Portrait of an Artist at Age Five
Oct 17, 2019
Portrait of an Artist at Age Five
In kindergarten, most little girls want to play “house.”
With pigtails and rosy cheeks, they bake imaginary cakes,
nurse baby dolls back to health, and carefully place
empty milk cartons and egg crates into miniature toy
fridges. But not all little girls are like this. Or, at least, I
wasn’t like this.
In 1970, teaching practices were different than they are
today. And my well-intentioned kindergarten teacher, Mrs.
Wiley, made mistakes. Despite my resistance, the
otherwise lovely Mrs. Wiley would drag me into the
makeshift, miniature “house” and insist I play with my
classmates. I was encouraged to bake the imaginary
cakes, nurse the baby dolls back to health, and carefully
place empty milk cartons and egg crates into the
miniature toy fridge. Without having the capacity to argue
with a grown-up, I followed her suggestions to the best of
my abilities. I picked up the empty milk carton, I stared at
the baby doll, and I feigned washing a plastic tea party
set. But, what was the point? I was a fish out of water
and the other girls knew it. They shunned me, wouldn’t
let me touch the baby doll, and otherwise confirmed that I
was an outsider.
Poor Mrs. Wiley. I’m sure she didn’t know what to do with
me. But, one day she had the notion to just ask: what do
you want to do? From that point forward, the rest of the
school term was easily laid out … I wanted to finger paint!
I wanted to mix and mash the soft, pliable paint into swirls
of cloud-like images.
I wanted to take hold of the long, flat bristle brushes and
fill them with tempera paint. I wanted to make squares and
more squares in all different colors all over the poster paper. And then, I wanted to
tear off another piece of poster paper and start again! It
was that easy.
Once alone in my private little corner of the classroom, I
knew I was in a “safe” place to be alone with my thoughts
and my paints. I knew I could avoid the discomfort of
judgment. And, even though I didn’t fully understand
what it meant to “keep house,” I knew that I didn’t want
any part of it.
Essentially what I am saying is that I had an urge to paint
then ... and I still have that urge. Wanting to paint,
wanting to create, is an itch that needs to be scratched.
So, what does that mean - having an itch that needs to be
As an adult, I find that an idea surfaces
from somewhere inside and I need to put it down on
paper, cardboard, wood, or whatever substrate I’m drawn
to. It’s more than a bit OCD (obsessive compulsive
disorder). I also find that the very best pieces tend to
On occasion, I look back at older
pieces and I can’t even remember how I made them -
and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to make them
again. The idea, the creativity, and the ability all seem to
come from somewhere else.
In an online artist’s group I recently joined, a fellow artist
suggested that making art is like being bi-polar. And, I
agree. When a work is going particularly well, it’s like
dancing with the gods and there is no better feeling on
the planet. Every once in awhile, it even feels like
someone else is guiding your hands and you, yourself,
really don’t have anything to do with it. The
promise of the high is so alluring, it’s worth picking up the
paintbrush again and again in hope that that feeling will
Well, that’s the upside of the bi-polar coin. The downside
is when things are NOT going well ... when I butcher a
piece or I just think it’s sub-par - that’s when the self-loathing
kicks in. I’ll tell myself all sorts of negative things and even question my
whole existence/purpose in life. So, yeah, I definitely
consider it being a bi-polar condition.
And, there’s another angle: sometimes I see starting a
new piece as creating a puzzle - a puzzle that ultimately I
will have to solve. And, when I have a hard time figuring
out the puzzle, I want to slam myself in the head - Three
Stooges style - for having gotten myself into this mess to
So, in conclusion, I think being an artist is equal parts:
- having OCD
- being bi-polar
- and being a puzzle maker/solver
- all at the same time!
But now I would like to say a little something about
freedom. (I don’t know where I’m going with this, so bear
with me). At some point in my twenties, it occurred to me
that it was more important for me to be free than to have
a steady paycheck, a normal life, and a roof over my
head. I took the plunge and gave up all typical worldly
ambitions to paint full time. When I look back, it seems
insane. I didn’t even know another single living artist!
I also look back and think it was the greatest/bravest
move I have ever made. But, damn,
it was taking a chance! And I got lucky. But it easily
could have gone the other way and I don’t know what
would have become of me.
So, I’d like to add one more thing to my list:
- being an artist is also an act of bravery!
Majorette No. 3, 2019
On that note, I pay homage to all you crazy, OCD, Bi-polar, puzzle-makers who are brave enough to call yourselves, "Artist!"