The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

Years ago I had an art teacher tell me that I was no good at drawing, or coloring, or creativity. Those concepts carried into my time as a high schooler, making me avoid art class with a passion. I chose instead, to put all of my efforts into music-where I learned to play various instruments with adequate skill and sang my  heart out in groups and solo. It is the story of my music education that I will hold onto for another day. When I found myself in a visual art class one year, I went to the teacher and explained that “I sucked”. It wasn’t because I had been certified as an individual without artistic powers or that I wanted mercy in the expectations, but because someone had told the impressionable child-me that I was no good and I carried that with me as my own truth. My high school art teacher told me that I didn’t suck and kept after me to keep trying. When my first entry on a larger project was complimented by TWO art teachers, I was confused.

I thought I sucked.

And yet here I am, a number of years later still and I find both coloring and drawing to be comforting. My skills are unpolished and although I find it relaxing, I would not say I am an artist. If you ever wondered what a difference havig art in classrooms can make, please use this story. If you’ve ever wanted to know why I have the utmost respect for teachers with passion, use this story. And when you combine the two, you’ll understand why this is one of the life-defining moments in my life.

I struggle daily with how to define myself. The labels which have been handed to me do not present a complete picture, and there are not words for the other parts of me. As I explored this, I realized that I am in a transient state, changing, moving and shaping myself constantly. I have no labels, because I do not need them. I am an unfinished work of art, still being planned out by an artist who hasn’t decided where this project will go.

I look back on that moment in high school when I struggled with my identity. Perhaps it’s just high school, perhaps I was different. I didn’t know that by breaking down the walls of my childhood-the misconceptions that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t worth investing time in-I would be doing the best thing for myself.

It has been 8 years since I stepped foot inside the high school I would graduate from. I was a junior when I took the art class that convinced me I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful. 

I didn’t have to be perfect to make something beautiful.

So here I am, almost a decade after I began my transformation into the adult I will become. I haven’t finished changing, and in fact, I imagine I will be someone new before I finish. But the thing is, those words stuck with me. The teacher I had in high school is both someone whom I admire deeply and a source of great inspiration to me. She pushes me still to see the world in a different way than may be easy, or colorless. And so one of the things I’ve been working on this semester is exploring that change. What I came up with I’ve been putting into writing, becoming more assertive in what I need to say. What I don’t show people often is that I also put my messages into drawings. Sometimes they are tattoo sketches far too big and detailed to be reasonably priced, sometimes they are metaphorical and drawn in an utmost surreal context. But then there’s this piece.

The Evolution of Self: A Portrait

  I so named it that because I wanted to show how my change is both reflective of who I am now, and the product of who I was. I’d like to take a moment and explain what I feel the message is. You don’t have to like it, just consider it.

The basic content is: a waterfall, a phoenix and two sets of hands. That much, I gather you could figure out for yourself. The next layer are the words in the background: Transform, Brave, Love, Acceptance, Beautiful, Hope, Life, Forgiveness, Growth. There is the color scheme to consider, the level of detail (and shading) in the hands, the size of the hands and the “decoration” of the hands, as well as the way the background is set up. 

The nine words are the ones I had to learn the hard way. They are reflective of self, things that were not always easy for me to fully grasp.

The background grows darker, more assertive as it approaches the bigger hands, more concrete. The waterfall is closer to the small hands. The left side of the picture in general is lighter, less defined, more washed out. 

And the hands themselves. On the left, you have a child’s hands. They are reaching out for help, open and expressive. The nails are painted black, and the waterfall is suggestive of losing oneself, “going off the deep end” and trying to “keep my head above the water”. The hands themselves are lightly shaded, as though the owner is becoming invisible. And yet there are bright red marks on the arms-dashes, hope and love. I can promise you that this isn’t a shock-and awe piece, but a true to life representation of the way my arms looked spring of my freshman year. I don’t talk about it often, it isn’t a story too many people know, but now they will. Those two words were the things I wanted most out of life-hope of a better life and love that would heal all wounds. And yes, I really did cut them into my arms with diamond Os and the Es facing vein length. It is honest and brutal.

On the right, there is the me that I am now. older, stronger hands with imperfections (like crooked fingers) reaching out to the younger me, the me that is representative of the 2-3 million people who engage in self harm each year. The right side reaches out, without judgement, offering safety and hope and love to those without. The nails are blue and a silver wedding band is there. But if you look closely, the scars are still there, silent reminders that what was done cannot be undone, but can make you stronger. 

In the end, it was never about being right or being wrong. It was always about being the person who broke free from their shell to embrace something new. I may not be perfect, but I made something beautiful: a new life. And that is the true evolution. Like a phoenix, I took my failures and created brilliance. I cannot wait to see what comes next.

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