My eight-year-old daughter Lauren is definitely an up-and-coming American pop artist, bound to go down in pop culture history. Today was somewhat different from other days in that she awakened extra bright and early on her own initiative without our usual song and dance routine. In fact she awakened so early that the rooster hadn’t even had his usual morning cup of joe by the time this little lady found her way to my bedside.
Lauren was toting a handful of art supplies. She held, amid her cute little brown fingers, paintbrushes of varying sizes, paints in shimmering hues, and a multitude of crayons. Of course, my half-opened eyes and ears were only able to decipher myopic metered doses of meaning at that time of day, so I’ve only come to understand that that is what was happening as the day has turned to evening and my wits have rejoined my life.
When it’s still bright and early in the morning, long before six o’clock, I don’t usually ask questions of anyone. I don’t talk to people either, for that matter, that early in the morning, unless, of course, our nation’s security is dependent upon it and I happen to be the absolute last and final person on earth who is capable of defending it, with words, I might add. If I don’t fit that bill, with great specificity, well then I usually just roll back over.
So when Lauren mumbles whatever she mumbles next, I make great attempts to exhale words. I mean I really, really try. “Good job baby, but go to bed first. It’s not even six o’clock yet.”
Still oblivious to almost everything, Lauren reemerges from her bedroom displaying her latest work of art – a masterpiece, she’s certain – for all to see. She has taken great care to decorate her new, beautiful, white-hooded, long-sleeved shirt! The one that would be absolutely perfect to wear on this very chilly day in early Fall, you know, from a mother’s perspective and all.
The artist’s point of view was somewhat different, as to be expected. Lauren stands before me with inaugural pride, exclaiming the great news of her latest and greatest work of art with smiles from here to Julliard and back. “Look, Mommy, isn’t it beautiful? I made butterflies and an angel, just like I told you I would!”
Yes, indeed the shirt that Lauren has designed is beautiful. Not only is the shirt gorgeous, but the self-esteem and confidence that she gained from this act of self-expression is also beautiful to me. I love the fact that my daughter knew that she would not be in trouble or punished in any way for contributing to the beautification of her world, and thus our collective world.
Now, of course we had our little discussion about getting permission before decorating things, people, and places in the future, but there’s something positive to be said for an artist’s inspiration. I breathed and braced myself. Then I called for backup.
My mother answered on the first ring. I didn’t lose it or get upset, for several reasons, mostly because as a writer I understand a few things about this whole phenomenon. Just a few. When the muse grabs you, it’s kind of out of your realm of control, what happens next. However there’s a much more important explanation for why I didn’t become totally incensed at this childhood display of artistry and brilliance, which will unfold below. I promise.
I also know a little bit about some of America’s greatest pop artists. Many of them have used a variety of unconventional media in their most celebrated work, so for Lauren to do the same is not so strange after all. Several well-known pop artists come to mind when I think of nonconformity in their choices of media and style.
Andy Warhol, known throughout the world as founder of the American Pop Art movement in the 1950’s, comes to mind. When he began creating large silk-screen prints of popular American commercial products like the Campbell’s soup can and Coca-Cola, it took the world by storm for several reasons. Not only was his art beautiful, it was unique and bore the mark of genius. Today, long after Warhol’s death, his works are still hailed as fine examples of American pop culture.
Jean-Michel Basquiat also made great contributions to the American Pop Art movement and was the first African-American painter to become an international star in the art world. (Basquiat was of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, to be specific.) He too, created beautiful, mind-blowing expressions of his talent on unconventional media.
Originally recognized as a graffiti artist and musician, Basquiat is also remembered as a protégé of Andy Warhol. His graffiti could be described as street poetry, and he painted scrumptious art pieces on buildings in New York City under his alias, SAMO. All this was before he was ever accepted as a Neo-Expressionist artist by his peers.
As the little artist in our family continues to do her thing, we’ll continue to encourage her in every way possible, as my parents and entire family did for me and still do to this day with my writing. My deep ability to understand, appreciate, and celebrate the sheer genius of Lauren’s beautiful “Butterfly Angel Art” is by no means due to any brilliance on my part, that’s for sure.
The great fortune that I reap, in addition to all of this, is a pair of parents who stopped, first to breathe, and then to somehow rejoice, some 21 years ago when my crayons made “Olympic Circle Art” on the walls in my brother’s bedroom.