I’ve heard these words a thousand times as an artist, beginning the moment I entered art school, and I’m hearing it a thousand thousand times more as a writer.
The artists and writers whose work inspires and teaches me have distinctive voices. Show me a painting or read me a story by one of these people, and I will tell you who created it. It’s their voice moving through the work, the unique combination of all the choices they made while painting or writing, that shows me.
But voice is more.
There is a part of voice not easy to define. For me, it distills down to the feel of the work as a whole. No, that’s not quite right. It’s not the feel of the work. It’s how I feel when I experience the work.
Voice isn’t voice. It’s heart.
My voice is the heart of me, my truest self. My voice is my heart expressed, visible, and shared. Voice in my art and writing connects me to you, heart to heart.
Finding your voice is finding your heart. It’s finding what you love and beginning there. It’s finding what gives you joy when you create.
If a beginning artist or writer asked me for advice on finding their unique voice, I would tell them it already exists within them. It is their heart, their truest self.
Create true to your heart and you have found your voice.
Last night I watched one of my favourite Christmas shows, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
This morning I woke thinking how, as kids in school, we labelled each other. Those labels did a lot of damage. Unlike Rudolph, some of us were never able to rise above the words we were called.
I love words. I love playing with words, putting them together and taking them apart. I love crossword puzzles, word games, and Scrabble. I love reading other people’s words and writing my own.
When I was thirteen years’ old and entering high school, my parents gave me a thesaurus. I never dreamed such a treasure existed. I read it cover to cover, like a novel.
My husband didn’t have a love affair with words. For him, it was much the opposite.
He struggled with words. He couldn’t make the connections between sounding out a word and spelling it. Spelling was a disaster for him. He had to consciously, repeatedly memorize the sequence of letters for each word. Otherwise ‘celery’ came out ‘clegery’, and ‘chimney’ was ‘chibmny’.
He was told he was stupid, and he felt stupid.
I know the English language has weird and wonderful word spellings, but his struggle was beyond that.
By the time my husband reached high school, he’d struck a deal with a friend who was an ace speller. His friend struggled to come up with ideas for writing assignments. My husband always had loads of ideas. So he provided his friends with ideas, and his friend spell checked my husband’s essays. Win win.
My husband is not stupid.
His brain came equipped with a different pathway to understanding words, sounds, and spelling. He had to find his own way, and did, into learning how to spell.
It’s so easy to stick a label on someone, easier than taking the time to consider the whole of the person standing in front of you and finding an understanding.
No one is stupid.
I have twenty years of experience as an artist, but ask me to sculpt something and the result would have you seriously doubting I have any artistic ability at all. I am a disaster at sculpture.
My brain doesn’t see and understand the way a sculptor needs to. What my brain naturally sees and understands is drawing. Give me paper and drawing materials, and I am a wizard.
I’ll say it once more.
No one is stupid.
This life is rich because of the uncountable paths we have for seeing and understanding.
I have a very old dictionary from Great Britain, a school discard dated 1954. It contains a definition for ‘stupid’ I find interesting. The dictionary defines it as ‘wanting in understanding’.
This definition surely describes me trying to sculpt and my husband trying to spell. We want to understand and are unable to.
There are other layers in this definition. We all want and deserve help and understanding from others when we are struggling. And for those who label others then walk away, describing the label-ers as having a ‘wanting of understanding’ works for me.