Art Suture

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On being someone that always makes “creepy” art and has a persistent need to smear weirdness everywhere:

Like many right-brained people in the world, I was apparently born scribbling pictures and tonguing the curves of words. My parents were young and creative; they never made me feel bad about the increasingly strange content of the interests I had or the pictures I made. However, they weren’t around much. While chasing their own dreams, they often left me to fend for myself in various family/school/neighborhood/random-people-who-said-they’d-keep-an-eye-on-me environments, and those environments were pretty constant in their message that my creative output was not okay. I received a lot of feedback that went like this:

“You can draw real good, but why don’t you make something pretty?”

I tried, sometimes. But it always looked stupid and insincere to me. Most of my life, I honestly thought that the reason I made creepy art was that I couldn’t do anything else. I thought that I must just rely on strange content because I wasn’t good enough to do anything realistic or attractive. I equated marketability with “real art” and took the random appreciation of my friends and patrons for granted. Of course they liked it; they liked anything odd or shocking.

In my mid-20s, when I was doing anything creative as a hobby on the side while pursuing a full time career in social work, I had the following experience. My coworker and I had been hanging out and decided to start playing music together. We were both passionate about social work, feminism, fuck the system, etcetera. She was an anarchist, train-jumper, and house squatter. Don’t get me wrong—she was an amazing and talented person. However, when we got together, she kept getting pissed at me for referring to chords and “using the language of patriarchy”(we both played guitar, but my need to refer to keys and notes kept disrupting what she wished to be more intuitive), which I found very frustrating. Yes, I got where she was coming from. My father taught me what I do know, and in my life I have repeatedly encountered male musicians who who seemed to be trying to test my knowledge of musical jargon. However, musical notation in itself is as objective as math. I made that point, actually, and she said math was a form of patriarchy too. I disagreed. We discontinued our musical collaboration.

Through this experience, I began to see my own aversion to “traditional” art techniques for what they were: fear of failure. Fear that if I tried to learn them, that I would suck at it and my fate as a mediocre artist with lots of unique pictures in her head would be sealed forever beneath six feet of potential. America puts the boot of perfection to your neck anyway, but being a woman just really leaves no room to fuck up. At least, that is how it feels. But of course, that is bullshit—a phantom, societal pressure. So I quit my job and went back to school. In fact, I lived off loans while I got a BA in Art. In school, I  took fundamental art classes alongside many 18-year-olds and felt stupid and mortified at first. However, I did all the boring still-life, figure-drawing shit I had been dreading and (surprise!)I learned. So, guess what? Pretty and marketable? I can do it. I can draw a family portrait. I can paint a bowl of apples. I could, and if I had time, I might enjoy it. But I don’t have much time to make art, so I want to make what I like and what I like is weird. So there.

Learning rules and conventions does not restrict you to them. In fact, that knowledge can embolden you to break them with purpose and to greater effect.