May 8, 2016 2
I have yearned for art over the last 365 days more than food, more than sleep, sometimes more than air. Just as I want my sons to appreciate art, to allow it to rouse or soothe them, to occasionally fall asleep or wake thinking of a particular artwork, to trust it when they can’t trust other humans or when they may doubt themselves, I have sought art to help me make sense. I have used it as my drink, my drug, my altar, my here and my now, and as a substitute for my if and when. It has served as my absolute over the past year.
My younger son Lumen is allergic to over 30 foods and has suffered anaphylactic reactions previously. While he did not suffer any this year, we found out he has new allergies. After the doctor informed me, we went from the hospital to an art gallery. After another doctor diagnosed him with asthma this year, following several A&E visits, two admissions and having to learn the difference between his four different inhalers, we went to an art gallery. Before and after Lumen’s many doctor appointments and various therapy sessions — occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, music therapy — for his autism, we visit art galleries and museums.
And when my older son Enlai has shown that his love of electronics in all forms seems stronger than his love of living, breathing beings, we go to art galleries. We discuss everything on the way to and from these galleries — religion, sport, literature, friendships, music, family, food. We talk about what an amazing, curious, funny thing life can be. He often gives me a difficult time because he’s not keen to go to a gallery, so we compromise. We go where he wants to go first — anywhere but the flat, in front of a screen — and then he indulges me with a gallery. And after we view the artworks, usually a few hours or a day later, he says thank you. Thank you for introducing him to something that made him think differently, that made him learn and value, that made him see possibilities.
Earlier this week, I went to a discussion between the artist Olafur Eliasson and Tim Marlow, the Royal Academy’s Artistic Director. I was touched by many of the things Eliasson related, including a couple of stories which pertained to children. He said that he believes his first leanings towards becoming an artist may have been after his parents divorced when he was eight years old. His father was an artist, and he thought that to win his attention, he would have to become a very good artist. He also said that when he was young, he was into breakdancing. He would walk around his house as if a robot, imitating breakdancing moves he had seen. Eliasson said that rather than tell him he was being ridiculous, his parents supported him. He spoke about their courage in championing their son in doing something nobody else they knew was doing, something that likely seemed very odd to other family and friends. And the artist noted that this is what parents should be doing — being their child’s or children’s advocates in whatever creative venture they decide to partake in.
I have no desire for either of my boys to become artists. I want them to become themselves. I want them to feel happy, to love and feel loved, to feel as though they have so much living to do, that they couldn’t possibly fit it all in in their lifetime. But I would like for them to understand that art is always there for them; it is a breathing creature full of stories, of adventures, of delicate gestures and horrid atrocities. It is full of tales of light and darkness, silence and screams, of madness, of bliss, of pleasure and pain that can only be depicted with a line or colour, form or space, rhythm or texture. Art is full of survival, of the ability to affect change. I want them to know that when artists such as Alberto Burri, a former doctor, and Sam Francis, who served in the US Air Force during World War II, sought to recover from and make sense of their worlds after the war, they both turned to art. I want them to be aware that there are countless artists who suffer from debilitating physical and mental illnesses, who rely on art to help them cope.
Enlai and Lumen know they can count on me for anything, including to be cheerleader extraordinaire for all their endeavours. And if they want something additional to depend on, and they decide to trust in art as I have, I hope they will remember with fondness the times we visited galleries together. I wonder whether Enlai will recall the moment we walked out of a gallery a few months ago, and he noticed me crying. He said, “You needed that, didn’t you, mom?” I responded, “Yep.” He said, “Art, huh?”. I said, “Yep. Art.” And we held hands and walked home.
This US Mother’s Day, I want to share with you some of the artworks that my boys and I have seen over the last year that have moved us, artworks that have given me air and optimism.