A Mess of Beautiful

Last week I had the honor of participating as a juror in a regional arts event here in town.  Students wielding their hearts poured out on canvas or sculptures lined the hallways casting nervous glances at the group of judges each headed to our respective rooms.  I think if I were having a conversation with someone and they told me what I just told you above, I would do two things: 1) I would think, ‘Wow, that is so cool.’ (not necessarily because it is, but because I love art)  2) I would assume the person I was speaking to had a right to judge or a background in actual art.

I would be wrong on the second thought.

Of course, there was training to bone up on elements and principles and values and guideline questions to ask.  The team set us up nicely with a base knowledge, a timer for each interview and trail mix.  Most importantly present in all this, however, was my abundant enthusiasm and deep fear of the kids throwing their art in the trash on the way out the door and never picking it up again.

The students were required to wait outside the door as we interviewed one at a time.  As the day went on, I got farther and farther behind because I was drawn into each story of how their art came to be.  I did not expect that.

Y’all.  These kids.

They are so beautiful and they don’t even know it.

I wanted to share with you what these high school students reminded me on a sunny Saturday in the foyer of the band hall at the high school.

It takes mad guts to make/create/produce something from your heart and hold it out for inspection.  Every student walked in with obvious nerves.  Shaking hands held out their pieces.  They didn’t have to do this competition.  But they did.  They had the guts to just show up because they believed in what they created.

We still deal with the same stuff.  Take away the braces, history class and cartilage…strip off the kids, mortgages and eye cream…The explanations behind the struggles of each piece were racism, alcoholism in families, loneliness, not fitting in, and judgment.  There were rainbows and butterflies and lovely stories, too…but these are amazing things that don’t need hugs or require courage to face.  We are all struggling.

We give people judging us too much authority.  I know that I was there in the capacity of judge…but I wasn’t fully confident in what I was doing.  I knew enough…not as much as the kids assumed I did.  I smiled every time a student would leave and the others left in the hall would ask them, ‘Is she mean?’  My words held so much weight.  I would ask them if they had any questions for me and most of them would say some form of, ‘Do you like it?’  I really did…but I need to remember what I wanted to say next time I give someone’s judging words too much weight:  ‘Who gives a flip if I liked it, honey, I don’t know what I’m talking about.’

The most beautiful thing I was reminded of that day came from a sweet girl.  Her painting sat between us and she talked about it knowledgeably and impressively.  It was a unique interpretation of an ordinary object with splots (nontechnical) and splatters here and there.  I asked her what medium (totally technical) she used and she said watercolor.  She said, ‘I really like to work with watercolors.  I mean, it’s scary because they’re hard to work with and once it’s on the paper…it’s there.  So you really have to be okay and adapt to the mistakes you make and work them into the whole thing.  See?  These are mistakes.  But I really like the way it turned out.’

I wiped the tears from my eyes as she finished speaking.

I’m just kidding.

I was totes professional.

But while she was talking about art, I was thinking about life and how she kind of nailed it.  I drove away from the school reminded of the beauty of embracing our whole selves, splots and all…because in the end…we should really like the way it turned out.

*As a side note, I would bet an undiscovered Picasso I will not be asked to judge next year.  

Colorblind by Matheus Lopes


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  1. Traci | 21st Feb 14

    I love this. Those words…”adapt to the mistakes you make and work them into the whole thing.”

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 21st Feb 14

      Traci, I know. She had no idea what she was saying….isn’t that crazy?! Good stuff. And EVERYthing can be redeemed, right? Thank you, sweet friend.

  2. Katherine Otero | 21st Feb 14

    Love this….can’t read it enough. My favorite part was also “adapt to the mistakes you make and work them into the whole thing.” and “I really like the way it turned out.” That is what life is all about. Yes you will make mistakes in life. It’s how you react to them and how you conduct yourself afterwards that tells you the most about who you are.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 21st Feb 14

      Katherine, thank you so much. It’s SO true, isn’t it? My favorite was when she said she liked the way it turned out… such good wisdom.

  3. Holly McBerty | 21st Feb 14

    How lucky were those kids that they got you as a judge?! I can just see you sitting across the table from the listening – really listening – to everything they were saying. I’m sure they left thinking their art was the most beautiful thing you saw. They would be crazy not to bring you back – but next year they will remember to give you more time with each kid! 😉 Love you and the light that shines from you!

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 21st Feb 14

      Holly, sister, friend, sister…thank you. It was so cool. I see such beauty and wisdom in what your Holden-girl makes…stunning! And takes such guts and heart. I just love that that’s her thing. Yes…more. time. A volunteer would come back to collect the judged art and I’d say, ‘I’m behind the farthest, right?’ And this young man would say without blinking, ‘Yes.’ I love you.

  4. Cnsquyres@gmail.com | 21st Feb 14

    It makes me want to be an up and coming high school art student all over again! The bravery is one of the things i’ve really lost about putting my art out there. Thanks

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 21st Feb 14

      Casey, this makes me want to gently and firmly but seriously shake your shoulders and say, ‘Do you not understand that you are one of the most beautiful artists I KNOW?!?!?!?’ I still fantasize about a piece we talked about years ago (the words and watercolors!)…have tried to recreate it to my everlasting shame…I can’t do that stuff. You have something special. Please share it with us.

  5. Amanda | 21st Feb 14

    Your words are your medium–they bring beautiful, inspiring, touching, honest and insightful moments and messages into our lives with each post. It is like you are one of those students, holding your words out for us to see, knowing there is always the risk of someone “judging” you, but also knowing that this is the work you believe in and are passionate about. And I hope you realize we all see the beauty of your work, and thank you for being brave enough to put it out there and share with us. And your timing is always impeccable. Love you, girl.

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 28th Feb 14

      Amanda, you always make me think…and I have been thinking about replying to this since the day you wrote it. But it’s not something trite or to be squeezed in or checked off…and still now, the time is right and I am unable to articulate the way you always touch my heart. Thank you, truly beautiful inside-and-out girl…not for your kind words (although, wow, I still don’t know how to digest that) but for WALKING WITH ME. Talking with me. Raising your hand and saying, ‘Me, too, girl.’ I feel like you’re my sister all the way over on the other side of the coast…and I love knowing that you are HERE beside me. Thank you, always, for your gift of words. I love your guts.

  6. Julie | 21st Feb 14

    Love love love this, so true, absolutely amazing

  7. Lynn Ann Williams | 21st Feb 14

    Love this!

  8. Stef | 21st Feb 14

    Katherine Otero– ditto. I was going to make your exact comment word for word. Already feeling emotional today, so this little read brought me to tears

  9. Jill Tucker | 22nd Feb 14

    So true that only the One Judge matters, eh? To me it’s so important to speak that into our youngsters. Another vivid post, Melissa. Thank you for making me think.

  10. SB | 22nd Feb 14

    you are my “mess of beautiful”. You keep going girl, keep going…

    • melissablair09@gmail.com | 28th Feb 14

      You make it easy to keep going…and so much fun. I love you so much.

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