I was born an artist. I am a born artist. Art is how I see the world, it’s how I engage and make sense of my experiences. I take what I see and what I feel and combine it with my imagination and then I create something that has meaning to me. I never should have gone to regular school. I was too good for it. I was like a rose transplanted into a lawn with the rest of the grass. I am not a blade of grass!
I was looking through my old files and I came across some drawings I did back in elementary school. Way back in the day. I’m guessing they are from my year and a half I spent at a Montessori school in Chicago back in 1997. I haven’t seen these pictures for 16 years. 16 years! When I look at them I’m so struck by the similarity in how I was thinking, what I was doing back then and where I’m at today. Look at the color combinations! It’s so exciting! It seems like I have finally picked up where I left off 16 years ago.
When I look at these drawings I see so clearly that art is my mission in life. It’s what I came here to do! I came here to be awesome at it! To create the most epic pieces I can imagine! To fulfill my heart’s desires! I guess I knew it back then, but somewhere along the line between all the new schools and new countries, I lost that spark. I forgot who I was. I didn’t lose it completely but it dimmed down pretty low. That impulse to create something that pleases me.
I knew what I was doing back then. I didn’t need anybody to teach me. I was confident, I had direction. All I needed were the materials and space to create and sooner or later I would have begun to figure out exactly what I needed to know. I was creating from a place of trust in myself. I wasn’t afraid of what other people would think, I wasn’t even considering it, I was just drawing. I didn’t even need to think about it, I just did it because I enjoyed it. I realize now that we enjoy the things we truly enjoy for a reason. They aren’t just hobbies, they are our purpose! Our gift to the world! They are what make us thrive!
I can’t help but me a bit upset that I wasn’t allowed to be in the type of environment I needed to flourish as a child. Forget school, I needed to be in ArtSchool! Art School for kids, do they have that? You know, the schools where the kids can draw on the walls, where they learn about all different types of art, where they learn by doing and where creativity is encouraged and prioritized and where self-directed learning and emphasis on uniqueness are the norm? Ever been to that place? The Montessori school I went to wasn’t the dream school and I barely had time to get adjusted but it did have an art department that none of my later schools came close to. Not even close.
I left the Montessori school and went to a tiny, tiny school in Mozambique that had so few students it met in a large house. I had five classmates. Art was not a priority there. I might have been the only kid that enjoyed it. Art once a week! That’s not nearly enough, remember I’m a born artist! I needed to be drawing and painting and coloring every single day! For a couple hours! I needed to be outside, running around, climbing trees, exploring. Seeing. Art is how I engage the world, I need to actually engage the world in order to keep creating.
You know how they say, “You’re wasting your talent”? I did. I feel so upset that I had to spend all those f—— hours, endless hours listening to these incredibly dull adults (who had no qualities that I found admirable or was looking to emulate) ramble on class after class after class about things I was just not interested in. When we did get to have art class once or twice a week it was so short and unsatisfying that one day I finally said, “Forget it. I don’t want to do this anymore.” There was never enough time to finish a project. I couldn’t find the space to do what I came here to do, to do what I truly enjoyed and with no encouragement from my role models I gave up. I actually became turned off by the thought of art class. Art became what the teachers told me art was. It was a side dish and there wasn’t space for my own definition.
I lost my drive for creativity, and somewhere down that path I also lost myself. But it was only temporary thankfully. In 7th grade when I briefly attended a British school in Kenya (we wore a suit and a tie to school) one of the teachers saw that I had made a rather large drawing on my hand of a basketball and she said to me, “I thought students didn’t do that anymore at this age.” She was very polite but I thought she was crazy! It was just what I did, I didn’t even think about it. At one point I realized that the reason I didn’t ever have an idea of what was going on in class was because as soon as the teacher opened his or her mouth I was drawing in my notebook. I would take notes and then I would draw on them. It had been something of a mystery to me before. But that didn’t change anything. I was the kid in 11th grade that was still drawing tattoos on his arms. (The only kid.) Even so I wasn’t confident in my abilities. I didn’t believe in myself. Nobody had ever told me to. How was I supposed to know better?
When we moved to Maryland in 8th grade my art teacher told us that this would be our last required art class and I thought, “Good.” I didn’t take art again until senior year of high school in Indonesia when I found out that I needed it to graduate. If I had known that “art” also included music and a few other classes I probably would have picked one of the other options. Thank God I didn’t. The class saved my life. It was during that class when I heard a really quiet voice inside myself that whispered “I think I’m an artist.” It was actually more like, “Oh no, I think I’m an artist.” I wasn’t too thrilled about it. But I still knew I couldn’t ignore it.
My teacher recognized something in me that nobody had and convinced my dad that I should take art classes in college. Up until then I had been planning to be a personal trainer and attend a college that didn’t even have an art department. I don’t know what magic words he used but after that talk in the 12th hour (within a week of graduation) came a last minute plan to attend community college and live with my aunt and uncle (My family had moved back to Africa by this point). That didn’t turn out so well but at least it was a step in the right direction.
In 2007 I moved back to Chicago and went to community college and in some form or another art was back in my life. But it was still a long way from where I started back when I was a kid. And it took me about 15 years of wavering back and forth to pick up where I left off at the Montessori school in Chicago. Even to this day I still have doubts sometimes. So bear with me. I’ve only just begun to pick myself up and to claim my throne. My roots are starting to go deeper and now I can finally grow into the artist I am meant to be. Things are going to get awesome and that’s a promise.
When I think about the journey I’ve been on I just kind of shake my head and I have to tell the little artist within me, “I’m sorry you had to go through that little man..” I imagine that I’m talking to one of the little kids I work with. Time wasn’t a complete waste but it could have been spent better. So much better! The good news is I am finally back on track. At last! I have realized that I am not a blade of grass, but I’m a sunflower and I am blossoming. I know what life without art was for me. It was life without purpose. That was has to be worth something. It was a hard lesson but I’m only 25 and I’ve got many more years of art making left. Better to figure it out by 25 than at 50, or never, right?
And if I ever have kids it’s either art school or home school for sure. I’m doing this right!