Panel from Red On Maroon Mural (1959) by Mark Rothko (via)
Last night, I attended a performance of the John Logan play RED produced at my place of employment.
It’s a fascinating play featuring dialogue about art, philosophy, and life through the lens of the artist Mark Rothko in the late 1950s.
I was especially struck by a line that Rothko said when he was asked about how he felt about sending his art out into the world.
“Selling a picture is like sending a blind child into a room full of razor blades. It’s going to get hurt and it’s never been hurt before, it doesn’t know what hurt is.”
–Rothko, in the play RED by John Logan
This was such an apt description of the vulnerability of being an artist, and the tenuous release of one’s work into the cruel world of critique and opinions.
I have always been an artist, in virtually every way that one can make art with varying levels of success. I have been a painter, I have sketched, I have worked some with ceramics, I have done cake decorating, flower arranging, landscaped an herb garden. I have been a pianist and an unfortunate excuse for a violinist, I have written prose and poetry and journalistic works. I have been a singer, dancer, and actress. I have been a costume designer, and I now make my living sculpting and cutting and stitching fabric into garments to be seen on stage. I have a Masters of Fine Arts in the subject.
The first time I was allowed to design costumes for theatre, I was given the assignment to create a look for the can-can dancers for the dream sequence of a local youth theatre’s production of Oklahoma. That was also the last production in which I ever performed, so, as I watched from the wings, I was overcome with all sorts of emotions. There was so much of me on the stage, but it was like it was my secret. I knew exactly why each dress was that color, why each ruffle was the fullness I had chosen, and why the necklines were all a bit different. The subtle nuances that were probably lost on the average audience member were all a part of me. And I was intoxicated by that feeling.
I went to grad school as a costume designer, but part of the way through my program, I began to realize that my heart was ultimately more in the costume technician side of things. It was more stable, and calmed me, whereas designing and the thought of freelancing filled me with constant anxiety. I loved the artistry of building a garment, patterning it from nothing. I felt the ghosts of a lineage of dressmakers around me as I created, spanning back as far as people wore clothes. I was perpetuating the fine craft that remained, in countless ways, virtually unchanged throughout time.
And yet, when I step back and observe my life’s calling, my life’s work, I sometimes think, “I make pretend clothes for pretend people. What difference does this make, really?”
But art is eternal. Even in times of economic hardship, people still turn to art in all of its forms for entertainment, for beauty, for self-reflection. And that sentiment legitimizes what I do. It gives power and gravity to theatre. It imbues my work with significance.
When I am in the fitting room with a performer and designer, I am a conduit for the designer’s vision. I am a confidant and source of encouragement for the performer, a therapist, a friend, an advocate. In the costume shop, I am a coordinator, a delegator and a teacher. I am a craftsperson, a skilled technician, a collaborator.
I am an artist.
And now, in starting this blog, I am returning to my roots as a writer.
Until mid-highschool, my goal in life was to be a writer. I didn’t really know how or to what ends, I just knew that I wanted to write. But then, theatre took hold of me and never let me go. My writing was shoved aside.
I no longer journaled every night religiously, feeling guilty (oh, the theme of my life…) for missing a day. I had chronicled my life from junior high through high school, with all of my silly teenage debates with myself over what this boy meant in this AIM message, or what happened at the latest sleepover, or my worries about my eternal soul. My senior year of high school, I discovered Livejournal, and began to discuss my life through a friends-only platform. I kept up my Livejournal long after most people had abandoned it through most of grad school. (It’s still in existence and every once in a while I log in to check out what was going on “back in the day.”)
And then I stopped writing completely.
But every so often, especially in my darkest times, I would pour out my soul onto the page once more.
“Journaling rips me apart and sews me back together,” I once wrote.
My writing is cathartic. It is like exercising muscle, ripping it apart to rebuild before smoothing out its fibers once more. It is painful, at first, but ultimately it refashions me into a stronger version of myself.
And now, I am realizing, like the Rothko character said in RED, there is such a vulnerability in publishing this blog. I am sending my words, naked and unfiltered, out into the world, like a blind child into a room full of razorblades. I am sharing the deepest parts of myself in an extremely public forum, and sometimes I wonder if it’s unwise. Or if it’s masturbatory. Or if it’s unnecessary.
And now, here I am, writing an esoteric piece about art and the validity of it, and it all seems so pompous and self-serving.
Those little inklings of self-doubt keep creeping in.
What makes you think you’re so special?
What makes you think that people would ever want to read what you have to say?
What makes you think people would benefit from your life’s story, its struggles and triumphs?
Why are you wasting your time?
People are going to get annoyed with your posts.
You’re ridiculous for thinking that this is worth reading.
But, over this past week since I began this blog, I have heard from over a dozen people.
I have heard from someone who is struggling with their marriage.
I have heard from someone who is trying to figure out their sexuality.
I have heard from someone who is struggling with their queer identity and what it means to still be a Christian.
I have heard from people who struggle with self injury.
I have reconnected with old friends from high school and earlier, who had no idea of what I was going through when they were closest to me.
I have heard from people who assumed that I had everything together and was so confident and cool and popular, when I really felt like a scared outcast the whole time.
These messages mean everything to me. It validates this project of mine. It encourages me that what I am saying is worthwhile, that it resonates with people. It helps me realize that I am not alone, just like it helps them.
And this blog is once again ripping me apart and sewing me back together.