While many artists have had their gifts nourished from an early age, so many creative people I have known over the years were raised without art books or trips to galleries and nevertheless went on to create full, rich lives in the arts.
I know too many artists who grew up in households where the one "art book" in the house was a pristine Norman Rockwell coffee table behemoth. Homes where art enrichment camps and field trips to art museums did not register on the domestic radar. Where church, not culture, defined family social lives and entertainment dollars were more likely spent on a trip to Disney World than on season tickets to the symphony.
It makes you wonder. Will all the art-centered private schools and creativity boot camps yuppie parents now sign their children up for turn out the next generation's Van Gogh or Tom Sachs? Or will there be a backlash? Will becoming a stockbroker or doctor become the newest form of rebellion? "Fuck you, mother, I'm going to be a commodities trader!"
Despite a long and prolific career as a photographer and curator, former Atlanta artist Jill Larson says her early artistic aspirations must have been innate. There was no encouragement for her proclivities from her family, who found her interest in taking pictures with her first camera at age 9 laughable.
Larson remembers photographing everything around her: "the family shoes lined up beside the back door, the shadow of my sister pushing my younger brother at the playground, the old paint on the side of the barn.
"My family thought I was nuts," she says. When Larson announced that she wanted to go to art school, her mother laughed and told her, "that would explain why you're not like us. You've been an artist this whole time, and nobody knew."
Maybe that initial experience of adversity only bolsters the fledgling artist within, which will serve the artist well in years to come.
Atlanta artist Grant Henry (aka Sister Louisa) also grew up in a house where visits to galleries or museums were nonexistent. He remembers being astounded to learn that the "Mona Lisa" hanging on the wall of his childhood home in Panama City, Fla., was not the original.
Artists Mary Walton and Anne-Marie Manker cite high school teachers as influential forces in encouraging their work and opening up the possibility of art-making as a career. "Most mamas don't want their babies to grow up to be cowboys or artists," jokes Walton.
Robert Sherer, whose work has been exhibited locally and abroad, grew up in a family that was openly hostile to art-making. His mother tossed out his father's "silly things" -- the early watercolors he'd done in his youth. And a cousin who'd become a painter in San Francisco was ostracized from the family fold. But despite a climate of discouragement, certain events stuck out to Sherer, like a family friend's gift of his first art book on his 10th birthday. "When I opened the book I was confronted by an image of a painting by Salvador Dali titled 'The Giraffe on Fire.' I knew instantly that my life would never be the same now that I knew about that giraffe on fire!"
Robert Cheatham, executive director of Atlanta's Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery and an artist in his own right, had a similar lack of exposure to art as a kid growing up in Mississippi. What he did have, though, was a love of Walt Disney movies. He connected so deeply to the idea of being an animator, he recalls "making a light table to do onion skin overlays and doing a presentation for the 4-H club."
You stumble across your first Warhol on a school field trip. You make films in your basement as a kid. There's something about that Picasso that just gets you, and so you buy a poster and put it on your bedroom wall.
I am constantly inspired by all of the people I know who decided, without encouragement or education, to just pick up a paintbrush or a camera and create, who have something within them that no amount of discouragement or disappointment or apathy could crush.
After six years in its Luckie Street/ Fairlie-Poplar location, the alternative gallery Ballroom Studios is on the bricks. The building that houses the art space has been purchased for new office space. Ballroom co-director Daniel Pettrow, says the new incarnation of Ballroom will open in mid-October in the PushPush Theater digs on Decatur's New Street where a steady stream of viewers -- many of them from the film and theater communities -- will hopefully expand Ballroom's audience.
Every year artists are forced to leave Atlanta because of meager job prospects. The creation of new teaching positions will therefore be one of the best aspects of the creation of a Savannah College of Art and Design facility in Atlanta. SCAD-Atlanta will offer graduate and undergraduate classes and is slated to open in 2005. Anyone interested in a position at SCAD-Atlanta can e-mail email@example.com or visit the college website at: www.scad.edu.
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