Honestly, I could substitute that word “artist” with any number of pursuits that carry a one-word title, and had I allowed society’s generally agreed upon definition of it to deter me, I would not have become ANY of them.
Let us consider, for here, that “artist” is a word used out of convenience to describe heterogeneous, immeasurable creation, expression, emotion, adventure and beauty—a description so vast a dictionary couldn’t contain it. Perhaps then we can begin to feasibly find room for where we, ourselves, regular people, might experience the world of artists. With that description, being an artist is a metaphor for being human.
Throughout my life, I’ve observed how much of what holds me back from becoming, or trying-on-for-size, is self-inflicted intimidation, or a sort of mind trap I’ve allowed others (friends, family, media, lovers) the power to set. Or, if not intimidation, then revulsion, based solely upon anecdotes, made even more preposterous by my own biases.
In a warped, self-proclaimed clairvoyance, I can rack up excuses thick enough to smother any potential experience. Fortunately, reflecting on my history grounds me and I remember there’s no way I can honestly KNOW one hundred percent until I actually DO, whether it’s possible. Lately, that’s my mantra in life and I’m sticking to it!
I believe we are constantly becoming and opportunities surround us all the time to do just that. Some arise in the form of stumbling upon a website like Unearth Women and VAWAA. Some are masked and require humility to see, like when I’m disciplining my children and they call out my hypocrisy or worse yet, unwarranted anger and impatience. Some are pure serendipity.
What I mean is that at all turns, life presents potential self-discovery. Perhaps there’s an emotion or an excitement or hope or curiosity or drive to succeed—or you choose a word—that precedes fearlessly trying or pursuing something. Mine is to never stop growing and learning. What’s yours? Start there.
Each action turns into a string of moments that eventually link together and displace my mind’s false narrative of, "I am not...".
So how have I (or anyone for that matter) “become” any of what I have in my lifetime? My experience shows me with every single solitary pursuit, it begins the same— showing up. Putting one foot in front of the other. My richest experiences have had these additional ingredients in more enlightened moments (that is to say NOT all the time): asking for help; leading with humility; surrender; setting aside my will or fear or expectation; not being so darn serious!
Each action turns into a string of moments that eventually link together and displace my mind’s false narrative of, “I am not...”. If I am aware enough, I can reap the magic and see I’ve defined what it means, FOR ME, to be a such and such. It’s a kind of victorious reclamation worthy of celebration.
It is purely subjective, the soul search on how to resist imprisoning notions that keep us from trying new things—subjective and desperately important. Through this mini-apprenticeship I had a window into an art, but may never make another woodblock print all my live-long days. That is perfectly fine with me because that wasn’t my point. To create fulfilling memories, to make something with my hands, to soak up the life of a living and working artist instead of deceased ones in a museum were some of my hopes that were fulfilled.
There were more gifts. I can tell you Rue Saint Sulpice and the corner of its 17th century church (12th century foundations—wow!) that I strove to capture will be more indelible in my mind than any tour of it—made even more memorable by the complete and utter misinterpretation of it in my final print. Ha! It’s laughably unrecognizable, except to me. And I find that to be rather awesome. Even more awesome will be the take-away of deep respect and appreciation for engravings I encounter in the future.
I will have a funny story for parties, about my embarrassment at passers-by, audibly impressed by Gerard’s sketch and uncomfortably silent about my very poor scratches. I will carry lovely images of the Seine where Paris Plages was in full effect, the banks of the river-turned-beach, bedecked with umbrellas, adjustable canvas lounge chairs, music, and stressed Parisians enjoying a brief staycation thanks to their city cleverly maximizing the potential of its famous river.
From this experience, I will be grateful to have another example of my tendency to be very hard on myself (this time about drawing), in order to raise my awareness and continue my work to quiet it and replace it with kindness and leniency. Maybe that’s where the older, friendly-faced woman who approached me and my sketch pad was leading me. She asked, “You are inspired?” I will recall her intonations and gesticulations of this question she asked more than once. I’ll believe its rhetorical nature was to remind me that to be inspired, even a little, is all that matters.
Written by Julie Duryea
Vacation With Gérard in Paris, France.
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