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At twenty years old, I plunged my hands into an exquisite block of clay and shaped it into a smaller version of my parents’ scroungy cat, Tigger. Tigger was a giant fluffy orange tabby—possibly the most beautiful cat that existed. But I should have sculpted Chicken.

Some say you can’t tame a feral cat, but my Dad succeeded with Chicken, even charming the cat so much that Chicken would jump for his lap before he had a chance to sit down. Chicken was a miracle—a product of the efforts of a cat whisperer—if it wasn’t for the chance meeting of those two, that scroungy thing would have more than likely become coyote food.

It was with confliction that I shaped Tigger’s pointed ears and sassy face with my instructor’s voice in my ear, telling our class that fine art was not the stuff of happiness and cutsie things like cats; it was struggle, pain, oppression. To be honest I felt a little insulted that happiness was thought to be a bad influence on fine art.

For my next project, I adapted my charcoal sketch of a model into a raised oak panel; she was stripped bare much like a college student is when catapulted from their childhood home into a world of influences, vulnerable to all those things they haven’t learned about yet. I grabbed the large file and shaved the wood until her likeness came through; I ran her through the jigsaw, hoping the boldness of a woman uncovered would please my instructor. He was kind, but not overly impressed—I hadn’t made her story live and breathe yet.

I’ve walked longer in my adult shoes now, and have been down some of those galleries adorned with dark art. Picasso’s Guernica commands its station on the wall—I’ve never been in combat, but if anguish was a spirit, I imaging that’s what it could look like—as I gaze at the stark contrast between shock amidst a bleak existence, I can empathize, having experienced my own battles: a sick child, an excruciating season of slim finances, the sudden loss of my father. So yes, this dark art is Relevant.

A battle weary people are indeed worthy of a voice. Most of us don’t make it through childhood without feeling like an outcast at least a dozen times. Fuzzy cat sculptures don’t tell that story.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

If my nude sculpture was still in existence, she would have acquired a good many scars—her jaw would be tight, and her hands damaged by a few more decades of sun—her belly marked with signs of new life—that’s not catering to a certain group of critics who declare happy art unrealistic, it’s the bold truth. But does it end there? I hope not, because the shadows that keep us under the model’s heel only lead to bricks in the hands of violent protestors and knives for words. I’m not sure if all I want to look at are scars.

Sculpting is for finding the story. Filing is for smoothing out the rough edges, not for arming naïve students with half-truths, although I imagine my instructor would have approved of Chicken—a would-be-dead cat who found redemption—who knew?

I wouldn’t want to hang the Guernica on my wall, but Chicken—that would have been a great reminder of hope.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

 

P.S. Wake is free today and tomorrow. Go here to get it. If you like YA Dystopian fiction and, well….art, you may like Wake.

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