When I was a child, I thought art wasn't for me.
"I can't draw," I'd tell myself, only to grow up to avoid art classes in high school and college.
When I struggled with many of the drawing and painting assignments in my elementary art classes at school, I became detached from art and craft. Sometimes it wasn't a struggle. I remember making a paper machet rabbit one year and turning it over and over in my hands while thinking about how well it turned out.
"I made this."
I was also no stranger to clay. I spent many summer days digging red clay in my backyard in coastal North Carolina, my hands stained orange as I added water to the holes I made. When the clay was soft and wet enough, I rolled it into small balls and formed tiny pinch pots. Those pinch pots lined the kitchen windowsill, drying in the sunshine. When they were dry, they usually cracked down the center (my first "s" crack), but sometimes they dried hard enough to paint with acrylics leftover from last year's holiday craft project.
I was so proud of my clay pot collection.
The pots eventually crumbled, but the feeling of the clay in my hands was something that became embedded in my childhood experience. I didn't know that I was making art while digging backyard clay, because it felt as natural as breathing.
Art was an inate human experience I felt from childhood.
I've been a writer ever since I could read, but it never checked the "art" category in my mind. Reading and writing were tools I used to express myself. I write because I must, and yet I didn't understand how all the time I spent crafting prose was my art, and that art wasn't some amorphous idea that had no part in my life.
Art had always been for me.
I didn't better understand my relationship with art until I was in my thirties. My daughter loved play dough, so I spent many hours at the kitchen table forming whatever little creature she desired.
"I can't draw, but I can sculpt," I thought. It blew my mind. I frantically searched the internet for brain science to explain his blip in my consciousness. I couldn't draw a decent stick figure, but I could visualize how to form a possum from clay. I started to wonder if having a child had forever changed my brain chemistry.
Isn't art a talent you either have or don't have?
Even after I enrolled in my first clay handbuilding classes, it took me several years to understand what it means to be an artist.
Now I reach for the art world. I teach clay art classes to children. I may not be the most experienced teacher, but I make sure my students know that their creations are amazing because they are unique. I consult with each of them on their art because it's important, and I want them to feel the successes that I lacked in "art class." But most of all, I want them to know that art is their birthright -- it's as natural as breathing.
Art is for children.
I also have my own art studio now, where I get lost in the curves of a vase and the rounded spine of a sculpted mouse. Art slows my body, clears my mind, focuses my attention, and invokes passion in my life. In these moments, I know art is my way of expressing beauty.
Art is also a process as old as human consciousness and as varied as human experience, and it's for me because it is for everyone.