Chris Dunmire : Holding On to Artistic Aspirations
Holding on to Artistic Aspirations of the Visual Kind
(or: A Marionette for the Clarinet? I'm NOT Playing that Dorky Horn!)
By Chris Dunmire
I was ten years old and in elementary school when I realized that a particular sorting was going on in our fifth grade classrooms. And I'm not referring to the sorting between the boys and the girls when they separated us into groups to show us those "onset of puberty" movies, either. This sorting had to do with the creative talents of the artistically and not-so-artistically inclined.
My best friend Cindy had a certain aptitude in art that helped her get picked with a handful of other students for a special "gifted" art program. Once a week the students boarded a bus to another school in the district to do their gifted art in a gifted studio for the giftedly endowed.
I was envious of this special treatment my fellow classmates received because "I" loved making art. Why did some get picked for this special program and others not? Somehow in my questioning (and without anyone telling me why) I became aware that a distinction was made between art students who were "really good" and those who were average or "not good enough." Those in the latter categories would not be boarding the bus no matter how much they loved art-making.
It wasn't long after that I was "tested" in the music department and offered the opportunity to play the clarinet. Yes, that single-reed woodwind instrument with a flared end (the same one Squidward Tentacles plays on SpongeBob SquarePants.) I have no idea how it was decided that I would be good for this instrument since I had never touched a clarinet before. If I had any say in which instruments I wanted to play I would have chosen the piano or drums. Needless to say, I didn't want to play that dorky horn* and declined the offer.
Did I give up a promising career as a clarinetist? Who knows. But I didn't give up on my love for art-making and allow the school's gifted sorting to deter me from my artistic aspirations. (And now that I think about it, why didn't they have a special program for writers? Didn't they hear about my third grade writing fame?)
I held on to my artistic aspirations through junior high and high school, but not as a primary creative outlet since I was much better at writing. I took art classes for the creative play I experienced and not for the showing off of my meager technical abilities (ha!). As a senior in high school, I stumbled my way into collage and graphic design for the first time when a hands-off art teacher allowed me to do anything I wanted to in his open art studio course (I had the privilege of being the only one in the studio while he taught a photography class next door).
Without being watched, I exuberantly played with tempera and watercolor paints, pastels, and paper mache creating nothing of particular importance until my final project: a series of collages based on Janet Jackson's 1990 "Rhythm Nation" tour. I was pleasantly shocked after learning my art teacher displayed the collages in the hallway's glass case. I figured that 1) he either liked them, or 2) didn't have anything else to display.
I think my fifth grade experience led me to believe that art was always going to belong to the gifted few, but that dabbling was okay for everyone else. And so I dabbled, being okay with my lack of technical ability, design sense, and other artful insight as long as I didn't have to share what I created with other people. That was, until I was introduced to art therapy in my mid-20s a "process art" that helps facilitate healing through creative expression. After that I realized that artistic expression had multiple applications and reasons for being and belonged to everyone no matter what skill level they were at.
My dabblings then turned into joyful doodlings that begged to be released during department meetings and on my cubical dry-erase board at work (and then on other people's dry-erase boards with their permission, of course). In the fall of 1999 I remember doodling many colorful autumn trees and flowers around the corporate hallways at Motorola and having a conversation with a woman from the marketing department about them. I don't remember her name, but she planted a seed in me at the time that I'll never forget and forever be grateful for. The essence of her message was simple: "Do something with that." Hers was one of several prompts I received at work that led to my creative awakening. I've since learned the immense value in paying attention to the messages that come our way through other people as well as from ourselves.
Shortly after leaving the corporate world, I went on to study graphic design and found a rational way into artistic expression. I was overjoyed to find a "magical place" where writing and art worked together depended on one another to form beautiful compositions and graphical wonders. I took on the best of both worlds and embarked on a new career path.
What I've learned through studying graphic design has not only improved my "technical" artistic ability, but has reinforced the truth that there are many different ways one can express themselves as an artist. I still hold on to my aspirations for producing skillful "organic" art the traditional way, but have grown to realize that just like anything else, input influences output. To become better at writing, drawing, painting, cooking, sewing, etc., practice is the key. You have to put time and honest effort forth to see progressive results. Writing feels so natural to me because I've practiced doing it for over 25 years. I am devoted and determined to write and write well. I make time to write regularly usually weekly and it remains my primary creative outlet, a lifeline for my soul.
As for my artistic aspirations, I will continue to learn, practice, and grow in whatever ways I can to become better skilled as a visual artist. I will remember that artistic expression belongs to everyone and not just to a gifted few. Maybe we can be sorted into categories in classrooms and by critics, but we cannot be separated from the longing of our spirit to manifest its potential no matter what art form or mode of creative expression we choose. •
* No hard feelings to any clarinetists out there. The clarinet is truly a wonderful instrument that makes beautiful music. It was just my 10-year-old mind set on the "cool" Van Halen and Journey drummers that didn't quite appreciate that fact.
© 2006, 2012 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.
About Chris Dunmire
Chris is a deeply engaged creative spirit, lover of wit, words, and wisdom, and the driving force behind the award-winning Creativity Portal® Web site. [...]
More by Chris Dunmire