Last week, I was honored to be invited by my friend Emily, a high school art teacher, to speak at her students’ National Art Honor Society Induction ceremony. I had no other conflicts that evening to use as an excuse for my fear, so I said yes. I’ve learned that if it’s not actually a life or death situation or something that could cause me physical harm, fear is often the only thing between me and a rewarding opportunity for growth and connection.
I was humbled, and excited. With only a few days to come up with something to say, I did some reflecting, jotted some notes down, and then wrote my speech the night before the event. There were so many things I could’ve said, but I decided the best route was from the heart. If it was hard for me to say without getting choked up, then that is what I needed to say. If I kept it safe, it would end up cliché, and not worth saying.
It was a beautiful evening – I was inspired by all the young artists in attendance. They had a wonderful energy and it made my heart happy thinking of all the new artwork these souls were putting into the world. I am so grateful for that opportunity, and did not take it lightly. I hope the words I shared resonated.
Video and transcript below:
My name is Lori, and I am an artist.
I still get emotional saying those words, as it took me nearly half my life to confidently embrace that title.
I could draw well from the moment I could hold a pencil
And won art show awards throughout my K-12 education, and even an art scholarship to college.
But I never saw myself as an artist.I rarely really liked anything I made myself.
Not that it wasn’t technically “good.” I just didn’t like it.
I envied the kids that created the kinda weird stuff that made you go “hmmmm….?”
I wasn’t like those eccentric kids in my class
that made the totally original and dramatic pieces
that made you feel something.
I was just a person that could draw anything I saw really well,
and the color wheel made perfect sense to me.
My highschool art teacher, Mr Pal Wright, was a bit of a grumpy older man.
He actually scared me at first.
But he taught me two of the most important lessons of my life.
He taught me how to look at things and really SEE them.
We did so many still life drawings of giant piles of junk,
which I thought was ridiculous at first.
But He showed me how to appreciate the ripples of
a dirt-splattered raincoat hanging on that pile of junk
He showed me how to delight in the way the chrome shines
on the leg of an old, broken office chair,
and how to use my eraser across the graphite
to capture that little piece of drama on paper.
Learning to look at things and appreciate them simply for what they are
No judgement, no purpose.
Just to love the way the light falls.
And try to capture that.
Even if it’s just a pile of junk.
The second important thing he taught me was how to deal with mistakes.
It was a detailed linework project using india ink.
You know those little black bottles of black ink and calligraphy pens and brushes.
I was well into a tedious piece
with hundreds of tiny details that I had spent days on
And in one tragic fling of my hand,
I knocked the ink bottle over
Spilling across my drawing
I was devastated.
Mr Wright marveled at the impressive black splatter
“I have an idea” he said
With tracing paper he traced the shape of it
And then transferred the shape outline to another part of my paper
He said “It’s a really cool shape. Work with it.”
I copied that ink splatter a few times around my paper,
I painted each one a different color,
And it became the most unique and interesting art piece in the class that unit
I spent three years in his art classes
He encouraged me and insisted I put together a portfolio for college submission.
I won several Scholastic gold and silver keys and even a generous college art scholarship.
I spent two semesters in art school
and then dropped out.
Got a business degree instead.
I was not an artist.
Fast forward 20 years later
I was hiking in my favorite place,
The mountains are a place where I fell in love
with myself for the first time.
I realized in the mountains that while I am small
I am a unique part of this BIG beautiful place.
I stood on top of one of the tallest mountains in Colorado
Not a lot of people can do this.
Not a lot of people have the courage to do this.
I am the first of ME to do this.
I returned from that trip with an urgent hunger to create something.
I hadn’t created any art for many years.
I grabbed some cheap acrylic paints and value pack canvas from Michaels
And I painted a psychedelic mountain goat.
From a photo I took on the mountainside.
And I actually loved my painting.
I loved every part of the process
And I loved the final result.
It still hangs on my living room wall.
It took loving myself.
Even just liking myself.
To realize I had a gift that was worth spending time with.
That was worthwhile just because it was fun to do.
To notice things and delight in them.
To not be afraid of mistakes or imperfections but
To embrace that part of the process
And let it lead to the next best thing.
Art is a special connection to the universe
It is an opportunity to explore, to grow, and to share.
Art provokes and art heals.
Art is magic.
It is in you, and it is in me.
We are unique messengers with this amazing gift.
We are artists.
I admire you for putting your art into this world.
You are a unique gift.
Thank you for your courage.