My Body is My Paintbrush

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The transformation of my own art from external mark-making mediums to physical body and voice.

Some six years ago, I took one of the most frustrating yet fulfilling art classes in my life. It was my junior year of high school and like all juniors at my school I was enrolled in AP Drawing with Ms. A, an AP course that involved the submission of twenty-four pieces of drawn art-work for review by the college board. Up until that course, I did work, but the amount of thought and concept that effectively went into my work was minimal. I painted what I saw. When I grew bored of what I saw, I abstracted or made design pieces from the shapes and images. Art was something I loved, but also something that, in the scholastic realm, always left me drained.

Teachers always pushed me in one direction or another. My design teacher wanted glorious illustrations with amazing use of perspectives. My former art teachers wanted an intersection of technique and thought that I found impossible to meet with my limited skills. I was not a bad art student by any means. I was a good art student with above average technique and a dedication to improving my craft, but a lot of times I just couldn’t hang. I wasn’t comfortable enough with the materials I used to finish pieces when my passion was at its peak. I wasn’t disciplined enough to put other things aside to make sure I could hit that finish line. The year before, my mini-concentration, or a series of pieces around the same central idea, was marred with incompleteness. My best charcoal drawing at the time was unfinished. My best painting: unfinished. My best self-portrait: unfinished. The most conceptual piece I had done: unfinished. They were all great for the time, but there was always a feeling of incompletion. I wasn’t completing my fine arts work. I had a problem.

Ms. A changed that. She was never afraid to attack work for being wishy-washy, inconsistent, or convoluted. She pushed all of us to stand by our natural marks, the way we put pen, pencil, or charcoal to paper and drew. Though I never got to the conceptual and technical level that would have made getting a full scholarship to an Art or Design school possible, Ms. A really changed the way I looked at the creation process. Especially now that I am extremely removed from the throes of fine art, I realize how much she was able to pull out of me. Undeniably, she is the most influential arts educator in my life. Now that I’m older and more perceptive to the process I realize this.

My junior year was the peak of my Art and Design work. Whether the summer right after where I learned under Art Center’s Stan Kong, or the time I spent drawing ATVs, Haitian relief packs, or many of my friends, I was about as far as I would go in drawing and conceptual skills. That was the last year it really mattered.

Once I graduated from high school, I stopped drawing. My skills, no longer being pushed by the desire to be a designer, dropped considerably. I really let myself go my senior year, and I wanted nothing to do with it in college. I was done with art. I would do film and that would be the end of it. I was wrong.

Hip Hop became my new fine art and design. The hours I spent analyzing freestyles, learning new flows and cadences, picking up beat-making and sound design replaced sketches completely. In order to get more comfortable performing my own work, I began taking acting more seriously and took on several interesting, and challenging, roles. Poetry and writing have become a major focus. Social justice has become a major focus. Arts education and creative expression have become integral to a career that I would define as successful.

None of this would be possible without my eleven years of magnet art education. Cracking the code of different mediums and disciplines would have been much harder if I was unable to recognize the common denominators between these forms of expression. I was talking with a friend one night about how I’ve developed to the point of being able to recognize different possibilities for one idea. I am now beginning to see what “ingredients” or steps it would take to turn a concept into a film, a play, a poem, or a song before I even begin working. With time I’m sure that I’ll become even more adept at this. With time I may even pick the visual arts side of things up again.

Whatever the future holds, I no longer feel bound to one mode of expression. Now, when I want it to be, my body is my paintbrush and you can watch, listen to, or feel the marks that I make.

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