My friend Ken (see yesterday's post and his comment below) is an artist. I've been aware of his abilities since high school; I used to watch him hunker over a sheet of newsprint and produce uncanny likenesses of himself, or me, or any number of unknowing subjects in the halls and classrooms of Cascade High. I didn't know how he did it, but I suspected it wasn't at all hard for him. I assumed he'd reached out a tiny finger as a three-week old and been met with a touch from God, just like the reclining naked man in Michaelangelo's The Creation of Adam. My suspicion seemed confirmed after high school when he mastered "pointillism," which, loosely translated means, "the creation of dot art by one with crazy-fast wrists." My own wrists ached as I watched him slap those miniscule dots on the page. The images that emerged seemed to arise from nothing--and they were beautiful.
I didn't attempt anything close to art until Dave's Christmas gift in 1995. I was 34 years old by then. The reason I never tried before that is because I never received The Invitation. You know the one. It's the gold-embossed invitation; the one printed on ivory parchment with the deckle-edge; the one with a single line centered inside in script letters: "Congratulations . . . you're one of us." These are given to art teachers the world over, along with strict instructions to horde them faithfully and dole them out sparingly. Ken had received one; I was sure of it. And when an errand sent me to the far end of "that hall," the one which housed the high school art classroom, I'd slow my steps and grab a wide-eyeful of the honored few on the other side of that door. These finger-of-God touched few were Artists. You either had it, or you didn't. And I didn't, so I kept obediently to my side of the door.
Imagine how startled I was, all those years later, when no one barred my entrance to the art classroom in the back of my local craft store. I wasn't asked to produce credentials or references or a portfolio. And no one mentioned The Invitation--not even once. So I stuck a canvas on my easel, pulled the crinkly wrapper off one of my brand new brushes, squirted a big glob of cobalt blue on my palette--and started painting.
On Terry Whalin's site there's an article by James Scott Bell entitled Putting the Big Lie to Sleep. In it, he tells a similar story. After reading that article this week, and then recalling my own initiation into the art world, I wondered how many of you believed that same lie. I wonder if you're tiptoeing down a hall somewhere, slowing as you pass that open door and fearful you'll be called out for staring. Are you convinced you can't write--or create anything artistic at all--simply because no one has yet told you you could? If that's the case, let me be the first. Let me put that big lie to sleep, once and for all.
Artists are not born. A few, I'm convinced, do stick their little fingers out of the crib to meet the finger of God. I'll always believe that, if only for the fact that I know a boy who, at eight, drew pictures that looked purposefully Picasso. He hadn't had time in his young life to develop that ability, so it had to be a gift. But what does that mean for the rest of us would-be artists? It means we need to put pen to paper or brush to canvas. We need to enter the classroom, find our seat, and start the journey.
You can learn to write. I promise. You'll need to develop your craft; I won't lie. You'll need to read books about writing and attend conferences and allow other people to lay eyes on your work. You'll have to toughen up and accept rejection. You'll have to toughen up even more and listen to the inner editor when you hear, "Change. Slash. Rework." But if you do all that, and you keep on doing all that, eventually you'll look down one day and find that good writing has emerged from beneath your pen.
If you have even a spark of desire toward writing, and you're just waiting to hear the words, let me be the one to tell you: You're one of us.
Now get busy.