Art IS the answer…

Today, one of my dearest friends forwarded a post by Devon Baker and her words resonated so much with me. At the end of the post you’re reading, I have reproduced the piece. So if you want to… scroll down and savour every word.

The story begins in 2006, with an English teacher’s idea. She had her class write letters to famous authors. They were to ask these paragons of literature for advice about their craft. Of the many missives sent, a single author replied.

Kurt Vonnegut was the only one who took the time and effort to respond. And the master advised the young acolytes:  

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reporting, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow… and do it for the rest of your lives.

I believe this is the most valuable counsel a young whipper-snapper, or a middle-aged fuddy-duddy, or a cranky old goat can ever receive. The act of “doing art” AKA “being creative” is the best gift you can give yourself and others around you.

Art makes you a better person. Art softens the edges of your hard-fast attitudes and allows your body, spirit and mind to stretch out and grow. It humbles you because to see improvement in your ability, you have to practice a lot. To me, the definition of “doing art” is the attempt to construct anything you can envision.

Your vision can be conventional or eccentric (or both at the same time) For example, you may want to cook a meal that you see on internet, paint the flowers in your garden, sing a song you absolutely love. Re-string a bunch of beads to make an exciting original piece, write a birthday greeting to someone special, or compose a eulogy that honours a deceased person you loved… redecorate your living room. ALL of this is “doing art” and “being creative”.

The second part of my friend’s message was about ayoung adult who was “doing art”. But she considered her efforts too inexpert to be considered as such. A person she admired found out about her interests and when she confessed to being very much a beginner, and “no good” he said:

I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.

This young person said that statement literally changed her life by altering her self-image and giving her the confidence to move onward and upward.

Regular readers of “Changes in our Lives” know that I “do art”, and that I am creative. The results of my attempts to produce what I initially set out to achieve, are rarely one in the same. But I LOVE what I do, even the not-quite-what-I-envisioned pieces. But I don’t care. I put it all out there anyways.

My friend that sent me the forward is someone you may know… Colleen Casey Leonard is her name. She is an artist and she has achieved a level of expertise I yet aspire to. But she has been working at art her whole life. When I met her she had only recently arrived to live in Yucatan and one of her greatest concerns was finding an art community and a place to work at her art.

I did some art while in school, but when I moved here, I didn’t know where to find supplies and so I stopped. I always felt there was something locked up inside me. But my son, Carlos found the key. Almost 15 years ago, at Christmas, he gave me an easel, some paints, brushes and canvases… with a note that read: I think it is time for you to take up painting again.

I had no confidence that I could “do art” but if my son gave me the tools, I figure I could not waste his gift and I began. I was shocked at what I could remember about form, perspective and colour. I was equally shocked at what I could not. But I plug away… and as I have already said… I love it, no matter how it comes out.

The same is true with my writing. I plug away and I love it.

If you are wondering how you could get started “doing art”, just pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and draw what you see, or write what you feel. If you still need help getting to the starting place (or even if you’ve already passed that initial step) I can highly recommend two books.

The first is “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by   Betty Edwards. Both these books will rev´ you up.

I could also get into many recommendations for writers. Natalie Goldberg’s,“Writing Down the Bones” is my favourite

Cooking, Crafting, Decorating … the intrnet is full of great sites. Do a search and find one you love.

Singing, dancing, gardening, decorating and playing and instrument… Ditto

One other thing. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t create for a while. . I certainly do this far too regularly. I let life’s “stuff” take up my time for art. Big mistake, because I turn into the wicked witch of negativity. But then a miracle occurs… I remember my art. Then I close my door (literally and figuratively) and I… do art… I do what I love. I am far happier for it and Woo-oo- Baby, my loved ones are happier too.

This is the author of the post forwarded to me. Devon Baker can be read at: https://www.facebook.com/aurora.baker.96. Read, savour and repeat…

***

In 2006 a high school English teacher asked students to write a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond – and his response is magnificent: “Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.

Published by Changes in our Lives

I am originally from Canada but have lived in Mexico since 1976. My husband is from Merida, Yucatan and we raised our family here. We both worked for many years at Tecnologia Turistica Total (TTT), the tourism, language and multimedia college we founded for local and international students. Now retired, we enjoy spending time with family and friends, My other interests include spending time with freinds, reading, painting, cooking and travel.

8 thoughts on “Art IS the answer…

  1. Very true. It’s the doing which is important. Emily Carr expressed this very well in some of her writings about painting.

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  2. As you probably know, Joanna, I love to sing. But with this miserable pandemic I hear it is singing which is the most effective way to spread virus germs. I really miss my two choirs – the English one at la Catedral and the Spanish one with Jim at Monjas. When I go to church there is no singing which I really miss. Let’s hope 2021 will be much better and the pandemic will be over.

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      1. Oh you ar not… but even if that were the case, what did the fellow in the post tell the young woman? : “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

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  3. Thank you for this Joanna. Like you, I was given a gift when I was encouraged to pursue art. When I was in my early 30s Chuck gave me art lessons for Christmas, saying “you’ve got art in you”. I think that was one of the nicest things he ever gave me. Then a few years ago, he took me to Arq Line on my birthday and told me to get everything I wanted, although he said he thought I should buy an easel. I barely knew what to buy but got that easel and a canvas and some paints and brushes. I emailed my niece who is a professional, trained artist and asked for guidance. She sent me a list of suggestions on products and Chuck took that list and bought every single thing that she said. That was my Christmas gift. I don’t paint daily but I paint often, sometimes not touching a brush for months but then painting daily for a period of time. Recently I was feeling overwhelmed with the state of the world and my state of mind and I have begun a new painting and it feels soothing to do so. Even those who think they are not artistic, usually have at least one area in their life where they are creative, like cooking.

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    1. Funny how we both received the gift of art… at Christmas time. What I love most about painting or writing is that it opens me to “possibilities”. When I lookat a blank canvas or a piece of paper, I close my eyes and “the world is my oyster”… We should paint together one day… I would love that.

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