On one of my first days of business school, my professor was facilitating get-to-know-you discussions related to the results of some sort of “brain dominance” test all of the students had taken. We all know the tests: the ones that tell you how you think, explain to you in neat paragraphs what that means for you and your leadership, your behaviors in times of stress, and even your personal relationships. They provide a tidy answer for a messy and complicated and “mediumistic” self, as Duchamp characterized it.
As the on-scholarship, head-shaved, goateed MFA, casually dressed, nonprofit “executive”, my falling into the creative or artist category with such a test was not much of a surprise to anyone there. It fulfilled everyone’s assumptions, and put me neatly in a category. The “different-than-the-rest-of-us” category.
A decade prior, I had taken a similar test in my first weeks of art school. Ironically, I was the only person in my department of 15 people who was categorized as an “artist” by this particular test. For Cranbrook Academy of Art, or at least my particular department, this was not exactly a badge of belonging. Of course, the reason it’s ironic is that I was the student there with the least art experience and who, as a clean-cut, former athlete from a liberal arts college in the South, was the least likely to be deemed an artist by most of the world. It defied most people’s assumptions, but put me neatly in a category. The “different-than-the-rest-of-us” category.
On the surface, I didn’t fit in in either place, art school or business school. Perhaps that’s proof that, as an artist, I actually belonged in both. In each case, I thrived on the dissonance. It motivated me. It made me more creative.
In the 10 years between art and business school, I spent 4 years as a community organizer, working with youth in low-wealth neighborhoods and schools to advocate for educational equity and economic justice. I spent a year managing this organization and then moved to helping other organizations, schools, and cities around the country engage their young people more strategically and effectively. I have been a consultant on education and youth issues for about six years.
While in business school, I helped start the Tennessee College Access and Success Network. And, after a year and a half as the director of strategy there, I left to help start an education technology startup, which pivoted a year later into healthcare.
During the same 10 years, I got married, bought and sold two houses, lost my father to suicide, got a dog, had two daughters, and then moved with my wife and girls back to the house where I grew up, and where my Mom still lives with us.
I taught college-level art for 4 years part-time.
I stopped doing any studio artwork for 3 years full-time.
I started writing.
I started making art again.
I had my first solo art exhibition, and then my second 10 years later.
It’s been a strange ride, but such is life. I have learned that I am driven by contradiction, not for the sake of it, but for the challenge and the learning, for the dissonance and dynamism. For the life of it.
Through it all, I have never lost what Einstein called the “irresistible urge” of the artist to create. I still always see myself as an artist in a studio, if not in the studio. I have created perpetually and in many mediums, in many kinds of studios, and my art, at times, has simply been my life.