Mural detail by Karolline, 16, in the teen art program in Lowell, MA.
After writing the blog From Neglect to Nurturing, I started thinking about how one goes about finding creative nurturing. The concept of that blog was that when as writers we are stuck, 99 percent of the time it is because of neglect we suffered as children.
I received a lot of emails from people who said they were nurtured as a child, but still couldn’t do their writing. I wanted to make clear that I didn’t mean basic, general childhood nurturing. I meant nurturing very specifically related to our creative selves. Not just that the parent posted your drawings on the refrigerator and exclaimed How Cute, but they pondered what you needed to creatively express yourself and then nurtured that side of you in very unique ways.
I started thinking about how we find artistic nurturing as adults. I have a studio in an old mill turned into art studios, and I’m surrounded by 184 other artists. In my desire to nurture the long-neglected visual artist child, I turned my mind toward the best painters in the building. I put myself around them. I studied their work.
But every time I was around them all I felt was anxiety. All I wanted to do was run away. I thought: this is your resistance to the nurturing you need. Tough it out. But it just kept getting worse. I felt wrong and less-than ALL the time. There was less flow in my art.
Then I was hired to work with at-risk teens in a skanky lab in the basement of an old building. I mean this place is a petri dish. The sink backs up and spews rotten paint across the floor. Kids leave half masticated food on a makeshift table next to hardened paint brushes. The other day we found a murshroom the size of a small dog growing up through the floorboards.
It’s a kooky place. In one corner, a carousel horse sits in front of an 8-foot mural someone painted of a droopy boobed old woman, which sits in front of a giant orb painted with stars and galaxies. And beside that hang three dolls by their necks from the rafters.
The teens talk about all sorts of politically incorrect things, writing notes like: Stephanie is my BIATCH on napkins and scribbling missives above the sink: Clean a brush today and keep the hooey away. And somebody grafittied the note: Who is this Hooey? I love Hooey! Hooey is AWESOME.
At first, I’d giggle at my goofy new job, hurry up to finish so I could get to these ‘master’ artists at my studio. I wasn’t happy but I trudged along, as always ever suffering for my art.
Finally, I had a dream. I was told: your teachers are not at your studio. Your teachers are these kids. What an opening since I’ve realized this.
Wild, unfettered, silly, goofy — the atmosphere has been the very nurturing I needed. I’m happy. The flow has opened again in my art. I don’t really want to be around ‘masters’ at all, unless they like Picasso have “learned to paint like a child.”
I think of this with the writers I coach. I’m sure as a coach I fall for false gods and think that my peeps needs ‘master classes’. When all they probably really need as writers is to be ridiculously silly, to sit outside and look at the stars, to not take life so seriously.
All the rest is just hooey. (I love hooey. Hooey is awesome.)