I’ve been following my daughter’s posts on Facebook these days. She is attending an international graphic designers conference in San Francisco, USA and was asked what “her story” was and began her answer with the statement, “I grew up in Winnipeg…” and then trailed off, thinking that it was a boring beginning with no hook to catch the listener.
I must disagree. Believe me, anyone who was raised in Winnipeg has an impressive story as does anyone born in Princeton or Cambodia or France or anywhere in the world.
I too grew up in Winnipeg and was living there during the sixties and seventies and yes, I remember the summer of love with it’s hippies, flowers and benign pot propelled wackiness. I also had the privilege to attend an extraordinary exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Many of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings had been brought over from Europe at great expense. I was awestruck when I stood before each painting, electrified by the depth of energy and passion in each one. I owned a tiny, insipid copy of one of his sunflower paintings that hung on the wall at home and I had been fascinated with his life story, reading everything I could get my hands on. Then, there I was in front of the real deal, and the stories I had read about Van Gogh added great power to the work. All that torment and angst were painted in violent strokes of amazing colour. It was a transforming experience for me and I suppose you could say it became part of my story and was instrumental in developing maturity in my appreciation of art.
I believe that where we are born and raised makes an indelible imprint on us. We are put together like a jigsaw puzzle of sights, sounds, smells, feelings and impressions from our past. Many winter nights while walking home in Winnipeg I saw aurora borealis, heard the sound that snow makes at -40 Fahrenheit when you tread on it in grey leather moccasins from Birt’s Saddlery, smelled spring arriving and felt the warming breeze. Those memories are entangled with the Van Gogh exhibit, the evening I watched Margo Fontaine dance at fifty-seven years of age and the concert where Yehudi Menuhin played Beethoven’s violin concerto. Oh, I don’t forget the swarms of mosquitoes and wasps with their stings and all the other buggy annoyances, and the terrible humidity on a hot day that leads to a spectacular thunderstorm with stinging hail in late afternoon.
I believe that the sensory and emotional experiences involving nature and our interaction with it or lack thereof are so very important to a human’s developing story. We all have unique combinations of these experiences and that gives us endless material for telling. Our particular culture is the other half. If we are involved in the arts, it is doubly important that we realize this. If a person is an art appreciator, you can bet that person wants to know the artist’s story. And if you are the artist, then to make art with integrity and depth of meaning, you need to claim yours with confidence and tell it through the language of art whether you are writing, painting, sculpting or composing and playing music. We humans are story lovers and story tellers and there are many ways to tell. More importantly, we must know that we all have a story that has value, uniqueness and relevance. So what’s yours?