At age three, I drew big black stick figures on my parents’ living-room wall as high as my little toes could get me. I actually remember the whole thing—the color of the wall and even the texture of it showing through the stroke of the crayon. The memory is that vivid. What I don’t remember is what happened once the masterpiece was discovered.
But whatever did happen didn’t leave me with a fear of crayons. My childhood and teenage years were spent with pencil, pastel, charcoal, or paintbrush in hand; I was the strange one in the neighborhood who sat outside for hours, drawing or painting anything that caught my eye. I even attended private art lessons given by a resident crazy lady. I should’ve had a beret. In high school, it was pretty evident that I was headed toward art school. There was never a question in anyone’s mind, from friends, teachers, or especially my parents. So off I went.
But I started to have big doubts. What kind of career could I have? Would an art degree give me enough money to support myself? I presented another career plan to my parents on a weekend home, and it was quickly nixed. Defeated, I went back to Art History 101, a freshman requirement that demanded the purchase of some monstrous books, namely H. H. Arnason’s History of Modern Art.
This book changed everything. It sealed the deal for me. I took every art history course I could for the next four years, exploring painting, life drawing, sculpture, graphic design, calligraphy, bookmaking, etc. There is something about the curiosity that arises from any work of art—what the artist was like, what kind of life he or she lived, and what in that life influenced every nuance of the work. It didn’t matter if it was Manet or Warhol; I was enthralled.
To this day, that book has a special place in my home, on a shelf with others that have meaning for me. And still it provides inspiration—to my teenage daughter, who dreams of fashion design, and to me, as I have finally gotten back to the easel and, alas, even the wall, where I paint murals! Because being creative is a way of life in our house.
Look for another installment of The Book That Smacked Me Upside the Head next week!