I spent two years in art school, doing little else but make art. When I graduated they invited me to apply for a place in a new diploma program where I could focus on nothing but print-making, with access to a studio and supplies and assistance for larger projects. I made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pieces. I rented a small studio in a building full of artists and in the common space where we made tea and took breaks we had great conversations about things like the techniques used by Japanese masters in watercolor woodblock prints, and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s use of pop drug culture and the idea of framing ontology in classical painting. I got a job as an art history research assistant with responsibilities for editing visuals in a classy academic journal and they sent me to New York and Toronto to do things with architecture and check out galleries. It was a heady transition for a kid from the farmlands and I never thought I’d do anything else.
However, not long after that I received the tiniest inheritance, a few hundred dollars – it seemed like so much money at the time – and when I was reflecting and meditating on what to do with it, it came to me that I needed to have my feet on the ground and my hands in the earth. So I moved out of the city and rented a tiny house with a tiny garden and got a largeish dog. I applied for and got accepted into a university education program to teach art in schools, but it got shut down the week I began so I transferred into English and Classics. I studied all day, all week, and at night I cleaned offices and on the weekends I silk-screened logs onto bathing caps. And, one day, when I was having lunch with an art school friend, and she said, “It’s such a shame you’re not making art.” That hadn’t occurred to me. Was I even missing it? Not that I’d noticed.
I went home and was weeding the garden and looked around at the flowers, herbs and vegetables and at my hands covered in earth and everything moving in the slight breeze and thought, “I think this, too, is art.” And then the neighbour lady, who was a drug addict, came over to ask if she could have some flowers to take to her sister, who was also a drug addict, and had been beaten up and raped in the downtown east side and was now in the hospital recovering. “I just love your flowers, I look at them all the time.” I picked poppies that I grew because Monet did, and roses from a bush that Vita Sackville-West wrote about and sunflowers that van Gogh had loved… you get the idea. It was a garden built on art. When I laid the bouquet into her arms, the rose thorns scratched her and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry!” and she laughed and said, “No harm done! My sister will love these flowers. I bet no one has ever brought her flowers before.” And I looked at her arms, pocked with needle marks, now scratched and bleeding a little, and I thought, this too, is art.
As I come to the end of one career after thirty years in social services and supports to people with disabilities, and vibrate in a whole new and exciting way in a new career teaching college students, I think, “this, too, is art.” Everything is art. I have somehow, after so many years, started using art in research and facilitation so that now I spend hours making art, with all kinds of partners and all kinds of colleagues, bringing everything I’ve learned into one package. Some graphic recorders differentiate between their “art-making” and their graphic recording. I don’t. The recording of free ranging conversations with large groups of people and the clarification of the directions people want to go in to create a future that I am able to help them picture, is art.
I am preparing to teach a class in policy development and Indigenous experiences through a lens of truth and reconciliation. That, too, is art. I will begin with the metaphor of fire: policy is fire. It can warm us and make us safe, and if we let it get out of control it can force us to flee in unwanted directions. We can cook with it, we can get burned by it. We can learn how to use it. The most useful manifestos in my life have been those that were written by artists. I think I will begin our class with some drawing…
Best wishes to a New Year, 2019, full of all kinds of art that you care about.