Saturday, December 11, 2010

Finding the artist in you.

Childhood was scary in many ways. In retrospect I think that was because there was an artist inside me, and I had no idea what that meant. Being small, quiet, nearly silent, and very sensitive to sound and turmoil, I saw many things that delighted me and many that frightened me when I was a little girl. 

Patterns on my linoleum floor transformed to wiggly caterpillars at night when, hearing voices, I awakened. The bright lamp light  was downstairs, where the voices came from, and absent near my bed. With no illumination I couldn't bring myself to lower my feet to the floor. The squirmy apparitions seemed real. I was awake, so I thought, but the swirling creatures were still there. 

Self portrait, Joyce Owens

I had other visions and insights. I saw candy vending machines in the basement. When I was awake and not dreaming I found a furnace instead.  I was sensitive to  pain, not my own, but other people's. I would chastise my sister when I thought she was mean to someone. She said I didn't understand. But I saw things that bothered me; my mother believed me and honored my ideas. She was the saving grace that allowed me to step into an area I knew nothing about. And knew no one who did!
Eloise Owens, opera singer, my mother

What remains from my childhood memories includes moving to the house around the corner, far away from the house I had lived in from the time I was born. I was told NEVER to go around that corner to the house we had hurried out of in the dead of winter because it was on fire. That burned out house, I was told, might swallow me up! The floors were gaping holes. Stay away!! 

After the fire. After the divorce. After my childhood changed forever. 

I realized I had lost my childhood photos in that fire, except for about three when I quizzed my mother about the lack of photos of me! She reminded me of the fire. How does one remember a life with no images to prove what happened? I remember some things. I recall walking to kindergarten, and kissing Henry or Harry, a boy in my class when my brother pushed us to try. (It was not so great! I still recall the sloppy attempt. I did not want seconds.) I remember my best friend Phyllis who lived next door on a block that had 2 houses facing a lot across the street. We lived on Glenwood Avenue. Without photos/images to reinforce those memories mine are weak, at best.

Everyone who knew me later thought my father, who I was never photographed with, as far as I can remember, had died. He hadn't. Not then. I have mostly hidden my childhood stories. I really didn't think they were anything to dwell on. "That's life! Deal with it."

My mother, big sister and brother became my mother and father. They loved me, the youngest of three, and cared for me; I was different, not really like them they told me once in a while. And we had different fathers. Theirs was my mother's first husband. She married my father because he was nice to her when she was ill. She felt obligated. She always said she was glad she married him because I resulted from that union, but she really couldn't stand him after a while.

My mother insisted I understand I had to be able to take care of myself. I had to always be able to stand on my own and make my own decisions. My mother reinforced this, even as she supported me. I figured out what to do to become an artist. It was desire, and it was encouragement from teachers who saw something in me in high school, college and grad school.

Among some befuddling situations, one thing was very clear to me in my childhood; I said it in 3rd grade. So I am an artist, and plan to continue to be an artist and learn more each day about this fairly mysterious job choice.
I do worry about the aspiring artists. Art classes in public schools are often limited. Serious approaches to contemporary art practice is usually overlooked because the people who are teaching have not experienced it in many cases. Our culture depends on artists of all kinds but doesn't usually treat artists as the precious commodities they are.
Asian Girl by Kyle F. Anderson, my son, an aspiring artist
The scariest thing is that artists still don't get the respect, the money, the emotional support and the thanks that many deserve, sometimes until they are dead. I think that is least, I hope so.


  1. Thanks Sis Joyce for your candidness in this story.Its interesting how a lot of artists seem to have this oddness to them,right from the onset!(i know i do).I will understand your paintings more now-that constant solitude in your figures,even when they're in a group or crowd!I enjoyed your story.

  2. Yes, we do seem to have that "oddness". And we are on a constant and persistent learning curve! .

  3. Thanks for sharing those personal thoughts. The artist was born in you and blossomed because of fate and experience, thanks be to the Creator.

  4. Dear Arty: Thanks for your input. "Fate and experience", yes! We all have these stories in us, don't we?

  5. Wow, Joyce. This makes me think about why I am the way I am. Thank you.

    1. Hey PJ- and maybe this explains why we artists understand each other, even if no one else does!