Thursday, January 28, 2010


Remember handwriting paper in kindergarten? Those dotted lines that told you exactly where to cross the t? I miss those. It was nice having a guide telling you what to do. Or at least telling you where to do it (stay inside the lines!!). These aren't the greatest prints in the world, but they came out of a nostalgia for the seeming simplicity of the past, anxiety about what the future brings (as evidenced by the third one, obviously), and a general desire for something like a Guidebook To Life.

I used to keep a diary when I was young--it was homework, actually, and I don't know if I wrote in one before I was made to. I didn't even know what a diary was! I asked my teacher what I should write about, but I must have gotten the instructions mixed up because, for my first entry, I wrote a paragraph of facts about butterflies. It's funny now because in all the creative writing classes I've taken here at WashU, they emphasize writing what you know, since you're your own best expert on what you know--and here I was, at six (?) years old, writing, literally, what I knew. I wrote about how butterflies start out as caterpillars that get bigger and then make like a little cocoon that they hatch from, how butterflies come in all different colors, how much I liked them, etc. The next day I wrote a page about dragonflies. And so on until, a couple pages on, I finally learned what I was supposed to write in a diary.

What's interesting to me is that even though I "didn't know" how to write a diary entry, I wrote pretty much about things that occupied my thoughts at the time (obviously, I was a pretty normal kid). Now it seems like keeping a journal or a sketchbook is a completely natural, and even necessary, thing to do. Or writing things down on scraps of paper and keeping them together somewhere. A diary, it seems to me, more than anything is a record of your thoughts. It can be confessional, but it is unavoidably personal. We hesitate to show our sketchbooks at times for this reason. Or we wonder about exposing ourselves in our work, because even our artwork can feel too much like a diary, too confessional or too personal (or at least this is something that applies to me), even though the viewer might not be able to guess at the story beneath the images.

I think a diary, journal, or sketchbook is more than a daily chore or assignment--it's a place for questions and complaints--a place for reflection and exploration. It's a place we sometimes turn to for guidance we can't find anywhere else. I think in our lives we're constantly looking for direction--and as artists, we turn to the blank page, and we make our mark. Our diaries are our personal guidebooks, tailored by our experiences and visions for the future. The blank page is the cosmos. That mark is us. More than affirming our physical presence, it affirms our identity. This is my hand. This is me. This is me, searching.

That's my stance on things, at least. Sorry for the long post! I've been thinking about this for a while...

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