Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Price of Art

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. ~ Picasso

Watching my son’s push to pull-off his BFA graduation show reminded me of his years as a high school wrestler. Seeing him compete and place in state wrestling competitions, I witnessed how much heart and discipline he could muster. I respected his efforts and was amazed by what he was able to call up from within.

But Josh’s wrestling years also came with a price. His trainings were rigorous, and he starved and dehydrated himself to make weight, to the point that I sometimes feared he was killing himself. As a mother, what I saw Josh sacrifice for the love of a sport, horrified me at the time. Looking back, I now realize that the drive boys have to create a rite of passage into manhood sometimes takes a little boot camp of some kind or another. Males in particular seem to need to see what they’re made of by testing their limits.

A couple of weeks before we made the trip to Asheville for Josh’s show, I called my younger son Dylan, who got married this past summer, to see if he and his wife would be making the trip as well. I encouraged him to go by saying, “you know, this is like Josh’s version of a wedding,” and I began to view it that way. It was a life milestone that needed to be marked, one that involved intense planning and the stress that often comes with that.

Josh’s graduation from the University of North Carolina with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is the culmination of over 7 years of school and life education. His formal art education (ceramics in particular) began with a 2 year enrollment at Warren Wilson College, was followed by graduation from Haywood Tech Community College, included a few stints at Penland School of Arts (both as student and teacher’s assistant), and a trip to England to meet studio potters that Josh wanted to learn from. Besides his emotional investment and commitment to making art, to put his Thesis Show together catering had to be arranged, invitations sent out, events and performances planned. Josh hosted family and friends in town for the weekend. He hired a band (or got someone to) for the after show party, and even helped clean up the party mess the next day.

Just a week before the show he was working so hard – still firing bricks and last minute show pots, working on his massive 12 x 20 foot wall installation – that he ended a phone conversation I had with him by saying, “my hands are being held together with super glue.” I knew from that comment that he was probably living on coffee and little sleep in order to accomplish the monumental undertaking, of which he refused not to give his all to.

As an adult in the Asheville art world, the perseverance Josh learned in those formative years while wrestling has served him well, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. The result of his recent efforts were impressive, inspiring, and innovative. But although his show was a wonderful success and we all had fun being in Asheville, it was obvious to me that he was stretched thin. To accomplish what he had, his life not related to his art was put on hold. Even his own basic needs were compromised for his one-pointed goal. There were a few Van Gogh-like mania moments during the show, as well as some signs of burn-out after it was over.

On the last day that Joe and I were in Asheville, we had breakfast with Josh at a local café. His brothers, his father, and the Floyd hometown contingency had left the afternoon before. It was the morning after the first night in weeks that Josh had gotten a reasonable amount of sleep, but he was still distracted after functioning at full throttle for days and asking himself from minute to minute ‘what needs to be done next?’

“Do you have to read the newspaper right now?” I asked. He was on his first of six cups of coffee. He laughed as he answered, “no.” Putting the paper aside, he shifted in his chair a few times, let his eyes dart around the patio to take everything in, before stopping … to take a deep breath.

Our eyes met, and after a few seconds of looking and really seeing each other, we both welled up with tears. Nothing needed to be said.

Note: Originally posted on on December 12, 2006.

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