OKAY FOR NOW
I am one of the many adults who loves to read YA (Young Adult) books. The good ones are good literature, but tend to be one step more direct than their fully adult counterparts. One of my favorite YA novelists is Gary Schmidt. You know he is a favorite because I recommend him even though he is a prof at Calvin College (in Grand Rapids, MI), the rival of my alma mater, Hope College. But I digress.
OKAY FOR NOW is a novel that will inspire you on many levels (and maybe cause you to shed a tear) — including his exploration of the power of art on the soul of a young, lonely kid.
Something I am attempting to do on my website is give insight into the mind of an artist. If you want that sort of glimpse in the form of a compelling novel, read My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Of added interest to me is how this book explores the intersection of faith and art (in this case in the world of Orthodox Judaism).
I’ve been a full-time artist for nearly 2 dozen years now (which means I am older than I think I am…or at least older than I act). The self-employed always-applying-for-a-job nature of being an artist takes a good amount of determination, and I think a dose of insanity too. Determination and insanity mingle together to shove you into a “just do it” mode (to steal from the old Nike campaign). To make it in the Art World this is an essential mode to find, whether it is allowing you to experiment on a blank canvas or stepping out in a new creative venture. I guess you could also just say that art is tied to risk taking.
One of the cool parts of getting older is amassing stories where the risks paid off. I’ve got a handful of them I’m going to share in the coming weeks.
Risk Payoff #1. I’ve always been taken by the art of picture books. While in college I started creating my first story: John the Bunny. It was a story about a bunny. His name was John. That was about the extent of the story. But I was determined and insane (in the way twenty-somethings are) and decided to shop my ideas in New York City.
Through an acquaintance I had gotten in contact with artist (and since, Caldecott winner) David Small, who at the time had his studio in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. In a way reaching out to him was Risk #1/ignorant-young-punk-move #1, but he is kind and gracious and would have lunch with me at a local diner. He even kindly and graciously helped me set up some meetings with art directors and editors at Big Publishers in NYC. So off I went.
Let’s be clear - John the Bunny was terrible. I learned as much in meeting after meeting in NYC as I ascended giant skyscrapers with my portfolio. But I continued to risk my pride and sponged in every bit of advice I could. At one publisher the editor I was supposed to meet was delayed, and so a young associate editor took the meeting. She agreed with the general assessment of John the Bunny (that it blew), but took extra time to look through my art and gave me added input (most of which revolved around story-telling).
I went home and applied what I had learned, and a year later sent my new idea back to NYC — to a recently promoted editor-in-chief named Virginia Duncan (yep, same person) who picked it up. The Dragon Pack Snack Attack, my first book (co-authored by Jeff Grooters), was the result.
I like telling these sorts of stories to Would-Be-Artists. If you don’t risk it, you never find out if what you have is worth sharing, or have the opportunity to learn how to make it better. I’m pretty glad that John the Bunny wasn’t the end of it (because did I mention that it was pretty darn bad?).
I regularly get asked to speak to church groups about faith and art. I begin many of those talks with a simple premise. It goes like this…
For me, it starts “in the beginning”. In the beginning God created. Then God made people. In God’s image. What do we know about God by that point? Well, God is creative and God is relational are two big ones that jump out to me. That serves as a starting point for me. It tells me that we are all creative. It tells me that we should do things in relation (for) others. That certainly is enough reason for me to want to make stuff. I’ll add that I find confirmation in this simple theological idea in that when I lose myself in creativity I find joy. I especially find joy when I share that creativity with others.
I see the joy of creating and of sharing the creation in my daughters — especially my 5 year old. She dives into a drawing with 5 year-old abandon. Every drawing or sparkle-glue-blob is then designated for someone. Often it is folded up (wrapped) and presented as a birthday gift (I get my birthday celebrated often as a result).
Occasionally, these drawings get poked with holes or cut up or ripped up and I see 5 year-old abandon in destruction — but that’s the next part of Genesis, right?
For the moment, I’ll take pleasure in the pile of portraits of family members she has been drawing lately — the ones where people are generally sporting tiaras.
What I always ask the groups I talk with is this: what happens? What happens to that 5 year-old abandon? What causes the filters to go up? We’ll talk more about that in another post.