I’m Gonna Brag On You

It’s not uncommon for lots of people participating in an art workshop to say, “I’m not an artist.” There’s often a grain of truth in that statement. Most of us are not superbly gifted artistically like Matisse, Cezanne, Monet, O’Keeffe, or Picasso, me included. But most of us have often not exercised our artistic muscles enough to enjoy gaining mastery over the materials, or experience the pleasure of pushing through the artistic challenges to overcome our self-criticism and disappointment of not being perfect on our first attempts. We often give up before we begin.

When the women at the Lighthouse began creating prayer flags a few weeks ago, Peaches started making noises that she wasn’t an artist as we began passing out palettes, stencils and linen napkins. She continued to fuss and sputter for a while, finally asking with a helpless tone in her voice, “How do you make light blue?” I simply took her stencil brush and began stirring the small blob of blue paint into the larger glob of white paint she’d laid out on her palette. “Oh, I can do that!” she responded a bit surprised. And so she did.

Over the morning she continued to make other creative decisions. One after another in pursuit of what she imagined in her mind’s eye. At one point she asked for guidance about where to write her chosen text Purificame (Purify Me). I offered a suggestion…several times…no takers. Peaches sought some calligraphy help from one of the other women. Heads together, they created what Peaches had in mind.

The following Tuesday during Open Studio time I returned Peaches’ prayer flag saying, “I’m gonna brag on you next Friday. Is that OK?!” Her quizzical looked softened as I reminded her that she’d told us she wasn’t an artist, but that I’d watched her make a whole series of definite, determined creative decisions as she created her prayer flag.  She was more of an artist than she’d given herself credit for.

On Friday morning I continued bragging on her as I shared with the other women that not only had I seen Peaches make a whole series of artistic choices, but that she’d done something even more important. She had not taken my suggestions (when offered several time) as to where to put her desired text. Even though, as the workshop leader, I might have been perceived as the artist…the expert…or the authority, she had drawn appropriate creative boundaries around my influence, and was faithfully trusting the creative vision given to her. Through her art making she was practicing important new life skills.

As the women acknowledged, most of them have been in untrustworthy relationships where others abused their boundaries, often involving them in activities against their will or better judgment. They are often confused about whether or when to draw boundary lines, who to trust, and whether to trust themselves. In a safe, nurturing environment, Peaches was learning not to be overly influenced by someone perceived to be in a position of authority, but to trust herself, and to seek the necessary help to support what she creatively wanted to accomplish. For someone who began the art activity declaring she was not an artist, Peaches chatted as we cleaned up about how satisfied she was with what she’d created.

Her parting remark?

“I like what I did.”

Girl, I’m gonna brag on you! 

If you’ve ever declared yourself “not something”…an artist, writer, dancer, gardener, athlete, teacher, public speaker…whatever, have you ever been surprised to find those abilities or skills emerging with a little attention or affirmation? Is there someone in your life who believed in you that helped foster a new way of seeing yourself? Tell us a story of someone who bragged on you?

Looking forward to your stories.

PS – The art image above is a three-dimensional collage of items arranged on the bed of my scanner. The ceramics figurine was given to me by a dear friend as a memorial milestone marker of when I began to call myself an artist about fifteen years ago. 

 PPS – The Lighthouse is a fifteen month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse.

 

5 comments to I’m Gonna Brag On You

  • Erin Thomas

    Awesome story Lynne and well told to explain the transformation. Art is a bridge to so many things. Bringing people from one place to another, opening up their soulful talents like nothing else. It is the great equalizer and I am heartened to hear about you using your gifts of art and sensitivity to people in this way. You are inspiring!
    We take art for granted and are allowing it to be taken out of schools and budgets of all kinds. We need to fight for art. It is one of that last soulful, healing practices we have left in a violence and detached culture.

    Long live art and artists who teach!

    Erin

  • I’m always telling people, “Everyone is an artist in their own way.” I stand by that and am excited you are right there telling folks the same thing!
    T

  • Inspiring. Art is a life line for me. Connie

  • Helen

    I developed a chronic health conditon about three years ago which resulted in dismissal from my job and an early pension on the grounds of my continuing ill health. The pension settlement was finally agreed about a year ago and I was left bemused and very restricted in trying to find a new purpose for my life.

    At the same time I was continuing to process my life through poems and prose, just as I had been doing for the last few years; although I had little faith that what I was doing was anything other than working through a very difficult period in my life.

    Once my dismissal, and pensionable status, had been finalised I felt very adrift and could hardly see myself at all. I wrote to a very old friend about the struggle to find a new identity and she wrote back at once and told me that if I didn’t want to be a pensioner then maybe it was time to officially declare myself to be a writer!
    I was stunned and freed and jubilant at one and the same time!
    So I did!
    And I am!
    And I still don’t know what ‘officially being a write’ looks like but she set my spirit free to try and find out.
    A gift of grace indeed!

    And officially
    You say
    I can become a writer
    And my fingers itch
    With unspoken joy
    And pop open the laptop
    And dive straight in
    Tapping and pounding
    And dancing and skipping
    And selecting letters
    And full stops
    And commas and
    – oh bliss –
    Semi-colons!
    And the words are shaped
    To reveal my heart
    And the blood drips
    Endlessly from veins
    Opened by sharp words
    And pointed remarks
    And the stabbing pain
    Of life broken down
    And tears are drawn forth
    By sadness shared
    And words of grace
    And the word made flesh
    Gifts words of faith
    And word play fools around
    And laughter escapes
    And pictures are painted
    In black and white
    And paper is watermarked
    And illustrations worth
    A thousand words
    Can be read between the lines
    And I can become a writer
    You say
    And it must be official
    Because I read it
    In your words!

    HW2011

  • Carl McDonald

    Lynne
    You never cease to amaze me with the connections that you make to everyday life experiences and art. I remember the first time I participated in one of your workshops and I too exclaimed that I was not an artist. You said, “can you draw a straight line?” Then asked, “can you draw a circle”? And then, “can you draw a wavy line?”. I answered yes to each question, and you told me that I was an artist. Through the years, I have discovered that I do have creative tendencies and am happiest when I am being creative. Guess that is art!

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