Monday, June 25, 2012

Forgiving Emily Carr – Reflections on Graduation

Emily Carr rejected me on the eve of my high school graduation. Obviously it wasn't her personally but  school that was named after her did. I was devastated. I had given up so much to pursue her appreciation and acceptance only to be delivered the bad news on night of the grad. I was stunned. I walked through evening’s preparation in a daze replaying the interview process through my mind. What did I do wrong? What did I say? Why don’t they like me?

The fact is that I shouldn’t have been too surprised. The two faculty members that interviewed me were less than enthusiastic. They said my work was rigid and my style too technical next to my competitors. I recall a fellow classmate – who did get accepted – had a portfolio filled with pictures made with a can of spray paint and coat hangers as stencils. He called one Penguins on the Fourth of July. He got in. My portfolio had ballerinas, children in poverty and landscape paintings. Could they not see my depth, compassion and soul? It was there in the stroke of every pencil and the reflection of every colour.

I had dedicated four years of my young life to art. Lived through the elementary school years where my mind struggled with with all those left-brained tasks. From Grade 8-12 I was officially on the artist’s path. My teachers believed in my talent and suggested to my parents that I focus on drawing, painting, printmaking and photography. Although not artsy folks themselves, mom and dad could see that was where I belonged. They let me take the basics of math, science and French so I was a well-rounded student but never pushed me too hard down the “you need to make a living” path.

So what made me so rigid and technical? Well it was my elementary school mindset. I just thought my struggles with anything that didn’t involve a sketch pad meant I there was something wrong with me. I seemed to live in a different world than everyone else. I was too sensitive. Too shy but, like most folks, I desperately wanted to be accepted. I struggled with the different points of view my mind jumped too. The images I picked out of the blue. There lived in me a strong need to express something important to the world but didn’t have the words to do it. Those would come later in life.

It’s funny how life is sometimes. I moved on to Langara College Fine Arts program where they embraced me with open arms. My interviewer opened my portfolio, saw the scholarship and awards I had won, closed it and said “You’re in.” His quick decision startled me and, seeing the confusion on his face, he explained that my commitment was evident and he didn’t need anymore than that (although he did look at the contents with equal enthusiasm). But the sting of rejection was too much. Everything I did in those 2-years never seemed good enough. The filter of failure robbed me of feeling connected to my creations.

That never good enough has haunted me since then. Although I have had artistic successes in life I’m never fully dedicated myself or appreciated that aspect of life. Mostly I have morphed my talents into different careers to produce creations for others but I’m frustrated at not having my own visions brought to life. As I shared this story with a friend I found out I’m not alone. She too was told not to pursue her writing and, like me, many years later, she is creating a new life and a new vision of herself. It’s never too late to take a new direction.

So if you know a new grad or if you are revitalizing your own life don’t take the perceptions and judgments of others to heart. They don’t know who you are or who you need to be in this world. If you’ve delayed expressing yourself don’t beat yourself up just start now. Start with what you can. Plant your seeds and tend to your talent. That’s what I intend to do.

Oh yeah, Emily, you're forgiven.