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On Sunday, I had the honor of talking about my debut novel, Oil and Marble, at the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri. It was a lovely event held in a large auditorium with an engaged audience eager to ask questions and have me sign their books.
But that’s not what I want to write about today.
What I want to write about is the museum’s All School Exhibition where students — from elementary to high school — exhibit their art. Where their work hangs on the walls of the museum alongside all those Warhols, Durands, and Liechtensteins…
Oh how this exhibition moved my heart. Seeing those kids run up to their work, pointing, dragging their parents along behind them. “There it is! There it is!”
As I watched those kids see their art work up on those walls, I thought about how, if I had been able to see MY work on the walls of a museum when I was a kid, my life might’ve been different. I would have been able to see the potential in my work when I was young. I would’ve been able to imagine myself as an artist. I might have seen creativity as a path to a career, instead of as a hobby (which is how I thought of it for many years). If I had seen my art work up on the walls of a museum when I was a kid, maybe I would’ve taken risks earlier — submitted my art or writing to professional publications earlier… Maybe I would’ve chosen this path sooner.
Maybe these kids’ lives will be different. Maybe they — and their families — will see the beauty and the potential in their art. Maybe they will believe in themselves as artists before they turn 40.
Also in those students’ smiling faces, I saw the reason why I do what I do. Those kids — eager to create and find their voices — are why I write art historical fiction aimed at the masses, not the academics. They are why I focus on STORY not on being handcuffed to the historical record. They are why I write: to inspire people to create their own art.
To be at the Springfield Art Museum during this All Student Exhibition was one of the highlights of this book tour. To be amidst all that youthful creativity — that’s the whole point of all of this. I applaud the Springfield Art Museum for giving their students a look at what it means to be an artist, showing these kids that it’s possible to have their work hang in a museum. Giving them hope that they, too, can be artists.
I was working on this post when I heard about the bombings in Brussels. Sometimes when these big, ugly events happen I wonder if my work is too frivolous. What’s the point in writing stories about art when we are blowing each other up?
But then I remember we must pass down stories of our art and humanity to a new generation, so we can all work toward a better understanding of each other. So we can express our shared human suffering. So we can encourage our children to embrace beauty, not war.
And in this moment of grief for a beautiful European city, I have no words. So I will let my dear friend Michelangelo speak for me.