. The Healing Quest

4. Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars

5. Light Reading

6. Maze A Day

7. Eating Disorder Blog

8. I Know Something You Don’t Know

9. News of My Bipolar Brain

10. A Mind Divided

11. Not So Fashionable

More Musings on the Possibilities in a Scribble Drawing…

I have been exploring and obsessing about the scribble drawing lately, both in my practice but especially in my personal art work. It is an interesting journey I’ve never been on before. Last times I assigned myself a kind of “frequent diary entry drawing” in my journal, they have mostly been mandalas or whatever I felt like doing at the time. Now I’m back to the scribble. I think of it as the origin of drawing. So here I am at its source!

Wikipedia definitition of the verb scribble:

[1] To write hastily or carelessly without regard to legibility or form. To cover with careless or worthless writings or drawings

[1] Etymology: Middle English scriblen, from Medieval Latin scribillare, from Latin scribere to write

How interesteing that it is defined as being a “worthless” product or activity, yet the origin of the word is from the word to write! Writing conveys something of some communication or other.

Generally the scribble drawing is associated with automatic drawing; as I mentioned recently in another post, the person doing the drawing is instructed to relax and draw lines and scribbles on the paper while looking or averting/closing their eyes. Sometimes it’s interesting to keep the pen on the paper and not take it off until one finishes the scribbling.

I started out doing this kind of drawing the usual way, scribbling and then trying to find something recognizable in the drawing arising from my unconscious. I posted some of these ones recently. Then over this week I’ve become obsessed for lack of a better work, with this new genre of scribble drawing with collage. The result looks really controlled; at the same time I’ve followed a lot of the original random scribbls and just darkened them. A lot of oval shapes are emerging and I’ve been into filling the spaces with small black circles. Unlike most scribble drawings with are meant to be fast and to bypass the “thinking” part of the brain, these drawings are taking longer and longer to complete. I was making them on very small paper and recently moved to a bigger size paper. I will post the one I’m in progress with.

The other interesting food for thought that has arisen in this process is that the weekly scribble drawing I’ve been doing emerged and began as a kind of art therapy exercise for myself, a kind of weekly check in. As I continued with the collages, I noticed that I’m thinking of them not as my “art therapy” personal drawings but as works in progress, part of a new series of works on paper that I will likely post on my artist website. The scribble bridged the way between self therapy and “artist” art work. Often those lines can become blurred anyway. This will likely be my topic of the next post… The photo is of a work in progress begun today…

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Weekly Scribble Drawings

Every Monday I try to do a scribble drawing in one of my sketchbooks. This is a great way to keep drawing but also not like working on my other art projects which usually have a theme and concept behind them. The scribble drawing is a tiny visit to the unconscious. You close your eyes or avoid looking at the paper while you scribble. I try to make a loose scribble. Some are more “scribbly” than others. I started doing this at the beginning of December and have kept it up on a weekly basis. Some weeks I’m not satisfied with the first one and if I have time I’ll do a second. The interesting thing that happened is on 2/27 I started incorporating collage elements, just from magazines. It is more fun and right now in all my art work I’ve been obsessed with collage for quite a long time but on my regular work I use all sorts of media and in my scribble drawings I keep it flat as it’s in a sketchbook…
Images uploaded are from the following dates:
1. 1/9/12
2. 1/23/12
3. 2/27/12
4. 3/5-3/6/12

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People Who Live with Mental Illness

I have talked about several memoirs of mental illness that I’ve found to be absorbing and brave. I just in fact read two by Marya Hornbacher, in reverse order of when they were written: “Madness” about her struggles with severe bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and “Wasted”, her first book about her serious long bouts of “bulimarexia” before she found out about the bipolar illness.
Anyway, I think one of the most challenging topics around mental illness, (besides acceptance that you “have” the diagnosis, which in itself is big and can take many years of illness for someone to finally accept it as a biological illness that needs to be treated with medication), is the day in day out living with your mental illness.
Many People are remarkably resilient and can return to their everyday lives quickly after a bout with psychosis, or an episode if some sort or relapse.

However the constant battle to stay stable and healthy, to keep up all the self-care required to keep illness at bay, that requires a dedication and perseverance of a rare sort. As these memoirs show, it isn’t enough to just be taking your medications as prescribed, although that is a big step forward, but usually, there needs to be some sort of consistent therapy and/or peer support group or group therapy. Along with that, people taking meds need to be aware of mixing them with alcohol and other substances. Part of regular self care involves regular exercise of some kind, engaging in soothing and relaxing activities, and eating healthily. Soothing self talk is key, especially for people hearing mean voices and those who have a running judgmental commentary going on in their brains. Many mindfulness meditation techniques are very useful.
For some, even after severe psychosis and several hospitalizations, life returns to “normal” and taking ones meds becomes like brushing your teeth. These people tend to take good care of themselves and push the mental illness to the side as they go about their day.

For others, it is quite the opposite. For example, for many people with eating disorders “under control”, there is a daily battle with the mind obsessing about body and/or food intake, and it can be frustrating to have mastery over the self destructive behaviors but not over the “sick” thoughts. For these people each day is a battle with their demons.
The same is true for many with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder. Taking morning meds begins the day with the reminder “you have to watch yourself. Be vigilant. This could happen again…”
For these people just having or struggling daily with a mental illness can be exhausting. Self care plans can seem daunting and overwhelming. There is a certain kind of “burn out”, for lack of a better word, that occurs. This person is doing everything s/He is supposed to do. But, “I’m sick of dealing with this. I want it to go away. It’s too painful to try to be stable…” These kinds of thoughts can lead to suicidal ideation. In this case the fantasy of suicide is not directed outwards at wanting to hurt someone else by means of the ultimate form of self destruction, but is really a response to ones situation and being too drained and exhausted by the constant battle of ones own mind. For these people , every day starts with the profound ultimate choice:”Do I still want to live or am I ready to die and thus admit defeat over my illness.” S/hemust recommit to life every morning and choose the hard road of continued extra work, pain and exhaustion. Unfortunayely, once in a while the answer is clearly “no”, and then a well thought out suicide is planned. This is usually not the type of suicide “attempt” cry for help. In this case the person has already shouted and received help and support, but the illness wins over as it is simply too much to bear.

A Calling or A Choice?

I had grand plans last week to do a post on motherhood or on the onset of mental illness and the difficult journey of learning to accept that one has a mental illness, which many of the books I wrote about cover. Both big serious topics. But then at the end of a session with a new patient I got to thinking of the idea of a “calling”, as this patient had asked, when leaving my studio about seeing my art on the walls and did I go to art school or some such question. I briefly explained some of my circuitous road to becoming a visual artist as the patient was leaving.

Anyway some other topics I’ve been thinking about got me thinking about the idea of the identity of an artist. Many artists knew from early on that they “were” artists or “wanted to become an artist”; these people as adults often report that their teachers and art teachers and sometimes also parents saw their talent early on and recognized and encouraged it. These were the people who in grade school and high school were known as something like, “S/he can draw and draws really well…” I’ve met many artists and art therapists who have this kind of history. lThey had the coolest notebooks with great graffiti-like doodles and lettering

However, there are certainly other roads to becoming an artist. Mine was a complicated or maybe actually simple one. But the main question I’m asking in this post is: “Do you decide that you ‘want to become an artist’ or do you figure out that “I am an artist.” These are two very different concepts. For example, most people say they did not decide about their sexuality, whatever it is; they found out about it. It was not a choice. Some others in the minority argue it was a choice. Most transgendered people report that they came to a realization that “I may have the body of a boy or girl but I’m actually not a boy, I am a girl, or I am not actually a girl, I am a boy. No matter what form of body one arrives here in, one does not choose one’s gender, even if the outside body turns out to be the wrong one. And of course there are people who say they are neither a man in a woman’s body nor a woman in a man’s body and believe gender is much less clear than that. That’s a whole other topic. I hope these statements aren’t too controversial. I find them to be an example of basic “identity”; ie. what do you think when you see or hear the question, “Who are you?” versus “What do you want to be?”

As a child, one is subjected to adults constantly asking one, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a child, I did not like this question. I knew that I was excited to be a grown up for the obvious reason that then nobody could tell me what to do and I could, in my child mind, basically do whatever I wanted, which mostly involved the idea of eating ice cream for dinner. I also had a vague sense about going on business trips alone and staying in hotel rooms, which I thought would be very glamourous. But I had no ambitions to be a business owner or businesswoman. In fact, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my usual answer was, “I don’t want to be a lawyer.” It seemed to be needed as a statement as the only career I saw growing up was my dad’s as a lawyer and I knew that my mom had met my dad at law school. For some reason, I was dead set on the idea that no way would I be a lawyer, even though the only person I knew who went on frequent business trips was my father, who was one. When pressed to say what I did want to be, I always got grumpy and said, “Nothing. There’s nothing I want to do.”

For a brief period maybe in third grade, my friend and I decided that we were going to go to the Ringling Brothers Clown School and become clowns in the circus. We knew this school actually existed and were partly excited to go together there and be clowns together. After this clown idea wore off, I was back to my set answer, “Nothing. I don’t know.” You like to be in plays do you want to be an actor? No, definitely not. And so on with other professions. I went off to college with a vague idea that I might want to study film making and learn to make movies. I had a brief bout in high school of being interested in photography, but of course had no idea I could become a photographer and probably didn’t want to be one anyway. Soon after I arrived at college, I tried to sign up for the beginning film class and as they only took about ten people or less, I was rejected. Gone went my interest in trying out filmmaking. It was too much darn work to get to college and once I was there, I had no intention of fighting my way into any class, as I thought I deserved to be allowed to take it easy and be allowed to take whatever damn class I felt like. I chose my “concentration” (same thing as “major”) pretty much by checking out which ones required you to write a thesis. I knew a thesis was a long paper, and though I was good at writing papers, the length of a paper was directly proportional to my stress and fears about it, and I was not about to write something longer than 25 pages while at college if I could manage it. It turned out I could pick Russian Language and Literature and was not required to write a thesis, so it was a no brainer, as I liked both. Then the questions turned into ” What is your major? Oh, do you want to teach or become a professor, or do you want to work for the UN?” The question seemed weird to me. I had no desire to use my knowledge of Russian language and its poetry and novels to do anything. Four years of college seemed like a long time, and I still thought I could float along, staying interested in the kinds of things that are the least practical career wise and avoid this big decision.

I did not choose to have a crappy beginning of my sophomore year. Suffice it to say, without much thought, I decided to take an Introduction to Drawing class taught by DeCredico, a visiting artist from Rhode Island School of Art and Design. By then, choosing classes not in my “concentration” had a sort of impulsive feel. There were two intro drawing teachers there, and they were opposites. I watched my roommate freshman year suffer through an awful drawing class where she sat for hours trying to draw a bagel to look perfectly like a bagel. What an awful mean teacher she had. He was ruthlessly critical and liked nothing. It seemed like hell. Some friends of mine had taken the other cooky drawing class and reported that it was really fun, I should try it out, more like someone urging you to try a new drug or something than a class. I won’t go on and on about this class, but it was a pivotal event in my life. I walked in with no idea that I could make drawings or other art, not really sure what I was doing there except that I was sick of the typical classes involving words, papers and exams. I entered an alternate universe where we were told to find 10 sticks and put them together and bring them to the next class. In the next class, big paper and dark black ink was passed around and we were instructed to make drawings using our sticks creations as the “brushes”. Wow. I had no idea this was something you could spend a couple of hours doing at an Ivy League University where everything seemed to involve competition and way too much thinking. The class was like an art therapy experience for me. I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing or even why, but I was really enjoying it and something in me seemed to be awakened.

Suffice it to say that I ended that class with encouragement from the teacher and one of the teacher’s helpers, he must have been a grad student, and he actually knew my name. The teacher did not know anyone’s name as the class was big, but he would make a big sweeping gesture and point to a couple of images with a lot of ink or whatever on them and say “Why do I like these?” and point to some others and say the opposite. The ones he didn’t like were often the tightly drawn well drafter drawings that my poor roommate’s teacher would have loved!Often enough one of my images was up there. I never had the feeling before of someone looking at a picture I made and saying that. Probably it happened when I was 4 or 5, but I have no memory of that. The class ended, the summer came, and off I went to take my year off from college, toting a sketchbook everywhere with me and making lots of awful garish drawings in them among other typical “youthful” poems about suffering and loneliness.

Anyway I started my senior year in college thinking, “Am I an artist or a writer?” Or maybe I was thinking, “Which do I want to be, an artist or a writer?” I don’t remember how I formulated the question. The Russian stuff was now on the side as something I had to do to graduate, while I used my precious “electives” on a creative writing class and a painting class. They were both pretty difficult, not as fun as that drawing class, but the painting class changed for me after I figured out how to do my first painting. Go to the studio when nobody is there to compare yourself to and judge theirs as better than yours and work on it then. It was a a still life. I remember having an interesting awakening moment in the big empty studio when I walked around the room and looked at the work of my classmates, and it was as though someone had taken off a pair of glasses I had been wearing where I’d look at one and think, “Oh no. This person is doing such a perfect precise picture. It’s so great. Mine’s a mess, etc.” During this aha moment, I circled the easels and looked at the other paintings and suddenly those glasses were off, and I was thinking, “Oh this is just this person’s idea of this still life. It’s not that great or that bad either. It’s just different from mine. It doesn’t mean mine is bad.” And then the real awakening came when I looked at my painting and thought, “Wow. I like this. It’s really good.” Not a familiar state of mind for me in this unchartered area of image making…

Maybe at that moment knew I was an artist, maybe not. I continued to struggle with a Kafkaesqe short story in writing class and I definutitely liked the plot and ideas but it  seemed like too much work to keep editing it, and rich oil colors beckoned me.

College ended and life went on, but from that point forth I was an artist and did not really question it. I just kept on making a lot of art as much and as often as possible.It helped that I by chance had a tiny studio of my own right after graduation. It was the size of a closet, but it was a dream come true.  The more I went up there and painted, or stayed in the apartment and drew all sorts of things, all sorts of sizes and always carried caried decorated journal scketcook around with me, the more I got involved with the real difficult questions around a creative career of any kind. In this case it was, “What do I want to pant/draw, or is anything telling me to paint something. I stumbled around in the dark going in all sorts of directions, but it was still wonderful. I had been liberated from the complex depressing world of words and could no inhabit a magic land of textures and shapes and colors.

When I think about it now, it seems like I was covered in some kind of layer of some material that needed to be removed and underneath it, the artist had been hiding all along throughout my life, just waiting for me to need it enough to let it out. I continue to need it and I continue to be it. For me there is no choice… What about for you?