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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The i'Mpossible Project …According to Natasha Shapiro (37)

This is the thirty-seventh edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Natasha Shapiro with A Calling or a Choice?

A Calling or A Choice?

This has always been a thought provoking question for me: Is the identity of the Visual Artist a "Calling" or a "Choice”? Do you make a thought out conscious decision: “I want to become an artist”, or do you figure it out as part of who you are: “I am an artist.”? The first concept is more intellectualized, and the other more intuitive. To me, the question “who are you?” has, since I found out I was an artist, involved the answer, “I am an artist.” It has become a fundamental part of my concept of “Self” and thus not a choice, but indeed, a calling.

In actuality, my road to becoming an artist was quite circuitous, unusual, and involved a lot of synchronicity. Unlike many artists who early on knew they liked drawing and painting and got praise for it, I stopped drawing at around age 7.

As a child, I did not have any particular ambitions or notions of career at all. I just knew I didn't want to be a lawyer like the rest of the family. I was in a position of defining myself through "not me”. In high school, I enjoyed acting and creative writing, also photography and Latin. I also loved reading fiction and learning languages but did not feel drawn to a particular field. In college, I chose my “concentration” (same thing as “major”) based on wanting to learn to speak Russian and liking Russian literature. I had no desire to use my knowledge of Russian language and its poetry and novels to do anything. 

In my second year of college, I had a few life changing experiences that kind of collided or coincided in several “epiphanies”. For one, I started going to therapy with the vague idea that it would help me deal with feeling unhappy with myself, insecure, empty and kind of aimless and depressed. At the same time, I decided to take an Introduction to Drawing class taught by Alfred DeCredico, a visiting artist from Rhode Island School of Art and Design. This was very random. By then, choosing classes not in my “concentration” had a sort of impulsive feel. Beginning Drawing involved choosing between very rigid realistic style and this “other” opposite kind of “Zen” approach. Decredico was a big guy with an imposing presence who liked rather than criticizing things to point at something and say, “Why do I like this?” or to shoot down very boring but perfect looking shaded realistic drawings. I walked in with no idea that I could make drawings or other art, not really sure what I was doing there except that I was sick of the typical classes involving words, papers and exams. From day 1, I entered an alternate universe where we were told to find 10 sticks and put them together and bring them to the next class. In the next class, big paper and dark black ink was passed around and we were instructed to make drawings using our sticks creations as the “brushes”. Wow. I had no idea this was something you could spend a couple of hours doing at an Ivy League University where everything seemed to involve competition and way too much thinking. The class was like an art therapy experience for me. I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing or even why, but I was really enjoying it and something in me seemed to be awakened.

I ended that class with encouragement from the teacher and one of the teacher’s grad student assistants; it matched what I was learning from my first real therapy experience, that maybe my life long interest in wearing bright colors and strange clothes and dying my hair every color for “visual” attention had more to do with some inner desire to be an artist that I was totally out of touch with than just being “loud”. I never had the feeling before of someone looking at a picture I made and saying that it was good. My therapist helped me discover my artist self and also give myself permission to think of myself as an artist. At the end of that second year, I went to take my year off from college, toting a sketchbook everywhere with me and making lots of awful garish drawings mostly of ghoulish faces and abstract scribbles. Doing all this art on my own was actually also an epiphany for me, as I realized that I got something out of it that nothing else in my life had given me thus far: the feeling of filling myself in some soul directed way and realizing there was something in me I had never before come so close to and felt that it was completely mine. No matter what these drawings looked like, and it did not really matter, nobody could take this away from me. This was the beginning of the next 25 or so years of my life as an artist, from then to now, of making marks on paper and other kinds of creations, of having a daily habit, somewhere between an addiction, a primal need and some sort of soulful “medication” as well as a form of meditation… I have kept up my “sketchbook/journals” ever since.

Probably this time off was the transitional period where the work in therapy helped me realize and “hear” my calling to be an artist: the beginning of a lifelong quest and discovery of what I wanted to make, what I was drawn to making, what I was compelled to make, that continues to this day, as I work on a large watercolor quilt, a graphic novel, a handful of altered books, small detailed black and white drawings and mixed media dolls in different sizes.

Natasha’s websites:
Art Therapy website:
Facebook Art Therapy Page:
Why is this "The i’Mpossible Project?" 
Inspired by Josh Rivedal's book and one-man show The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah. Gospel (non-religious) means "Good News" and Josh's good news is that he's alive, and thriving, able to tell his story and help other people.

On his international tour with his one-man show, he found incredible people who felt voiceless or worthless yet who were outstanding people with important personal stories waiting to be told. These personal stories changed his life and the life of the storyteller for the better. 

Josh's one-man show continues through 2015 and beyond and he is looking for people in all walks of life, online and offline, to help give them a voice and share their stories with the world.

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