Art Is a Monster | Teen Ink

Art Is a Monster

April 20, 2019
By kmphil12 BRONZE, Litchfield Park, Arizona
kmphil12 BRONZE, Litchfield Park, Arizona
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

A familiar white surface greets me; it’s open, empty, nothing—nothing yet. It’s nothing until I touch my pencil to the page and begin to sketch. Basic shapes first, to make sure everything is where I want it before I flesh out the form. Form turns into details—structural lines, then color, then shading—until a solid image forms. Perhaps this time the process isn’t so structured and lines turn into shading, while color is forgotten, or colors and shading merge into one while the lines are ignored. I may control where the pencil or brush goes, but the artistic process has a mind of its own: it’s a beast I cannot tame.

The wild beast that is creativity is also catharsis, and for me, that relief comes mostly as drawing or painting. However, achieving catharsis is rarely a matter of sketching a few lines on a page and magically feeling better. Some days, I wrestle the pencil from a monster that stubbornly clutches it in its mouth, refusing to relinquish it to me. Some days, the artwork runs rampant out of the tip of my pen. Some days, I’m left with nothing more than frustration, scribbles, less than a quarter of a sketchbook page full, and a beast that refuses to budge. Some days, the monster is a curious creature and lets me go on for hours and adorn a canvas with ideas upon ideas. Creativity is a beast; it does what it wants.

Why do I continue to wrestle with this beast? Why do I want to make a career out of something that can be so unpredictable? In short: it’s all I know. Some days, I feel like all I can do is create. On these “bad” days when I feel the weight of my responsibilities and decisions, I know I can make art. Creating art is built into my daily routine: I genuinely don't think I could go a single day without at least thinking about art. Even if I go a day without drawing, I always observe, always take mental notes about how the muscles move in that guy’s arm, how the fabric drapes from the bed, how the light hits that one surface. I’ve thought this way so long, such thinking is second nature. Art has been ingrained into my being to the point where it is indistinguishable from me.

Of course, becoming any kind of artist is an unsteady, unpredictable career choice. I don’t need anyone to tell me for the tenth or fiftieth time. I’m a good learner that does well in her classes, and I know if I truly wanted to pursue something else, I could. If I wanted to be an engineer, I could; I wouldn’t be the best—engineering is not my passion—but I’d be decent. If I wanted to be a business major, same thing. Or a biologist. Or even a nurse.

But I don’t want to be these things.

I want to create. I will create. You may ask, “So why does this confident, intelligent young lady who can do whatever she sets her mind to want to become an artist? Artists are rarely successful!” And that’s fair. Most people think being an artist spells an automatic sentence to a life of just barely scraping by. Everybody hears about “starving artists” who live in the worst conditions and work a minimum wage job to pay rent while they slave away at a canvas. But I ask: how many starving artists do you know? If you are anything like me, you don’t know anyone of the sort. In fact, the only full-time artist I know runs a small gallery and is heavily involved with the art community in Goodyear, Arizona: she’s nothing short of successful and lives lavishly.

On many occasions, my parents have sat me down on the living room sofa and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” or “What’s your plan with this art degree?” The same answer is always ready in my mouth, “I want to be an artist.” The conversation goes the same as the last time, and the time before. The same words rub me raw and numb. “You can always get a good career that makes you a lot of money and do art on the side.” “This person I sort of know got an art degree and is going back to school because it was useless.”  I hear them drone on and on, the couch cushions getting no more comfortable with time, and the back of my throat aching with the weight of everything I feel I can’t say. How can I tell them I don’t imagine doing anything else with my life when they tell me I’m shoving myself into a box by choosing art? How am I supposed to listen to a teacher and a phone guy who don’t know art? How can I speak my heart when their minds know “what’s right”?

Maybe I can’t. Maybe I won’t.

Learning to ignore what my family says a slow, slow process, but as I realize more and more where my passion lies, it becomes less and less important what my family thinks of what I want to do and more important, what I want to do. In a family where I am the first artist, I have to realize I can only know for myself what I should do, not my parents, and certainly not that estranged aunt who told me I should “Go into painting the Arizona landscape! You’d make so much money if you sold prints!” As if painting cacti against an Arizona sunset was the most original concept since the Renaissance. In case you are not involved with the art scene in Arizona, I will put it nicely: I have seen more paintings of cacti silhouetted against the desert sky than actual cacti. The arts do not run in my family: although I am the only one who cannot properly throw or catch any sort of ball, I am also the only one who can draw more than a stick figure. I am the black sheep (or maybe the most colorful one).

Art should be made for the self. Which is certainly not to say artists shouldn’t draw for other people—heck, I take commissions. An individual should pursue art because they want to—not because someone told them to or because art runs in the family. All artists wrestle their own creative beasts, and no artists travel an easy journey alongside their work; however, these monsters allow us to create our stunning work. What makes an artist is their passion—if they want to create because they have something to say, an idea to express, or simply a beautiful feeling they want to put into their own words or images or sounds. Art has to come from desire. I have my days, when I don’t feel I can draw remotely well, but even then I make myself draw. Just an undemanding doodle, or a small study. The monster won’t stop gnawing at my heels until the blank canvas is filled and its appetite for art sated. Or maybe I’m the stubborn one who refuses to leave a surface bare.

Art is exploration and adventure. Art isn’t governed by social custom or reality. I can draw a giant flying reptile with twenty heads or a hyperrealistic bird—and they’re both art. No rules dictate the colors I use and whether they have to be tethered in reality, whether I can only draw what exists—what I draw wouldn’t be art if I didn’t have this freedom.

In these meanings, these personal touches, this lack of rules, I find my passion. The spark that brings me back to it year after year. I don’t tire of art. The beast constantly demands something new and fresh: it paces, fidgets, can’t stay still, can’t stay in the same place. The monster is part of me too—for better or worse, that part cannot be tamed, or controlled, or told what to do. As long as I wrestle with this beast, I will create art.

The author's comments:

I hope to make a career out of my art after I finish college! It's going to be a challenging path, but I have faith I'll make it.

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