I recently painted my driveway.
I titled the driveway art “Friday Happy Hour”. I was in the middle of a well deserved sprawl on the couch one Friday afternoon when I decided to watch a TED talk a friend had forwarded to me, Where Joy Hides and How to Find It. I was so inspired by what I learned that I peeled myself off the couch and started mixing paints. I don’t recommend watching this video if you are susceptible to spontaneous bouts of rearranging furniture or painting your walls bright colors. Unfortunately, I am high risk in both categories. However, ever since my driveway had its makeover, coming home feels…happier. When I get out of the car, I never know what color I might land on…delight.
I am probably not the first artist to feel this way, but I have insecurities around my art and creative process. Even though I love to make art that just feels good to look at, somehow that doesn’t seem like a legitimate enough reason to make art. Not serious/political/intellectual “enough”. With those “enough” obstacles, how can delight carry a piece through to “worthiness”?
I was recently offered an amazing 160-foot long blank canvas, a public art beautification project for the City of San Jose. At the Arts Commission meeting where I was to present my final design, I listened to two other artists share their designs for projects they had been awarded. Both artists led with the worthiness of their art as it related to a political idea for one, and intellectual process for the other. I was in awe of the caliber of both the artists and their art. When it was my turn to pitch my idea, I had the intense urge to apologize for my design; it’s rainbow color palette and imagery that included lots of butterflies and flowers. I felt certain the community that had selected me as the artist would love it, but certainly not the community of imaginary art critics that live in my head. I wanted to present myself as a serious artist but perhaps I had veered off course in creating a design that was crafted simply to be beautiful.
In the middle of my stammering and internal withering, an individual that had attended one of the neighborhood input meetings for this East San Jose mural that the city had organized raised his hand. The man said that he felt that their community had been listened to by the artist, and the design very much reflected the themes that the community wanted to see in the artwork. I have never felt more gratitude for an unsolicited testimonial. After he spoke I regained confidence in my process as a collaborative artist, and I remembered my why. The concept was subsequently approved by the city.
Here is a sneak preview of the mural to come.
The local community hopes to install a children’s park in front of the mural. Well meaning adults will argue in favor of the park because kids need a safe place to play, because physical exercise and vitamin D is good for their health, and because research supports the importance of play for brain development and social skills. But the kids? They are going to go play at the park because joy feels good. Sometimes, as adults, we forget that joy and delight might be a perfectly good reason to do something.