This isn’t as much of a book review as it is a reminder of who I am. I came across the book Life After Art by Matt Appling unexpectedly. It showed up in the “customers who bought this also bought…” section on Amazon while I was looking up another book.
It caught my attention because I used to consider myself an artist a long time ago. Somewhere around 5th grade I started taking art lessons after school at an art supply & framing store. In high school, I took commercial art classes all 4 years and had entertained thoughts of going to CCS (then called Center for Creative Studies) in Detroit, the only art school I knew of. Computers weren’t used for much beyond basic word processing then so everything was still done by hand. The chiseled tip of a brand new Prismacolor marker was the best!
Back then, the only career advice I was given was to get a “good job that paid good money.” For fear of potentially being a “starving artist,” I got an engineering degree instead, a decision largely influenced by being awarded a full 4 year scholarship, which was nearly impossible to pass up. Taking the scholarship meant going to school as far away from home as possible but still in the same state, along with the challenge and bragging rights of surviving long isolated winters way up north in the U.P., not to mention the 4:1 guy:girl ratio. It was all good in my mind. I was ready to be independent. While I can’t imagine not having had that experience as part of my life, I had stuffed the whole art thing for many years, thinking that artist and engineer were mutually exclusive.
I had always been someone who falsely defined my identity and worth by what I do, thinking that different jobs had different status levels. Once my title of engineer was replaced with Mom, I started defining myself by the volunteer work I did at church, to avoid being “just a mom.” I am hopefully past that stage now, but I think the artist has always lingered in the background and maybe I am still an artist at heart.
I think it explains why I notice details around me (I think of art class and looking at objects and breaking them down into areas and shapes of different colors/shades and light reflections) and why I can’t get certain song lyrics out of my head. It’s why thesehave been nagging at me for years to get them out of the box. I finally let the kids use them even though they were expensive, just so they didn’t completely go to waste.
It shouldn’t be so hard to do this, to do something I supposedly love and have missed, but I am also a perfectionist, afraid to take risks, afraid to fail. Afraid of not meeting my own expectations, not being able to accurately create what’s inside of my head outside of it. Maybe it’s the right brain battling the left brain? At any rate, I can relate to the gradual change in attitude from child to adult that Matt describes in his book. As adults our priorities change, we become more self-conscious and less risky than children, and start accepting a “good enough” life rather than the life we really want. He calls out what I have been admitting about myself for years: I am lazy.
Ultimately we are all creators. We are made in the image of the Creator. The question is what do we want to create? The answer is either something beautiful or something ugly. I knew the answer before even reading this book, before I read the question. I want to “add to the beauty” as Sara Groves says. It’s why I’ve taken so many pictures in the last couple years. I want to share what beauty I see. Creating beauty is not just about art though, it is about life. It is not only about changing my life for the better, but about making the world a better place, which could be done through something as simple as an encouraging word or a helpful deed. Unfortunately better isn’t easier. It’s easier to do nothing or speak careless words. I’m trying to remember that better is worth the effort.