As part of a course I’m taking, I am writing. I will share these bits and pieces as they come. Here is one based on The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. I welcome comments, critiques, edits, etc.
My Artist’s Journey
By Simrat Khalsa
I was born into an artist family in Maine. My father painted, and had a small advertising firm. Prior to that, he had worked in NYC in the early days of animation and advertising. My mother was a writer. Behind all the other possible professions I have thought about, for me there was always Artist. As a child, I was one of those who doodled in the margins of my notes, or carried a sketchbook around. I drew things that were in front of me, and also what came from my mind and imagination.
Along with growing up surrounded by art, there was also loss. My mother died when I was around five, and my father just over a year after that. I moved to upstate NY to live with my great aunt, who raised me for the next ten years until her death. As you might imagine, I consider myself to be a bit of an expert on grief. I’ve lived with it intimately for nearly my entire life, since I was hit hard and early.
I was fortunate to have access to extensive arts education while growing up. Aside from being surrounded by artists from the start, my move to Woodstock, at the age of six, put me in the center of what had been the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony. In my teen years, there was a resurrection when the Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen took over Byrdcliffe. I did classes in ceramics, jewelry making, theater, drawing, and more. My high school also had a wide variety of arts classes. Since that’s where I was most comfortable, my schedule was filled with arts electives. I learned photography with a hand held light meter and a Yashica twin lens reflex camera, learning to do my own darkroom work. I did graphic design, and won a few local competitions. Making art was a haven for me. It was a place to escape into and explore.
At age sixteen, after my great aunt died, I went to Simon’s Rock Early College, where again, I had access to excellent teachers. In my first year, I studied photography and ceramics, ran the school darkroom, and was accepted into the Advanced Studio class. This was a challenging group of upper level students working in various media, with a weekly group critique. It was at Simon’s Rock that I started to know the rhythm of the studio, exploring the creative process in more depth, and started to develop the thick skin needed for public critique.
With my associate’s degree in hand, I moved to Seattle at the age of eighteen to attend Burnley School for Professional Art. I had a fabulous design teacher in Bill Cummings. His encouragement helped bolster my confidence. This was all back in the days before computers, so I learned manual layout, perspective drawing, drafting, and hand lettering. After a year, I saw that commercial art was not where I wanted to end up, and I found other jobs to support myself.
While in Seattle, I started doing Kundalini Yoga, and within a year, I had left my previous life behind, including art. I converted to Sikhism, moved to Oregon, got married, and had two children.
The greatest challenge I had then was balancing the dichotomy between living a spiritual life, and the concept that artists are egocentric, struggling souls. I had also grown up around the culture of alcoholism, and to leave the addiction, I also left art. At that point, I couldn’t extricate one from the other. Art and I parted ways…
When I was I my mid-30’s and my second child was able to go to pre-school, I took a workshop in The Artist’s Way. Through the daily writing, and other work, I found that art had never really left me, and that it was time to reconnect with this innate part of myself. There were things about my father that I found I really needed to work though, and The Artist’s Way was my avenue for it.
I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree. At the University of Oregon, I added printmaking, book arts, and painting to my repertoire. Returning to the studio was so very exciting! I started to build a body of work. What I didn’t get from school was how to make a living with my art, so I ended up working. I gravitated to data analysis and project management. There is a level of creativity in that too.
I don’t think that one ever just gets over deep loss. Instead, it needs to be honored and, eventually, incorporated into who you are, into your very being. Otherwise, you can be like the living dead; walking, breathing, talking, working; but not really alive. What has helped my healing is connecting though meditation, with my horses and my artwork, then with the greater natural world, then finally with myself. It’s all a work in progress. I had to allow myself to be wherever I was at the moment and have it be okay. I found I couldn’t force it. It had to be allowed to happen. Anything else is somewhat less than true. And there is not an end to the process. As long as I am alive, it continues. When I get to the point of admitting that life is gritty, messy, visceral and alternately painful or wonderful, is when I know I am living.
We are the sum total of our lives to date, our experiences, our loves, our trials. Making art has taught me the following: Be true to yourself; Feel and experience life as it come; Live today; Do the work. I use my art to heal past wounds. I use it to express my connection with my world. I share it to see if others have that connection too.