In undergrad Art History II, we were assigned a painting from around campus to research and provide evidence that confirmed the artwork’s origins, creator, etc. I was given an advanced challenge, which I hope was because my professor thought me capable of executing it.
My work was Girl on a Path, a possible Renoir (as in no one knew for sure if the painting was an original or a forgery).
At first glance, the adjacent arrangement of complimentary colors and the subject matter alone are convincing that Brenau Women’s College does indeed have a rare gem in the university’s permanent collection. However, I did and could again present 2-3 pages of evidence supporting either side of the speculation. But I’d like to discuss something entirely different, and that is the speculation in and of itself.
Be forewarned that I’m about to get all cringey and existential, but hear me out: The girl on the path within the scene is the only one who knows the truth. What must she think of everyone’s speculation? I wonder what she would think of the Harvard art professional I spoke with during my research that said he concludes the painting is in fact a Renoir original because it is simply “charming?”
How typical of the human experience for someone to label something so complex with such a superficial term in order to support their evidence.
Such is life, am I right? Folks from all walks looking in on us, gathering the most surface-level evidence to support their opinions of us. I’ve judged folks also. We all have.
What I adore about this girl on the path is her inability to affirm or deny the speculations. She just exists.
Therein lies the rub though: I’m human, so I have a ubiquitous tendency to affirm or deny people’s speculations, BUT I can resist. I am capable of at least that.
I branched out to pursue my art business a little over one year ago, and I think that’s how long it has taken me to realize this.
I’ve become at home with myself. I understand what unique gifts and values I do offer the world, not what gifts and values I should offer the world.
Once upon a time when I was a teacher, people would ask me what I did for a living. “Teacher” was a satisfactory answer that gave way to comfortable small talk of security and college degrees. Now, a look of uncertainty overtakes people’s faces when I tell them that I’m simply an artist. Speculation follows, sometimes verbally and sometimes only as nervous energy. The need to affirm or deny the many concerns of these curious folks is relentless; The need to explain that my bills are still paid and I’m more fulfilled emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually than I’ve ever been. But I am happy to say that I’m comfortable just existing nowadays, without all of the explanations.
The thing is, I’m not a PTA mother. I don’t enjoy creating abstract, conversational artwork. Counting macros and doing HIIT doesn’t work for me. I’m an artist who doesn’t thoroughly enjoy visiting art museums. I parent an only-child. I don’t get my nails done or maintain my balayage in a timely manner. I’m a Girl Scout leader who has never been a Girl Scout. I’m not mother-of-the-year.
I am someone who can offer community children the gift of art. I love creating stylized, conversational artwork. I’m a food addict who is making progress with medication. I’m an artist who thoroughly enjoys visiting aquariums. I parent an only-child because my family feels complete. I have dirt under my nails and leaves in my hair because I’m a Girl Scout leader who is choosing to learn to make fires using only sticks. I’m a mother/previous educator who is well-read on child development and is equipped to choose the people, places, and things that will be a part of my child’s life and feel good about it.
I exist as the artist, wife, mother, and person that I am. And that’s it. The cherry-on-top is the secondary ability that comes with just existing: to genuinely celebrate my family and friend’s authenticity because I’ve released the smothering shoulds that overwhelm us all at times.
So, to the girl on the path, thank you for bringing those countless hours of research full circle over 10 years later and offering me countless more hours of existing authentically.
Art business owner journaling about my artistic adventures.