FAQs – 9. When did you know you wanted to be an Artist?
This question typically comes from folks who are drawn to create but leery of embarking down a road that their parents, their friends, and society deems foolhardy; a career path that will end in financial ruin, alcohol abuse, and severed earlobes.
The question seems very simple, but the folks asking it are always seeking something far more specific than a date: the “when” in their question is really a “what”: WHAT was it that made you ignore all of those warning signs and pursue the arts? I dare say that their deceptively-simple inquiry delves into the realm of the most difficult question of all, The Question that philosophers, scientists, and theologians will always be attempting to answer: WHERE does creativity come from? That “spark” that made Homo sapiens become the dominant species on the planet while our distant cousins, the Neanderthals, went extinct?
I don’t know. If I did, I’d probably put down the champagne bottle and withdraw the straight razor from my ear.
The truth is, I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I drew long before I was aware of the term “Artist”, or the popular notions of the artistic lifestyle. Reflecting back on my life, however, a specific incident does come to mind—a moment where as an adult I can look back and remark with a certain clarity that, “I’ve always been an Artist”.
The year was 1986. Reagan was president. Mike Tyson won his first world boxing title. Geraldo Rivera’s over-hyped unearthing of Al Capone’s secret vault was a bust, and Cliff Burton, Metallica’s original bassist, died in a tour buss accident. I was nine.
During the first month of that year, an event happened that was as devastating to Americans at the time as the events of September 11 almost two decades later: the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded seventy-three seconds into take-off, killing all seven passengers, including a school teacher.
This was a biiig deal. People were in hysterics. Schools closed early that day and students were sent home to grieve over this American tragedy. My teachers were crying. My classmates were crying. My mom even shed a few. Everybody seemed to be in tears. Everyone, except me.
At nine, I couldn’t comprehend the complexity of space travel. I was too young to appreciate the mechanical ingenuity of a shuttle launch. I couldn’t appreciate the impressiveness of vessels capable of breaching the Earth’s mighty atmosphere. Equally, I couldn’t fathom how it was that folks were moved to tears over the deaths of seven strangers.
As an adult, the occurrence still perplexes me. Many of those mourning were deeply negligent parents, people who seemed oblivious to the suffering of their own children, but were legitimately lamenting the passing of individuals they would never know.
What did move me, however, was the bizarre aesthetics of the shuttle’s explosion… the destruction of the bright red monolithic fuel tank, flanked by two narrow white columns, that shot up into the air and blew apart in an asymmetrical cloud of carnage… the strangely beautiful serpentine shapes that hung in the air and coiled as news commentators all over the globe stuttered in confusion. This gorgeous chaos is what my young mind focused on.
I went home from school that day and spent the next couple of weeks constructing a model of the Space Shuttle Challenger, including the cylindrical rocket boosters and red fuel tank. I used a cardboard tube from an empty paper towel roll as the base of this creation and expanded from there, meticulously scoring and sculpting all of the components, including hand-stenciling the NASA logo and American flag on the painted paper orbiter.
The finished product was badass—or so my memory would have me believe. I wish I could share with you a picture of my nine-year-old self’s mini masterpiece, but sadly, like the actual shuttle, my model was destroyed, turn asunder in a tragic accident.
Proud of my cardboard creation, I took my Challenger model to school and showed it off to my teachers and classmates. Everyone was impressed, so impressed that they crowded around me, basking in the glory of my painted paper effigy.
Several people wanted to touch it, wanted to hold it, wanted to closely examine this feat of nine-year-old engineering. I let them. My football-sized spacecraft was gloriously passed around the room, soaring from happy hand to happy hand, and then… it happened: someone took hold of the tiny thrusters too forcibly and broke my Challenger into bits.
It was an accident, an honest mistake, but I was devastated. I didn’t cry when the real Challenger exploded, but here I was, in a room full of my peers, sobbing uncontrollably. Tears poured. Snot dripped. I was a blubbering, inconsolable mess.
My teacher took me outside and tried to help me get over the incident. His intentions were well meaning, but I could tell that he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand how someone could be so upset over something that in his world seemed so small, so insignificant, something that could be fixed with a couple of hours and some Krazy Glue. He didn’t understand what it was like to be an “Artist”. He looked at me in the same way that I looked at all of those people who were moved to tears over the death of seven strangers.
So, in answer to the original question: I’ve always been an Artist. “Want” had nothing to do with it. That said, WANT certainly plays into my desire to continually improve my craft, to perpetually challenge myself artistically, to… I don’t know… attempt a four-hundred-and-fifty page, full-colored book as my first foray into comics (a not-so-subtle plug for you to go check out my twelve-part illustrated series, The Molting).
(The Molting comic book series written/illustrated by Terrance Zdunich, colored by Brian Johnson and Molly Rodman, and lettered by Oceano Ransford)