Chilling in my minivan, going here & there with my kids is one of my favorite parts of the day. There is just one thing, though. My oldest daughter simply can’t sing. When one of her favorite pop stars, Meghan Trainor, comes on, she’ll sing along with lots of gusto. I love that she feels comfortable enough to sing loudly & without regard in front of everyone, but there’s just one problem – she truly cannot sing… Everything is cool until she asks me that dreaded question: “Mom, Am I a good singer?”
I anxiously pause – years of reading parenting books & websites in my sad attempt to raise productive adults flood my mind. Do I lie? Should I say, “Yea, you’re a great singer!?” I do want to build her self confidence, but I also want her to trust me & I don’t want her to be embarrassed if she ever sings in public. Do I tell the truth? Should I say, “Could be better - You probably need to practice more?” I want to be truthful, but I don’t want to crush her spirit or her self-esteem. What’s a mom to do? Visions of my girl as an adult dancing on a pole in a seedy strip club- lest I make the wrong decision- cloud my frantic mind.
A few weeks ago, the family ventured to downtown DC to visit the Newseum (BTW: It’s awesome- You should totally go if given the chance!). The Newseum has a chronological history of journalism, profiles of profound journalists & many artifacts from top news stories that have captured our conscious. On our visit, We came across a large section of the Berlin Wall, which is captivating enough, but I was struck by the stark difference between each side of the enormous concrete. One side had beautiful graffiti that truly captured the frustration & struggle that encompassed the isolation and division during its existence. The other side of the wall (the East German side) was completely clean, sterile and entirely devoid of any creative expression. What was lost here was the voice of an entire people for an entire chunk of historical time.
Culture loses when art is controlled and prohibited. The East Germans, among many others, didn’t have permission to create or explore. I started thinking about this (permission, barriers & the need for acceptance) & how it relates to my art & my attitudes about my art. I don’t need anyone’s permission to create my art whether it be another artist, a buyer or arbitrary art authority. Many great artists have fought throughout history against governments, religion and even, yes, the art establishment for the freedom to create as they see fit. To feel as if one needs permission to create and explore stifles creativity. This permission seeking comes in various forms whether it be the imprisonment of approval or acceptance by others or literal barriers to art (like cultural, religious, societal, political or financial) We are all just people on a journey, and I need no one’s permission to tell my story in whatever medium I choose. The reality of this autonomy hit me like a ton of bricks. I will create whatever I damn well please - thank you very much.
This entire revelation about my own relationship with my art made me revisit the interaction with my daughter (whom I earlier pointed out couldn’t sing). Who am I to stifle her, judge her and try to control her creativity? Side bar: This train of thought does not apply to the cleanliness of her room. I’ll think about this the next time she asks me, “Mom, Am I a good singer?” I’ll tell her, "Keep singing baby – express what’s in your heart & never ask permission from anyone to do so." I may call around about some voice lessons, but in the meantime she’ll keep singing, & I’ll keep painting- permission or no permission. Approval is not needed here.