Caught up with a friend recently. Hadn’t eyeballed each other in what felt like forever. As we wound up our conversation socially distanced in an open parking lot, he showed me this book of art called “Lost and Found” by Valerie Maynard. She is a visual artist who flows in all of the mediums of her art from woodwork and sculpture to sketches and printmaking. Breathtaking work that spans six decades is currently on exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art until Jan. 3, 2021. If her art alone couldn’t arrest my soul, he then told me that most of the art that’s on exhibit was work she did for herself. Her exhibit was work previously on display in her living room!
Write the Vision
Ms. Maynard had a vision for her creative life: Do art because it spoke to her soul. Give art because it spoke to others. Teach art because it must live beyond her realm of being. Simple vision. Profound vision. She’s walked it for more than 60 years. Hearing her story made me contemplate my own creative vision. As a storyteller, I use whatever artforms are at my disposal to tell the stories of the people. Doesn’t matter the venue. I tell stories that allow people to see themselves depicted with honor, truth, beauty and balance. I’ve been doing that now for almost 25 years.
However, I didn’t get to this place without some thought. Years ago as I watched myself artistically unfold, I wrote down the vision I wanted for my creative life: Tell stories. Produce my work and others. Teach the next generation of storytellers. Like Ms. Maynard, I have given my work to the community when they called for new stories: Churches, schools, coffeehouses, community theatres, art houses, dance studios, etc. I have taught the next generation of writers/actors/dancers living in urban and suburban communities across the country. The vision I had for my creative life was to tell the stories of forgotten people in whatever way I could. I never wanted to be limited to the art form I chose. My main creative outlet is to write, but I hear music, feel dance, and see art in multi-technological forms. Often my work includes all of these visual mediums because I understand that to bring words to life you need ALL of the visual contexts. I am an artistic director in the making.
Protect the Vision
Becoming this artist took time, preparation and sacrifice. All of which I was/am willing to make. In the early years of my journey, my family circle felt that I should not make that choice. “It’s too risky,” they said. “How are you going to support yourself?” I answered by working as a copyeditor in advertising and production assistant in entertainment. I found work to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. I lived way below my means and tried very hard to make ends meet all the while writing stories that were etched in my soul screaming to be freed onto paper.
Many times, I needed help. The ends didn’t meet and the bills kept coming. Of course, this launched a litany of concerns. Their worries sometimes made me doubt my path. It took someone close to me to say it very plainly: Do you want the little dreams or the big one? I wanted the big one, so I had to learn to protect the vision. Eventually, it meant stop sharing the vision with them. Through the years, I have lovingly “dodged” their concerns for my life on the untraveled road and learned to share the completed successes of the artist journey. Letting them in on the creative highs showed them that the journey was worth it to me. Because they loved me, they cheered for me. Now, let’s be real. They still didn’t agree with my life’s purpose. So, we agreed to disagree. I dug in. Stayed focused. Encouraged myself. And at times, remained misunderstood.
Being an artist can be lonely. So in the inky blackness of wee hours, I’ve whispered my vision to God who heard me intimately without judgment or blockages. I allowed my mind and soul to speak the paths laid out before me wondering which ones to take and which ones to avoid. I sharpened my vision and steeled my mind so neither would be swayed when counterfeit opportunities tried to detour my drive. Trust and believe, those opportunities come in abundance, but it is your job to know the real from the fake.
Eventually, I met other artists and allies along the journey who understood my artistic drive. We became an artistic tribe that protected each other’s visons from dying too soon. When paths crossed, we physically helped each other. If we were miles apart, we shared our networks. When the ask was beyond our reach, we offered words of encouragement. These connections could be made because the individual vision had been written, plotted and walked. A tribe can’t form much less help if the vision is blurred.
Re-evaluate the Vision
As I’ve walked out my vison, I’ve had to re-evaluate it often. What does a working writer really look like? Do I still want to open my own art school teaching the next generation of writers? Can I still become an artistic director of my own theatre, and/or should I partner with someone? What about film and television? I keep writing scripts for those mediums because the stories keep coming. What should I do with them?
Vision questions bombard my mind constantly; however, I entertain them because it means I am growing again. My vision for the next 30 years of my life is unfolding. I must not just entertain those thoughts, but I must also hone in on what I believe I should be doing and formulate a plan on how to get there. It’s taken faith and feet to the vision to get this far. It will take just as much if not more to go the distance.
Ms. Maynard went the distance. Her book proved that a vision — when walked out well — can and must produce. The work will not stay locked up forever. The work must impact the world at an appointed time. For her, the exhibition exclaims to the world that her work is for right now. Glean from her journey. See her soul carved in wood and stone. See her voice etched on paper and in between the lines painted on canvas. The beauty of her work lifted from the pages forcing my artistic soul to admit: “I want to be like her when I grow up.”