Step 1: Choose the right parents.
Your mom takes art lessons from a prominent local artist. You are a toddler who gets to scribble on scraps of paper during these lessons. Mom never confesses to a suspected affair. You might have been a foil…
Step 2: Grow up in the 1950’s
Status and appearance are important. The rising middle class (your parents) emulates the wealthy by filling their homes with encyclopedia sets, classical music, condensed literary classics (why waste time?), and art prints. You are a visual learner and you:
a. read Classic Illustrated comics, the first graphic novels based on the classics. This is of great value later on, when people think that you are a “well-read” adult!
b. watch Winky Dink, the first interactive television program, where you purchase a plastic overlay for the tv screen and draw on it to save Winky Dink and his dog Woofer from potential hazards.(Good thing you drew that bridge just in time!)
c. submit an entry to the “Draw Me!” ad in Readers Digest to try to win an art scholarship. This marketing scam gives you false hope of becoming a professional artist by buying a pricey correspondence art course.
d. complete many paint by number masterpieces. You learn to stay in the lines.
e. take private art lessons with schoolgirl besties on Saturday mornings with 2 of Orlando’s art legends, Ralph Bagley and William Orr. Learn the basic techniques and composition of art, and begin the dream of becoming an artist.
Step 3. This step takes 50 years when you come of age in a sexist culture that coerces you to lower your expectations and forces you to completely lose track of your dream.
a. through k. you major in art at university (finally, real grades for real art), and the dream is reinterpreted for you because you are single and a mother. “Sorry,” says the dean of the art department, “even though you are a great painter, you must major in art education, not painting. There are no open spots in the painting track.” That is not true; it is because you are now a mother who “should” follow a traditional career path. You teach art but marry an ambitious entrepreneur and be his office manager for over 20 years to further his artistic success. Things change in marriage and business and you are back to teaching high school English. (You already have a vast knowledge of classic novels!) Additionally, you are fully responsible for caretaking your elderly mother who is in her late 90’s (Remember, she gave you your first art exposure in Step 1). She keeps your dream alive with encouragement for you and artful conversations. You keep her alive…for a while. You receive additional encouragement from daughters and friends. You begin painting seriously again at age 55 and join other artists in life drawing sessions. Inspiration returns!
Step 4. Blossom.
You are validated by being accepted into local art shows and winning some prizes. Your acceptance as a member in The Fifth Avenue Art Gallery comes almost simultaneously with your long awaited glorious retirement. You feel the lightness of being. You start new adventures. You meet the love of your life. Just like that! You are an artist.
Heather Kelley is a member-artist at Fifth Avenue Art Gallery. More about Heather