Darkness and Light

Join me on this exploratory trip down memory lane, with its potholes and traffic jams, by way of a self-portrait art from 1991. This quickly executed scrawl on graphed notebook paper encompassed so much of my life experience in one sentence: It’s taken me 21.5 years of seeing this face to even get this far. “This face.” It’s almost like it was one of multiple faces, or maybe not even my own image. Read on for my interpretation of the drawing, 28 years later, and how my perception and individual experiences influenced my personal philosophy.

Self portrait, Susan Hicks, 1991

An Impromtu Self Portrait

This self portrait drawing was the result of sheer procrastination. I was studying abroad in Germany and was a bit fed up with studying Hegel. Not just Hegel’s philosophy, but Hegel in German. Daunting. I drew this from my reflection late at night in my huge dorm window, with my head between the drawn curtain and glass. I call this a win, in hindsight, considering I hated even seeing myself in the mirror. Maybe looking out into darkness helped me see.

When everyone has this idea of what you’re “supposed to be,” how can you see yourself clearly? It can rob you of your individuality. The notion that “this is how it is, and you are not to do, or be otherwise” provides a sickening, dim, artificial light of a million tones and impossible angles if your individual truth is not already in line. I loved the view of the dark night from that window, on the many nights I was robbed of sleep from anxiety and stress.

Art and Perception

This thing of seeing yourself. An artist’s perception is key to their art – both external and internal. The more you can see flows into what you let others see through your art. I had seen art history classics in books and magazines, and had visited my share of top art museums in the US, London, and Munich. In my hometown the local art scene favored colonial gardens. I was more satisfied with abstract masters, art films and videos, and art connected to music; album covers, concert posters, fan art. I admittedly hadn’t seen much outside of family trips other than school, church, and limited campus forays by the age of 21. I did see myself every day to tidy up, but only briefly.

Self representation failed me. I knew I absolutely did not fit the trappings of a “proper Baptist woman,” but that was the eternal pressure – the eternal hellish pressure. How can you see your actual self when you are constantly discouraged or even banned from being it? The proper Baptist woman face is one with a never failing smile, or at least pleasant expression. This is demanded. In many cases, that face was a lie, on my part and on the part of many others. In hindsight, others seemed to trust their perception of this.

Yes. I’m Different.

I am….. different. Now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have distinct values which I vehemently uphold for myself, without demanding them of others. I have no patience for bullshit in the guise of externally proving how good and righteous you are, or keeping up with the spiritual Joneses. Spiritual peer pressure is inexcusable to me. I’m apparently so different that every push and prod, jamming me into the expected societal mold was akin to hacking “me” into bits.

Creativity other than for “sacred” ends was seemingly the most irritating thing I could possibly do. It was once vehemently stated “Why should you get to be an artist? I wanted to be a musician and didn’t get to!” How dare I? Nonetheless, I have an undefined faith. As much drama and illness as I’ve been through and face daily, I don’t give up. There’s a reason for getting through, but I’m not sure it’s teachable, law driven, or precisely written in a book. Maybe I got that from staring into the dark.

Noel

Art was my religion. Art and music. Color. Sound. Expression. Individuality. That brought me peace. Integral to my being. Born to be. Peace. Noel. Love. That’s what religion claims to promote and provide, but in my almost featureless congregation I often felt surrounded by exclusion, prejudice, and staggering narrow-mindedness. Somebody once said something about “well meaning, but highly misdirected people.” So many things that were said to be in the name of LOVE were so damaging. Sheep. Flock. Not known to be very concerned with the notion of the individual.

Born to Be

Born to. I wasn’t really supposed to be born anyway, as a 2 month early premie. If I bucked the odds that way, maybe it was more MEANT to be that I’m here than the other way around. This is my argument to myself. It so often seems the opposite. Was it that early birth that put me behind the 8-ball healthwise? Did it stack the deck for friction and unaccepting attitudes in my family?

Or was it like a trained professional once counseled me? – Keeping a child from being what they are is profoundly damaging. Whatever the thing about being a musician was, yeah. Profoundly damaging.

Damage. Not seeing yourself clearly. Self-perception. The individual. Darkness. Hegel.

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Susan Hicks | Alexandria, Virginia | Thomas, West Virginia

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