Art is Moving conducted an email interview with Joy after various conversations over the years. Through various conversations and comments, we realized that Joy had suffered several “art wounds” in her life. We asked her some questions to get to the deep roots of her art wounds in hopes that it would continue to help her grow through her pain as well as help others understand what an art wound is, that they are not alone in having an art wound, and how they can confront and heal their wounds. Thank you Joy for sharing your story.
What is an art wound to you?
Art wounds come from careless words and actions regarding art – discouragement, slights, negativity, lack of support, name calling and more. Some wounds come from a single action and can be easily overcome. Other wounds take longer to heal from because they are more personal. They cut deeper. It takes strength to pursue the arts despite the onslaught of opinions and countless rejections.
Often art wounds are an extension of people’s perceptions of what art is and why it matters. Many people believe the arts are frivolous with little meaning instead of integral to our existence and what makes us thrive rather than just get by.
Art wounds do not just happen when you are a child but all through your life. Artists can be easily wounded because they are more sensitive and more aware of their emotions. Thankfully with art I am able to respond to the wounds so that I may continue living.
What is your experience with having an art wound?
I have multiple art wounds. One of my earliest memories of art was being forced to fingerpaint in nursery school. I hated it but I am glad I tried it if only to realize what I do and do not like.
In kindergarten, I experienced one of my greatest art wounds when I heard my teacher tell my mother, “Your daughter will never amount to anything because she is a dreamer.” This statement attacked my character and ability and has caused many years of self-doubt. Fortunately, this teacher moved on to another profession. I have found comfort (about dreaming) from quotes.
You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it true.
– Richard Bach
Nothing happens unless first a dream.
– Carl Sandburg
Verbal attacks have always been difficult for me especially when they come from a loved one. I have lost count of how many times my mother questioned my creativity “Why do you have such crazy ideas?” Dance lessons were my release. Knowing how much they meant to me I resented my mother constantly asking, “Are you sure you want to keep taking dance?” My instinct has developed into defending art and my choices (which has become extremely tiresome) especially when I need help with a project.
People remark without thinking how their words will make someone feel. My best response to this was an art piece I created called “Turn Your Words Around” which featured cut paper circles that could move attached to a background. The circles had people’s negative remarks and positive remarks when turned. My favorite came from my mother, “You don’t have wisdom teeth. Does that mean you aren’t wise?” My reply, “No, it means I am wise enough not to have them.”
In grade school I wanted to learn the clarinet. I was told that I wouldn’t be able to because of my overbite. My mother signed me up for piano lessons which I didn’t want at the time because I clashed with the teacher. Learning piano was my mother’s dream. In junior high I tried out for the jazz club. Unfortunately the level of ability needed was over my head. I am glad that I have a basic knowledge of piano because I found that I enjoy composing.
In eighth grade art class students cut my drawings with razorblades. I dropped the class because I was afraid for my safety (I feared that instead of cutting my art the students would cut me). This turned out to be a blessing. Over the next five years I explored different types of art I probably never would have – drama, sewing and production. I also learned to type, took anthropology and business law classes and was a teacher’s aide at an elementary school. For my high school graduation gift I took a lifelong learning Alaska cruise where I got reacquainted with art. When I returned and started college I decided to devote my life to art.
Most of my years living in Richmond were spent studying art. Then I began managing projects. I arranged with art students at the high school to paint a mural that would hang at the El Sobrante library. The students never finished the project and another class of students painted a mural at a different location making me question my ability to lead.
When I spoke out about the arts and art preservation I began hearing, “You are a troublemaker” which continues to this day.
Before moving to Stockton I applied for a scholarship from the Academy of Art. I received a partial scholarship for the summer session but needed to find additional funds. I went to my father who made humiliating remarks before agreeing to give me the money.
The humiliation did not stop there. I entered a painted collage and vintage crochet pieces at the local Stockton gallery only to find my work placed in the back storage room because it wasn’t deemed art or the kind of art the gallery wanted. Interestingly I received an A on the collage from a Humanities class I took at SFSU and donated the collage to an auction fundraiser where it sold. I found this narrow view of art insulting. It has taken many years for the gallery to change and for me to want to participate there.
The more I put myself out there the more art wounds I receive. I was so happy to lead a community mural effort as my contribution to the Stockton Is Magnificent campaign until the project went horribly wrong. The founder of Stockton Is Magnificent began harassing me with choice words and threats including, “You lost control of the project. You accepted a bribe. You are difficult to work with. You are no longer in charge” as I watched the mural I coordinated and never finished get painted over. I could not accept the lies directed towards me. I turned to art to overcome my grief. I drew my self-portrait surrounded by negative and positive words entitled, “I Know Who I Am” and exhibited it at the AAUW art exhibit whose theme was empowerment. My art touched a number of women, one in particular told me my piece made her cry as she gave me a hug.
One of my greatest hopes is to create public art. I proposed painting a mural on the Fair Oaks Library, the design based on public input. I received the grant and when I started the project I was told there was a snafu. I was asked to give the money back or conceive a new project. I was also told that I could reapply for a public art grant to paint the mural. I ended up conceiving a new project. Another artist painted the mural.
Time and again my work is undervalued. Directors have asked me to change my art or changed it for me (added a frame). My projects do not receive the support they deserve for whatever reason. I have encountered numerous slights – being judged by what kind of art I make, how many people I reach, whether or not I went through the proper channels, people refusing to help me claiming “We are not your slaves.” I have heard, “Why don’t you get a regular job?” and replied “Because I am not a regular person.” “Art can only be a hobby. You can’t make a living at art. You don’t have enough experience.”
After all the inconsiderate remarks and actions art means more to me than all the wounds. Art allows me to express my joy and pain and helps me get over and through all the attacks.
How did it affect your psyche and creativity?
Wounds may make me change directions and not be willing to associate with certain people but my wounds never make me dislike art and my place in it. Sometimes I question my ability, especially to manage, but art means too much for me ever to turn my back on it. My life has dovetailed (come together) helping me find my way to what I am supposed to do (art against violence/trauma, art preservation and public art and multicultural healing).
Do you feel it is important for people to know your story? Why?
It is important for me to get my story out, if only for myself, so I can deal with it. When I share my story with others, I feel their love and understanding which helps even more because I no longer feel alone.
In your experience as an art facilitator have you witnessed other’s art wounds and trauma? If so, how did you respond and help them create with courage?
As an art facilitator I give people safe spaces to create and share with others. When I hear negativity I counter with positive messages to help the person think in new ways breaking apart a lifetime of negative messaging. A positive mind evolves over time.
What advice would you give to someone who has an art wound?
I suggest finding some way to confront your wound – make an art piece about it and share it, otherwise it will always be with you (taking over your life).
We’d love to hear your Take an Art Break Story. Email us so we can chat! (takeanartbreak[at]artismoving[dot]org)