On Calling Thyself An Artist

Yesterday, I arrived, along with all three of our little ruffians, in Spokane, WA for a Spring Break visit with my parents and some extended family. I had the opportunity to spend the past twenty-four hours with my twelve-year-old nephew: a boy-turned pre-teen on his way to becoming a young man.

As entrenched in raising sub-first-grade children as I presently am, I had led myself to believe that blatant honesty thrives more so in preschool-aged children (along with eighth decade senior citizens who communally espouse the attitude of, ‘what do I have to lose?’ and thus tend to say whatever the hell they like) than older kids. My nephew, bless his slowly maturing heart, proved me wrong.

This morning, while searching the closet in my parents’ exercise room for some hand weights to boost my dismal attempt at a workout, I found a few pieces of artwork dating back to my junior high and high school days: an abstract still life, a positive/negative painting of Betty Davis (painted with black and neon pink tempera pain, nonetheless) and a few other sketches. My nephew saw me pawing through these wannabe relics and asked to whom they belonged.

“They’re mine. They were mine. I did them back in high school. Junior high, maybe. I don’t remember for sure.”

The truth is, I remember all too well. I remember how, at one point, long ago (truthfully, on many occasions, multiple time frames ago) I fancied myself a potential artist. I loved my junior high and high school art classes. I took painting, drawing, calligraphy, photography. In college, I dabbled in pottery and sculpture. I even posed for a senior photography student’s graduating portfolio…but that’s a different story. I wasn’t necessarily phenomenal at any of these artistic pursuits. But I had potential and, sometimes, a piece I produced before the semester’s end wouldn’t turn out all that half bad. Like the Monetesque oil pastel landscape which my parents had framed and still hangs on a wall in their house to this day.

My collegiate undergraduate degree was in Creative Writing. Having absolutely, positively loved my high school senior year English class (especially the writing part) I dreamt of honing my craft of writing throughout my college days.

And then the impetuous, coming from where, I don’t really know, to be practical, set in. I thought I might like to become a doctor. Perhaps an OBGYN. Maybe a physical therapist. While fulfilling the degree requirements for a BA in English—emphasis on Creative Writing—I also enrolled in physics, chemistry, biology and anatomy classes. I attended cadaver lab. I pondered (and, truthfully, never fully understood) buoyancy. I trudged through statistics and whatever other horrific math classes I was required to take prior to applying to medical, PT or, eventually, physician assistant school. Why didn’t someone slap me across the face a few times and pull me back into what should’ve been my reality? You were meant to be an artist. You don’t have to be practical, logical, rich.  Those things don’t guarantee happiness.  They are not necessarily equivalent to success.  Follow your heart, not your head.  You’ll end up down that path anyway…you just might save yourself $40k in PA school financial aid!

I completed my work in creative writing, vowing I would some day return to writing—perhaps in the form of writing for medical journals. As if. As if writing medical literature smacks of creative writing in the least.

I should have known it wouldn’t work out that way. My chemistry professor could’ve probably told me that long before I figured it out: that creative writing and science don’t mix terribly well. I, however, couldn’t understand his insistence that adjectives be left out of chemistry experiment write-ups. What was wrong with describing the magenta flame bursting out of the flask as “brilliant,” “dancing,” or delicately powerful?” And, more importantly, why did the inclusion of those descriptors plummet my grade to a C+?

Fast forward almost fifteen years, one book, a second manuscript and numerous magazine articles later, and it finally makes sense to me: while my mind had the capacity to find practicing medicine interesting, and a worthy pursuit, it’s not where my heart lay.

A year after the release of my first book, A Dozen Invisible Pieces and Other Confessions of Motherhood I am just now finally accepting the idea of “artist” as my professional descriptor. While attending the Desert Nights Rising Stars Writer’s Conference last month, I heard a lot of accomplished writers refer to the “craft of writing,” and the “art work” we authors produce. Craft? Artwork? Does that relate to me?

So, this morning, when my nephew saw me looking (longingly?) through my twenty-plus-year-old artwork, his innocently poignant question both caught me off guard and bolstered the supposition that has roamed the confines of my mind these past few weeks.

“So, Auntie Kimmelin, if you like doing art so much, why don’t you just become an artist?”

His question was completely devoid of sarcasm, jest or cynicism. On the contrary, his quandary rang with honesty and, yes, even, hope.


“Well, honey, that’s a good question. But, you know what? I think I finally have become an artist. I write books. Writing is a form of artwork. So, I guess, that makes me an artist.”

I climbed aboard the treadmill, a pair of two-pounders in my hands, punched at the buttons that set the machine into motion.

“So, what do you want to become when you grow up?”

My nephew, lounging leisurely on the nearby recumbent bike missed nary a beat.

“An architect.”

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