WHY I BECAME AN ART HISTORIAN
This may sound crazy, but I grew up with the notion that art was an important part of life. The years spent living in a 3-room cabin in the woods in Northern Michigan were years in which my mother was free to paint. Even though the cabin was tiny and the ceilings low, she made enormous canvases that hung on almost every wall. They were almost like theater-sets in the midst of which was enacted our lives. Before a painting of a queen sitting sedately on her throne, tongues of fire rippling up her chest and licking her chin, my brother and I would pretend we were black bears, growling with a tinker-toy clutched in our teeth. Hanging on another wall was a painting that I interpreted as a woman wearing a flowing gown, striding through the ocean, lifting her orb-like head just above the water. My mother later explained to me that it was actually a painting of a grass road that veered off towards a setting sun sitting just atop the horizon line. I had always imagined the pulsating sun as the woman’s head, the horizon line as the surface of the water, and the grass road as her green gown. This feeling of striving to keep one’s head above the water while staying calm is one that has come to characterize my life. This was a lesson learned early on through my mother’s art.
People think it’s strange that even though I grew up poor, I chose the impractical career of art historian and teacher. Why not accountant? Why not attorney? And before I pursued an advanced degree in Art History, I went to Divinity School. When I tell that to people, they really look at me with curiosity. There was a story on NPR this morning about how most women gravitate towards careers that offer less income potential. The reporter offered a few explanations, including that women prefer jobs like teaching and nursing that allow them flexible hours to be able to take care of their kids. But I think this is only part of the story. Isn’t there something to be said for a career that offers a sense of fulfillment? Art, since the days of cave paintings, has always been and will always be a critical element in people’s lives because it helps us make sense of our world and provides a deeper meaning. Otherwise, we are simply living our lives from day to day, checking off lines on a “To Do” list, and programming our schedules with bright and bubbly entertainment. Otherwise, we are ordinary.