When life wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
When I was in high school, I would often ask people “what do you think of my art?” Even when they said it was great, I was skeptical and thought there was something more I could do to make it better. Despite winning every art award in my grade with my realistic and classically done paintings, I still felt they weren’t good enough. In grade 12, I got contacted by an agency about an opportunity to go study at a prestigious art school in London, England. I decided to go for it, and after a few months, received an acceptance letter. That summer I also won the Sincarsin Scholarship for Artistic Excellence from my school, which further encouraged me to pursue my passion in the arts. As a young artist, I was thrilled at the prospect of being in the art world, meeting popular artists, and developing my artistic skills in a whole new country.
Within the first few months at the art school, I realized the teaching was different from what I was used to. The teachers encouraged us to break away from realism and supported different approaches in the art making. A number of people in the class were attempting abstract pieces, mixed media, sculptures or painting things in a ‘simpler way’. One day, I was working on a couple of realistic portraits on paper. One of the teachers came along, and said, “all I see are floating heads, can’t you do anything more to it?” My immediate thought was that there is something I need to fix and make ‘better’; perhaps my art was not good enough. I was upset. Looking around at my classmates, I could see which ones the teachers would praise for artistic excellence and what was defined as ‘good art’ or ‘interesting art’. That was when I started doing art another way in search of a way for me to I express myself. I started creating surreal and abstract artwork. By the end of that year, I felt frustrated with myself, disconnected with my artwork, and declared maybe art just wasn’t the thing for me, and I don’t love it.
After a year in England, London, I decided to return to Canada to finish my Bachelors of Fine Arts at Concordia University. During that time, I didn’t try too hard, and painted a lot of dark and moody paintings. I passed with good marks using my ‘talent’ and some effort. In the last 2 years of University, there was a shift in the way I thought about my art. Two of my teachers inspired me. Both saw immense talent and potential in me. They encouraged and listened to me, and shared their experiences. One of them, gave me a book called The Art of Painting in my last year, and the other teacher gave me a new set of paint colours I had never tried before. Their generosity with their time, and commitment made a difference for me. Because of them and their belief in my capabilities, I tried more and put in more effort. At that time, I still felt like I was stuck, and not entirely expressing myself as fully as possible. I do believe art reflects a person, and as an individual, I felt that way: unexpressed fully.
After university, I did teachers college at the University of Toronto. That year, I spent much of my time studying, only occasionally picking up the brush to do a new piece. It felt like, art is just for me, and I can do it any way I want without any constraints. I continued exploring new ways of expressing myself.
After I graduated from teachers college, I taught at a private Montessori school and various art schools; eventually, I began teaching privately at home. Children naturally got along with me. Their curiosity, excitement, and energy were contagious. Even with the shier ones, I could figure a way to get them to talk and be self-expressed eventually. They made me feel like I could be myself. At the time, I was still figuring out myself and my art, and feeling a bit stuck in what I was doing. I was searching for freedom and self-expression.
Through the process of working with children, I began feeling happier. One point of inspiration came from a class I held at home for a group of 3 lovely kids. They would come in my studio and see a new painting. That day, I had a painting I was stuck on and didn’t know what to add. One of my students said, “Let’s have boats floating there!” I was a bit skeptical at first thinking how can boats float in the sky. Also I had in mind to have the sky be blue.
She responded, “Why not?”
I thought, good point. Anything is possible. These kids breathed life into my art. They bring their enthusiasm and creativity into my life, and because of them, from their full self-expression, I was able to realize mine for myself.
The possibility I created for myself is the possibility of being open, honest, and to express powerfully what matters to me.
Life lesson #1: Your value and self worth does not depend on what others think.
Thinking back then, I was focused on what people thought about my art, and what other people thought was ‘good art’ more than what I think about my art. I based my arts value on how much people appreciated it.
Be fully self-expressed. If you are not, it keeps others from finding that within themselves. You can set the tone of how you live your life.