And so, I painted. I drew. I sketched. I took every art class my high school offered until I reached the very last class in Advanced Placement Studio Art. In this year-long class, I was challenged for the very first time to make a statement. After all, artists are supposed to have something to say. Artists are the ones that muse about the world. They express those musings in bold color and shape. They say something for which the non-artists struggle to find words.
I didn’t know how to do this. I had the skill to make a still life look almost life-like. I had the ability to blend colors to evoke the feeling of that apple. I had enough talent to be in that room with the other would-be artists. And yet, when it came time to create that portfolio that would ultimately determine my grade, I didn’t know what was unique about my artistic voice. And it had to be. That was one of the requirements. We had to have something to say.
I vividly remember sitting on that stool in the back of my art school art room staring at a set of pastels. I wasn’t making art. I was eating a clementine until I noticed how interesting it was. I noticed other colors in the obvious shades of orange. I picked up the pastels and started to draw. Thus, my portfolio was born. It didn’t say a darn thing. I was just looking really closely at the natural world. I was trying to understand it as much as I was trying to understand myself. I didn’t know that then. Then, it was just fruit and vegetables. Lots of them.
On the day of my high school graduation, my parents encouraged me to display this art around the living room. I had already received my grade and felt a little crushed. My beret-adorned dreams were dampened. The truth had been told. I didn’t have a unique voice. Still, in a family of artists, it’s important to show your work even if it’s terrible. So there it was for all to see.
I managed to ignore the ogling at my art until my aunt called me over. She pointed directly at the clementine. She told me it was a vagina. I was mortified. Was that what the AP Boards had seen? Had they concluded that I was some sex-starved adolescent with nothing but her own anatomy on her mind? Of course, my aunt went on to point out the vaginas in each piece. There were vaginas everywhere. With each exclamation she made, I sank deeper and deeper into shame. Read more