I started out on art early. I started drawing when I was young and kept on drawing until, well, I guess I never stopped. When I went off to High School I was one of the art kids. I spent an unusually large amount of time in the art room and drawing in study hall. I also played sports and was involved in a lot of other activities. Art was my main squeeze.
Being top dog in the art department meant I was asked to submit and participate in a lot of contests. I held a lot of disdain toward art contests, still do, and yet entered them, I still do that too. I may have been one of the top artists at my high school but I went up against this girl from our rival high school during every competition. We’ll call her Mary*. Mary was from a rich family in the town next to mine, her dad was a professor or something like that, and she went to art camp, got to take classes at the local college and played sports. No matter what I did I always came in second place to Mary, except when we played softball. Defeating her on the softball field was nothing compared to losing to her in every art contest I entered.
After 2 years of competing against her I gave up. I stopped entering contests, declaring them rigged politically in her favor. I actually told my art teacher this on multiple occasions. She always asked how I was jaded so young. The truth though was that Mary was a pretty good artist. She used color well and had been able to spend a lot of time working on her craft with some really great instructors. Mary was a hard person to have as a nemesis because she was also really nice.**
Our Senior year we had a group art show and our two schools were scheduled to be at the gallery at the same time. My friends and I were somewhat ambivalent and yet excited to have our work hanging in the local college’s gallery. It was a big deal. Somehow, Mary and I ended up working in the same room together and I got to see her work ethic up close. She was deliberate and careful, measuring her art carefully, hanging it perfectly. My friends and I used two tacks, cord and a level to give us a baseline for our art. Our teacher letting us run the show. Ours looked good, Mary’s and her classmates looked better.***
What set Mary apart from teenage me was her work ethic toward art. While I worked moderately hard at art, I focused most of my attention on my other studies. Which assured me a scholarship to school but, I think, was detrimental to me as an artist.
Now that it’s been nearly 20 years since I got out of high school I realize I was jealous of all of the opportunities Mary had because her family was well off. I also see now that my hard work has paid off for me as an artist and as a person. I’m still making art, what is Mary doing? According to the town paper I read on one of my visits to my parent’s place, Mary is now a successful graphic designer.**** Now that we’re all grown up we both win, we’re both doing something we enjoy. Honestly, I'm really happy for her.
*Not her real name. People from my hometown will know who she is.
**She was also really attractive to a teenage me, but that is a whole other story.
***Her school had also got funding for real mats where we glued our work to railroad board. Our stuff looked like the work of kids.
***I bet you thought I was going to say she was not doing anything art related. Would it make the story better if she was not successful? I don’t know. the truth is that after you get out of high school the competitions calm down. ONce you are in the real world they don’t matter.