Everyday I walk into classes I feel an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. This stems from a bad art teacher when I was a child. I know it. I recognize it. And now I have found a community of artists and supportive friends who appreciate my work for what it is.
I recall a meme a friend once shared on social media, “be who you needed when you were young” or something to that effect…
So hineni, here I am.
My art is “cartoony” and “comic” in nature. It can also be abstract expressionistic, and when I attempt realism it appears impressionistic, psychedelic, and surreal. I choose to own this and harness it.
Not everyone can illustrate children’s books or do the art for comics and graphic novels. Not everyone sees the world in colors and textures and organic forms. Not everyone can capture the human condition on canvas or paper.
But I was given a gift, and I can.
I think of my favorite painters in childhood, Renoir and Degas. How that informed my artistic influences in my teenage and young adult years, my friends Michael Pukac, M’ria, and Randy Swire (aka Randus) who I painted with and modeled for, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Dread Scott (who I was fortunate enough to work on an installation with in 2006, in Sarasota, FL). And how my influences and favorite artists today Sheba Sharrow, Wayne Weeks, Basquiat, Tamara de Lempicka, Romaine Brooks, Joe Kubert, Frank Miller impact my work now.
I often feel like I have two artistic selves… The one who paints abstracts and nudes; and the one who creates characters. Yet, if you look at my work, the two run together… Sometimes in opposition, and other times in tandem.
But in terms of academia, we consider classical art, traditional techniques and conventions. We look to emulate real life. Photo realism. Something all of my influences and my personal style eschews. And yet, the great masters and several of my more esteemed colleagues in the arts studied this photorealism and classicism.
I could rebel and give into my urge to just “do things my way” but instead I want to learn. I crave knowledge. I find it, the study of classical realism, both frustrating and fascinating.
I fear I will never see my work in this way as legitimate because it feels so forced. And yet I must strive toward perfection with regard to it because I am being graded. My validity as an artist is being judged. And it is terrifying.
Every day that I don’t sell a painting or pick up a commission I feel like less of an artist. And every grade I get that is less than perfection is like a knife stabbing into the wound a mean art teacher created in me over 20 years ago, the wound I have fought so hard to heal ever since.
But what if it isn’t a wound?
What if illustration/cartooning is as valid as “fine art”, what if… they don’t all have to exist separately… What if I could embrace my G-d given talent and style without judgement?
It’s freeing to come to the realization that such a thing is possible.
I hope somewhere a child or teenager is reading this. That they learn from my experience that their art is just as valid as someone who is just intrinsically a photorealist, their art is still art even if a teacher has called their work “cartoony and childish” like that horrible woman who claimed to be an art teacher cruelly called mine, when I was only 6 or 7 years old.
My faithful readers, your art matters. Your calling and your truth and your G-d given talents matter. Use them, and continue to learn to use them.