In July I started working on a mural as a community volunteer project in one of the poorer areas of Santiago. The community is about a 40 minute bus ride from where I live in Santiago and for about six weeks before the start of the mural, I helped Roxana with a project she initiated by volunteering to teach English to kids. More than anything, it became a play session with the kids, creating games to practice the alphabet, numbers and very basic vocabulary. They loved it. They loved it so much that when I came back recently to paint, the kid’s faces lit up, asking me when the next class would be. My heart sank a little, thinking about how we hadn’t planned to return again. They actually really missed us. This wasn’t some boring class that they were forced into, they actually had become quite affectionate with us. It made me think about how these kids need so much more than a 6 week volunteer project, they need this type of nourishment all of the time. I think it takes time to build a relationship and I wonder about what a shame it is to begin getting close to the kids, only to leave them just as they were becoming so comfortable with us. At the same time, it was obvious that we made some kind of positive impression on them.
When I first started the project in July, I had the help of Roxana, my friends Angela and Dinah, and a few others from the community. And because of the winter, we put a hold on finishing the project. For the last two weekends, I came back to finish. Having this break was actually good for me because after learning more Spanish, I was able to communicate a little more with people in the community. So when I noticed a little group of children behind me, watching me paint, I let them join in.
This is the first time I’ve ever painted with kids in this way and they really did a good job. At first they were a little shy and nervous about putting the paint on the wall, fearing that they would do something wrong and so a lot of what they painted ended up being very small. I encouraged them to eventually paint larger. And, so the whole mural is by no means consistently proportional, but maybe that gives it some character. The little girl and her cousin actually consistently painted with me all day, painting butterflies, dogs and flowers. I gave them little instruction and basically let them do what they wanted. I think they were a little surprised by my confidence in them for allowing them to paint so freely on something so large and so public. They were really proud of what they painted too and I like to think of them getting older and remembering what they had painted years ago.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how my feelings toward my art career have changed. I spent so much energy working and developing my art in the States. I used to joke that my art was like my kids that I had to always pick up when my show was over and I was tired of driving them all over the place on the freeway in California and that they were spending so much of my money. I look at photos of my loft now and I don’t miss it. I think I allowed the whole idea of art as a career to take over so much that it replaced the joy of creating and expressing myself through my painting and ultimately robbing me of enjoying all the other things in life that I love because I was forcing myself into this certain artist lifestyle that was more determined by what I thought I was supposed to do according to the art world rather than finding the passionate within myself to forget about “making it” and just create.
In the States, I somehow lost track of my original attraction to art as I saw it more and more as a means of paying the rent. Being here has separated me from continuing this and now I’ve been able to return to the desires that I initially had when I was younger, back before I was even in art school when I would stare at paintings and imagine other lifetimes or listen to music that really caused me to think differently of the world, no matter how simplistic the lyrics or how accomplished the artist. All that time spent trying to make money from my own art detached me from enjoying my own work, let alone the work of others. Sadly, I think even art school detached me from this in ways because suddenly I had all these people in my life constantly discussing what was good art and what was bad art, or what was marketable, more intellectual, low brow, etc… All of a sudden art seemed so serious and no longer mysterious and fun. It’s like I couldn’t see something without comparing it to something better, making some kind of judgment about it in my mind. All that imagination and inspiration I felt long ago…how did I abandon that? It’s like through trying so hard to pursue art, I disconnected myself from my true feelings and desires. Sounds like the opposite of what art is supposed to do.
I realized something lately through learning Spanish. Because I can’t express myself in Spanish like I can in English. I don’t know the words or I don’t know how to put the words together. I have to limit myself in what I can say and it’s quite frustrating to not be able to form what I can in English when I want to express something. So I have to keep it very basic. And since I don’t have the words, it’s put me more in touch with recognizing how I feel. I mean I have to really thinking about what I am feeling, so I can choose the correct words. So now I can appreciate the beauty in expressing something simple again. And because I have been learning a lot of Spanish through the arts; through music and through books, now I am concentrating on the very simple beauty of how the words are used. This is art, because language is expression. It makes me appreciate so much how we express our thoughts. It makes me not want to take this for granted.
I think the joy of just being able to express myself is returning. I’m remembering those early feelings of discovering well known artists and writers for the first time and how I felt when I would see something inspiring. I feel it through learning a new language and sharing my language with others. It brings me back to what I had already figured out when I was a teenager and later forgot about, that my love of art involves other people. It doesn’t come from me isolated in my studio trying to conquer a project to get paid. The end product – the actual finished painting, for me is only 25 percent of why art is so important. Painting with the kids, painting with other artists, using art to ignite conversation, to influence others, to make someone’s life more inspiring, to connect myself with others…these are all more interesting and give me more of a reason to start again. I guess that everyone has their own role in life and probably I will never be like some of my friends here whom are very successful in the financial industry and can assert themselves in ways I can’t. They are great at what they do, and their passions are different than mine. But, I can assert myself artistically in ways that they can’t. I need to keep in mind what I can do and what it means to be me and somehow it almost seems like a responsibility to myself to create art because its the greatest way I know of how to give myself to others.