It is a gift you have to insist on for yourself

By Mary Paulose

A quote that I suspect is misattributed to Pablo Picasso, is nevertheless my favourite thought on the subject: ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life’. Whether I liked it or not and in spite of the youthful, impetuous resistance I put up to it in earlier years and a lazy, casual dismissal in recent ones — art has been an unsteady undercurrent in my life.

There’s the concept of art itself. What is it? This space isn’t enough to describe it. It’s a process, an expression, perception, self-definition, emotion, vision and everything else, deriving from the art you appreciate, the music you listen to or just the way you do things. Art could be your favourite toy, the way you dress up, the timing of your friend’s laugh… if it evokes a response, gets you to think again or do a double take, it’s art.

Art is a gift you give yourself and others.

When it became apparent early on that I had some sort of talent putting pencils/brush to paper and seemed to enjoy it too, my parents signed me up for fine art classes with the best teacher in the small town I grew up in. Outside school, it was where I had — graduating from rudimentary pencil sketches to water colours and oils — the first real life experience of competition, patience, persistence, disappointment and the wherewithal to see what I started through to its finish (‘paintfully,’ and often taking years). Also, that sinking feeling of realising that someone was always going to be better than you at everything, and learning to have the grace to accept the fact.

My teacher insisted that I advance my skills and learn to work with acrylics and more complex materials to presumably result in more nuanced art work. But tired of her dogged insistence and in tune with teenage rebellion, I dropped out of the classes… without telling my parents, of course. That got me a strong brush of words from mom, but I stood my ground.

Only later, after seeing my folks’ obvious pride at all the oohs and aahs, all the positive reactions from relatives and friends as they looked at the canvasses hung up around our home, I realised my gift wasn’t mine alone to withhold.

Yet, there were no lessons taken to heart. Young adulthood came and went, and I squeezed out a few paintings sporadically — between academic pressures and the first real job — more out of a sense of duty to the effort put in at the erstwhile art classes.

Then, apparently, ‘real life’ took over. Who has the time for frivolous pastimes when one has to meet deadlines, do a real job, climb the career ladder and juggle personal and social lives, right? Uh oh, big mistake. Art could have been the way to recharge, the daily equivalent of meditation to calm the mind. But fear, self doubt, neglect took over… why bother with any of it when I was never going to give myself the chance to be a Picasso?

Like much else in life, I learnt only much later that art is something you do to make yourself happy too. Live for yourself and all that… An unexpected impetus came by way of a particularly bad break-up, making me take up the brush once more, in a bid to distract myself. Again, I was surprised by other people’s responses. My heartbreak turned into canvasses of colour and joy that got displayed proudly in friends’ homes. They acted like it was Christmas come early. Even the sloppiest work thrilled.

So art is also a human interconnect, linking and leading creativity to experience an emotion. From an idea, a thought, came something that often made others feel deeply. What else do we live for? And undeniably, one of the emotions art equals is that of happiness.

While the practice is still dormant, I appreciate art more. While travelling to a new city, it’s always the art galleries that I seek out first, to see the flow of creativity and life that shaped the place and its occupants. Thanks to the online world, art is also easily accessible at your fingertips. My Instagram feed is a veritable source of brilliant art, old and new, traditional and digital.

Art, that three-letter word, is in your life. Art is, in fact, your life.

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