Monday, July 08, 2013

Acts of defiance

Demonstration for Flat Rock Middle School Students, 2013

I am an artist. Not often the one I'd like to be. But here I am, stumbling along, learning all the time and quieting those voices who try to tell me "not enough".

Not good enough. Not talented like those other know, the REAL artists. Not dedicated enough to my craft because I didn't get a degree or formal training. 

But an artist of sorts. The kind who comes and goes from her craft with little sincerity other than a need to have a method of expression in order to quiet herself. In order to find ways to say things I can't otherwise say. To focus my angst and swells of desire to see and do everything in this world. To keep from exploding.

I have been a dabbling artist my whole life. A practicing artist, the kind who makes some money here and there, for most of my adult life. Then I found the magic of body painting. 

I remember discovering this amazing art form in 2004. Suddenly my Superpowers* came into clear focus, my ability for creation and collaboration had found their home. Their WOW. I knew I wanted to paint people forever and that I would never be done with this. I just knew. Deep in my core. 

So body painting led to body painting shows. Body painting shows came with a price. The most frightening thing of all for me as an artist. I had to paint in front of people. Real live people.

They would see my process. They would see that I was a fake, not a real artist. Just a silly girl trying to do something she wasn't qualified to do. Certainly not for an audience. Buying some paint and painting a few people does not make you an artist. It can't fool them. Not for long.

But see, I had committed to this show, to this painting for a live audience throughout the day as a big "fuck you" to those voices telling me; not good enough. I do that frequently you know. 

Body art show at Nelson Fine Art, 2012

Like the day I hung a canvas painting right over the fireplace that I wasn't happy with. The painting I wasn't sure I'd ever be happy with. "People will see this" they said. "People will laugh" they said.  "People will know you aren't a real artist" they said. "Fuck off and die" I answered. "I'm hanging it up anyway."

So I did.

Guess what?  Nobody laughed. Nobody thought less of me. In fact, it inspired a few people. 

The voices got a little bit quieter. They could see I meant business.

But then my very first body art show came around. They started getting louder again. "Fuck off, I'm painting anyway" I reminded them.

So I did.

Guess what?  People were thrilled to see someone body painting live. To see several of us body painting live.  
Some of them had never heard of body painting and here was a room full of locals, willing to expose themselves (quite literally) to share this amazing art form.

The voices got less intense again.

Practice painting in studio, Jonesborough TN

I have continued in this manner many times over. Every time I paint for the public, which is now a regular activity, I feel that little nudge of "what if I can't think of anything new?" It is now a whisper...a silly flirt of a thing I can smile at and remember when it had more power. It is familiar, so I don't mind it's silly little attempts, failing as they are. 

Sharing your art with the world, with a live audience is often daunting. Sharing anything you care deeply about is hard at first. It won't get easier if you keep trusting those voices of disbelief. Telling it to "fuck off" is as simple as picking up the brush. It is as simple as saying "yes" to some request. It is doing the thing you do. Over and over and over again until you know, without a doubt, that your dreams and desires are far more powerful than the voices that say "wait, don't expose yourself...don't be vulnerable".

There is a great power in choosing to be vulnerable. Putting your art or music out in the world is a willingness to choose vulnerability. A willingness to be strong. A willingness to grow and to inspire others.

There will also be naysayers. Someone who doesn't appreciate your art. Someone who doesn't like it even. Gasp!! You aren't painting (drawing/singing/dancing) for them. You're doing it for you and for those who find themselves connecting to it. Let the others go. It's ok.

The last time I painted live for an art event, I was working with my back to the passing crowd so they could see my model. Portfolio and magazine articles about my work were spread out on the table next to me, for the interested. Someone behind me stopped and with a snort of derision said something about how "goth is the one thing that never goes away". 

Painting for Mini-Documentary filmed by Jami L. Bennett**

GOTH?? My art was being perceived as GOTH?  I was so annoyed I almost couldn't continue. His one inaccurate perception  (probably based on the Halloween sugar skull painting) was enough to make me mutter under my breath several times throughout the evening. "Goth? I'll show him goth!"  Did he not see the beautiful maternity bellies I had painted? Did he not glance at those sweet baby feet of tiny twins?

You know what? I wasn't painting for him. I am not painting for the people who see body painting as some freak show or for those who want to buy yet another paint-by-number landscape. I paint for me. I paint for the humans who come to me with a desire to express themselves or to find healing.  I paint for the chance to get better, to learn and to continue to inspire and be inspired. I paint.

Because I paint, because I care deeply, I will continue to paint in front of audiences. I will share my art form because some person, somewhere is going to connect with it. No voice in my head, no fear is worth letting go of the desire. 

Tell the voice to "fuck off". Right now. Today. Say "yes" to something you've been wanting to do that scares you. Move....just keep moving. It will be ok. I promise.

The voices of fear, the voices of "not enough" are only as strong as we allow them to be. The love for a thing is their Kryptonite. Our determination, their death. As we paint while people watch, their opinions and thoughts are really none of our business. We are about your business of creation. Breathe deep and watch it be born....

We choose how we answer those voices in every response. Every act of picking up a brush. Every direction that is opposite of safety. Let our response be an act of defiance.

*Credit to Fabeku Fatunmise for the notion of Superpowers and how to find them.  
**Mini-Documentary available at YouTube for viewing.

Photos courtesy of the brilliant and amazing Keith Dixon Studios.


Nikki Shields said...

Beautiful work! I love it that you heard the naysaying voices in your head and did it anyway. You're right, putting your art out there (especially in progress) makes you so vulnerable - and yet it helps you grow so much. Great article.


Heidi Snavley said...

Love you :)You wouldn't be you without all of it. I admire you.

ps pirro said...

Art has a will, I swear it does. It wants to be made, and shown, and heard. It wants to be out in the world. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as artists is to allow our art to leave the inner sanctum of our private spaces and make contact with the world beyond our skin. That yours is made on others' skin is beautifully apropos.

Ren said...

I appreciate every one of you so much!

Yes Nikki, the in-progress stuff is so hard to share. I think that is part of why it is so important for us to do so...because people need to see the process. They need to see that all art looks a mess at some point. That it is part of the process.

Heidi, I love you back and you inspire me all the time!

Peggy, i totally relate to what you wrote! Art does seem to have a will of it's own, a life really. I love the human canvas and the energy that happens to my art with a human under the brush. It is magic.

Shannon said...

Thank you! I needed to read just this right now.

Cap'n Franko said...

Love you, Ren!

I empathize.

'nuff said.

Seraphina Uludong said...

Thank you so much. I really needed to read this today. Thanks for sharing.

Ja Wood said...

I love Body art but even more I love this piece on still the voice inside that says we are not good enough. I hear mine load and clear most days but form now on in I will tell it to "fuck off" just saying it now makes me giggle. So thank you

Laura Bowman said...

you know i'm right there with you on i good enough...what do people think...the voices. fuck the voices. i love sharing what i love, whether it's art, music and dancing, food, or words. and learning to not care so much about what other people think has helped a lot.

piscesgrrl said...

Fabulous and wise, as usual. I have the same inner voices (do we all?) but not long ago I promised myself I would keep.moving.forward. Especially on those days when I'm feeling vulnerable. Head down, eyes closed, Keep.Going.

We're NOT creating for the naysayers. They'll (hopefully) find their inspiration elsewhere. But we know each time we make a connection, each time we scratch that itch, that we're doing it for the right reasons and reaching the 'right' people.

Art on, my beautiful friend! And in my case, I guess I'll squat on. (Wait, what?)

Patti said... many times have I told you to shut it & paint cause its gonna be bad ass when you get done (or run out of time, we never get done)? We all have those crazy voices of doubt but the cool thing is that we are brave enough to go for it anyway! You're are definitely an artist, a legitiment artist and would be the first person I'd call. I have always believed in you & thank you for believing in me!! Now let's paint!

Kara said...

I adore this. Your work is amazing! It was exactly what I needed to hear. I just put myself "out there" yesterday. I chose vulnerability with all those voices screaming. It helps so much to know that even people with your level of creativity still have to fight the voices. Cheers to you!

Ren said...

Can I just tell you all how much I love each of you?? Seriously. So much raw, creative, beautiful energy here in your comments. I don't even have words for it.

Patti, I'm sitting here laughing my arse off...thinking about all those times you told me to SHUT IT and keep painting!! It's so great. That's exactly what my inner voice does now. Just paint. Just draw or dance or cook or squat (laura endres) whatever... DO IT. Nike had that one right. ;)

La, you and I always totally connect on this stuff!! Learning to make other people's thoughts about me or my work none of my business has been life changing. Growth.

Laura Rodifer said...

My knowledge of art comes from what I learned in school & thankfully people like you & Patti. I went to your show last year & absolutely loved it. So ingenious, talented & actually thought provoking. Thank you for telling the voices to "fuck off".

Jennifer McGee said...

You have inspired me with your art and your words. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I'm not an artist, but this is exactly how I feel about blogging. I wanted to do it, but spent a long time listening to the voices telling me all the reasons why I shouldn't. And turns out, the voices were wrong and I am a happier person doing what I love. I don't need a ton of people appreciating what I do, but I have a few and it has changed my life, knowing that I can express myself in writing and someone else will connect with that. Great post!