Hee, Hee—Obama and Me

I remember looking into a mirror.  I needed it to work on my self-portrait.  My fifth grade art teacher wanted us to make representations of our faces using collage. I looked through magazines to find eyes, a nose, and lips for my face.  I fell for making art then and there. 

My middle school art teacher loved my work and encouraged me.  One day, the class did pastel drawings of Stargazer lilies as part of our Impressionist Movement studies.  After class, my teacher handed me a pamphlet and asked me to join the group of students she chose to go to Chicago.  The trip consisted of a train ride from Fort Worth, Texas to Chicago, Illinois, and visits to the Art Institute, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio—a three-day cultural adventure.  I was urged to go on a family trip to California instead.  I was disappointed about missing the class outing then—after Winfrey’s influential program and reflection on my struggle to find confidence concerning even areas of study I was both interested in and good in, I still regret not throwing a colossal tantrum unbecoming of an eighth grader as a last-ditch effort to change my parents’ minds.

I did not take art in high school, but I did enter the drawing category of the NAACP's Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) in my town.  I did not put enough effort into the project.  I received an ACT-SO participation certificate for my drawing of Malcolm X. 

I entered college as a science major thinking I would be a veterinarian, but left unsure about what I wanted to do.  It took me four years of undergrad, and a job in veterinary pharmaceutical sales to see I should drop the farce and admit to myself I was interested in art.  I took all the studio art classes that the school offered, as the university I attended did not have an art school.  I also took a Shakespeare in film class that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I joined the Visual Arts Society, too.  I learned to hang paintings, I helped out at the campus galleries, and I entered the annual art competition at the suggestion of my painting instructor. I won third place overall with a painting of an eyewash station, and got a gift card for art supplies.

I worked in various positions at a few museums—including cashier, education assistant, and registrar.  I even took some more studio art and art history courses. Eventually, that led to a master’s degree in museum studies. 

Later, I started a home-based calligraphy business.  During that time, I did a lot of reading and a little painting and drawing.  I made my way through the entire 12 weeks of The Artist’s Way, I volunteered at an art museum, and I went to gallery openings.  I entered another art competition. The sole juror ended up awarding the cash prize to everyone that participated—we each got about one hundred dollars.  I was pleased.  I decided to paint some new work and submit it to a small gallery, but the work was not well received.  I was feeling low.  “Is there such a thing as a museum for bad art?” I thought.  I acted on the thought and did a quick online search.  There is such a thing—it is called the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) and it is in Somerville, Massachusetts.  I emailed the head curator on a whim.  I included pictures of two paintings I did—a blue monochromatic self-portrait and conceptual rendering of President Barack Obama.  He wrote back especially interested in the Obama piece.  “Of course!”  I said to myself.  As I packed up the two paintings, I discovered the ability to lighten-up. 

The Museum of Bad Art posted an image of my painting on Facebook around the time of President Obama’s second inauguration.  Though I saw comments like, “Truly awful,” I laughed and even took a little pride in my work.  In hindsight, I am amused at my naïve sincerity and the ability to make such a bad work of art.   I am fortunate to use my skills in visual art and appreciation for craft in my work everyday.   When I am feeling uptight, I think about those paintings and laugh with myself.