My daughter is near the end of her Associate’s degree. I couldn’t be more proud. She’s doing it the character building way, taking a few courses a semester while she works full time, paying her way herself.
One of her final classes is art appreciation. This is of course significant to me as an artist. But it’s more significant to me as a mom – the mom who remembers the long, late night talks as she pondered her future career. The mom who remembers the moment that she, as an unfiltered young teenager, said unequivocally, “No offense mom, but I don’t want to be like you.”
She’s seen the hard days of my being an artist. The days when the ends didn’t meet – or when I had to burn the candle at both ends to meet them. The long slogs of summer shows, sitting under a vinyl tent sweating or freezing or both. The constant making, making, making. I understand why it wasn’t so terribly appealing.
But, there were parts she secretly enjoyed. The monthly critique meetings where my friends and I would sit around the table and share our work. We’d talk like artists, discussing composition and color. She’d chime in. “I really love the flow of blue in this one,” she’d state matter-of-factly. When she told me a few months ago that she was taking art appreciation, I (not so) secretly smiled.
She tells me about her assignment every week. The exercise to take a photo that looks like a famous painting. It’s only worth ten points – she went over the top to photograph buttercream frosting and avocados to find the perfect shades of pale and green.
Her final assignment was to curate an exhibit of three works and write about them. I was not at all surprised by the quality of the work she chose – three powerful portraits of women. But I was especially proud to see that all three artists were Black women.
I will admit, it took me years before I could name a Black female artist. Oh, there was Faith Ringgold, and that other one… but I didn’t know them. Even after years of studying and making art. It was only recently that I discovered Bisa Butler and Tawny Chatmon and Delita Martin and LaToya Hobbs, artists whose work I adore. Artists whose work I could gush about over the phone with her: Omg, don’t you just LOVE the flow of that blue!?
To see some of them in her paper was a new form of art appreciation for me. The appreciation of someone else’s appreciation. I love that she sees artists as living, breathing, deeply thinking beings, not just names to be memorized from a book. They’re real to her – because they’re real.
I love that she appreciates a diversity of artists, not just titanium white. I love that she values a wide spectrum of voices as much as the colors on their canvas. And I love that all of this comes so naturally to her – as if this is simply the way the world ought to be. Because, it is.
As I sat there looking at her curated exhibit, it suddenly dawned on me that I’ve learned so much from her. About other artists, about myself. About the excitement that comes from seeing art as alive.
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