Last week my younger son came up to me after school one day and asked me if I knew that Vincent Van Gogh had cut of his ear? Sometimes as a mother, you know when a question is a bigger than it sounds. I sensed that this was one of those times. I said yes.
He then said, “Did you know that he killed himself?” There was a very serious concern in his eyes that went beyond the sometimes gruesome fascination boys can have with death. I said that I wasn’t so sure about that, and apparently some journalists have been wondering about that too. I could see that something was bothering him deeply about this.
My son loves to draw pictures, and is really good at this. He is already considering being an artist when he grows up, and has thought about attending the Art Institute in Chicago some day. I had a very strong feeling that he was worried that if he kept pursuing an artist’s life that he would end up like Van Gogh.
So, I suggested that we go down to the Art Institute in Chicago this weekend and see the vast range of artistic lifestyles that have existed throughout time.
So, today, both my sons and a friend of theirs spent the afternoon at the Art Institute.
We saw the work of artists ranging from anonymous ancient Chinese sculptures of works from 800 b.c. to the cobalt blue Chagall windows and of course, several Van Gogh paintings.
My boys’ favorite art was the armor collection from the middle ages that required a bit of a trek to discover the almost hidden collection in a corner of the museum.
At nine years old, my youngest son has an artist’s soul.
He very carefully and slowly looked at paintings from early Renaissance masters and 17th and 18th century black and white drawings with an intense attention to detail. He didn’t rush past the imposing sculptures that surrounded the collections like his older brother. He tried to understand everything he saw. His older brother on the other hand, was primarily fascinated with the craftsmanship of the medieval armor, the architecture of downtown Chicago and any displays that had a mechanistic or scientific aspect to them.
As we were leaving Chicago, we drove past Daley Plaza and the sculpture that has been there since 1965, and I said, “Boys, you need to learn about this sculpture by Picasso and learn more about the lives of artists that came before you. Some of them suffered through miserable lives like Van Gogh, others like Picasso experienced acclaim in their lifetime. There are so many ways to live an artistic life. Don’t let yourself get pigeon-holed into one stereotype.”
They both said that’s great, but can you find the Rock and Roll McDonald’s. Fortunately, I did!
Yesterday, I was playing around with my twitter account and for some reason, I was inspired to add the words — Champion of Artful Living to my profile. Champion as a verb sounded fine, but after looking at the updated profile, I wondered if champion as a noun was appropriate. Who am I to say that I am a champion of artful living? So, I changed the wording to Advocate of Artful Living. Then, I thought, what’s wrong with claiming to be a champion of artful living?
Part of me sees a champion as someone who has won contests, and reaches a certain level of attainment, or conquers something. Most of the time, this is not how I feel. I see myself on an unending journey of artistic evolution from when I was young to the end of my life, always with new challenges popping up. Yet, the importance of being a role model of artistic possibility has become more and more obvious to me.
I trust that someday both of my sons will find their own way to living an artful life, but for now, it’s up to me to show them how to be a champion of artful living myself. Declaring myself a champion of artful living is one way of honoring many of the unusual choices I’ve made in my life that sometimes don’t make sense to them. And taking a trip to the Art Institute was one way of honoring the artistic impulse. There are many more ways we often forget are available to us.
What about you? Do you consider yourself a champion of artful living? What might happen if you allowed yourself to do so?