Article featured on CRESCENDOh.com by Jenny Doh April 2010 – see the original article here.
I am an Artist
by Melody Ross
“I am an artist,” I finally said, well into my thirties … and it was one of the bravest sentences I would ever speak, one that took years of courage to muster up.
I knew though at age 5, a free-spirited little girl with long blonde braids hanging on each shoulder, that I had an artist soul. I felt the fire that wouldn’t let up, my mind filled with ideas and colors and images that I had to express somewhere and somehow. So I made art. Most of the days of my life I made some kind of art. I doodled, I sculpted, I painted, I hand-sewed. I made up songs. I made up dances. I made up outfits and hairdos. I created my future in my imagination and I made plans. But I never gave myself permission to call myself an artist. I would simply say …”Someday, I am going to be an artist …”
The Right to Be an Artist
Fast-forward 30 years.
I was still making art. I had also made a family, a business, and a wonderful life. I called myself mother, wife, CEO, but still did not feel that I could call myself an artist. I was still waiting for it to happen. In the design business that I built, I had an entire art department that I hired and directed, all with art degrees that I did not have. I designed hundreds of products and wrote many books. I designed ads and I sketched patterns and icons and color schemes. Still, I never proclaimed it out loud … too sacred. I didn’t know that I had the right.
Then art saved me.
A Life Support System
While making art, enjoying art, and dreaming of art was like breathing in and out for me, it had never so blatantly been a life support system for me. It was part of breathing, not WHAT was making me breathe. In 2004 my life fell apart when my husband of 14 years sustained a traumatic brain injury. He went away to a very dark and horrible place, trapped inside of a mental illness for more than five years and not able to function in any way as the husband and father that I married. In that span of time, we lost our home, we lost our business, and it seemed as if we lost what we knew of our marriage and the intact family that we had carefully built together.
So I made art. I wrote … and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. There were so many days when my words failed me, when my feelings were too afraid of their hugeness that they would not come out and explain themselves to me. So I painted … and I painted and I painted and I painted. And I sculpted. I felt as if an enormous explosion blew my life apart and also my limbs … with an arm over there, a foot over there, my heart over there, all trying desperately to find each other. Art made me whole again.
A Sacred Place
I don’t know exactly how it works, I just know that it does. I know that a collage can help you come to terms with very painful things when you just let yourself go and pick up pieces and scraps and colors and words and glue them all down and wait to see what the outcome is at the end. I know that your soul will say things with your hands and a loaded paintbrush that your mouth never begin could find words for. I know that the sacred place that your mind goes to, all alone, and in complete safety when you are deeply partnered with your creative self, is a place that you can always trust. There are not many places that you can always trust.
I also know that when you make art with this kind of passion and desperate need to be wholly alive, that others can feel that passion in your art … and your art will go on to save others.
And so I make art. That little 5 year old girl showed up one day and demanded that I hear her out. She said, ”You are an artist, you always have been, and you always will be … now get to work”
I walked away from the CEO life. I threw out all of my business cards and my business clothes. I took my heels off and walked in my bare feet again. I made a plan to make a career out of creating, and started licensing my artwork to other companies. My husband recovered and our marriage was restored and my children grew into exceptional people because of it all, many times expressing their growth through art. It is an essential routine in our household.
The Healing Power of Art
Over those years, my art showed me where all of the pieces of me were. Art showed me which pieces to keep and which ones I could do without. Art showed me that I could create new pieces … and that it was OK that I would never be the same person that I was before all of those things happened. Art showed me.
When I figuratively collaged my arms back on, and painted my heart back in my chest, and sculpted the most beautiful ornate wings to fly with … I stood proudly with my mixed-media self, finally ready to fly again. Then I went out and found as many others like me who felt fragmented and broken and lost and colorless … and I showed them what I knew. I showed them how art can put you all back together and speak ancient secrets into your ear that are meant just for you. And it worked. It has never failed. The healing power of art is for all of us. Being an artist is not an elite and exclusive club … it is what is intended for humankind. It is part of our nature. It is here for our growth, our joy, and our purpose. It is here to help us help each other.
I am at a place now where I can see that everything that has happened in our life has led to this very moment perfectly. If I did not know what I know now, I could not do what I am doing now. If I had not felt what I felt then, I could not know how to show others what I know. If I had not passed through the places I passed through, I could never write about them, paint them, or sculpt them. I could never do what I do with our retreat company, Brave Girls Club … and I would never appreciate the career that I have built, designing products and making art for others. ALL of life is an essential journey, all of it — even the rough stuff.
I wish I had known sooner, but now I know … and when anyone asks, at any time, “What do you do?” I say — without reservation and with all the courage, conviction, and passion that I can muster — “I am an artist.”