An Artist’s Statement, via Autobiography, Part One
Sometimes I even seem odd to myself. I have built a career on a combination of strange bedfellows: Southern history, multiculturalism, and arts education. I have live my whole life in this medium-sized Southern capitol city of Montgomery; for most of my life I have been bored by its social and political stagnation and its insular attitude toward outside world, but in recent years the city of Montgomery and the state of Alabama have become, for me, like a old friends that I had grown tired of and that I thought I knew, but didn’t really.
And so this interest in Southern history and Southern culture has sprung from my new discoveries as an adult that so much rich vibrancy lies beneath the surface of what seems like stagnation. The South, and for me Alabama in particular, is my home. The South is what I believe that I understand, both intellectually and emotionally, even though I acknowledge willingly that I don’t know everything. As an adult, I have been prompted by this experience to pursue that experience, by this fact to seek out that fact, by this new discovery to look for the next one. The South is a place of many secrets and I will be able to search for them my whole life and still never finish.
My interest in multiculturalism is harder to pin down. I think that its roots lie in how hard and for how long I sought out ways of living that were not Southern, that were not Alabama. I wanted desperately for most of my young life to know that there was something other than the life I had. Life in Alabama seemed desperately inadequate. “There is nothing here,” I thought and said often. Later, I attended college in the 1990s, in the heyday of political correctness and at a time when many of the rising-feminist college students of the 1970s has become fully entrenched in university life as feminist professors. The 1990s were a time when being a white man – and moreover one from the South – was not exactly popular. Later still, in my mid-20s in the early 2000s, when I found the history of the Civil Rights movement, my path was solidified, when this historical period brought together for me a set of a fact thats I previously could not reconcile with my interest in both mid-century counterculture and modern multiculturalism. I wanted to know, more than ever, what I was not being told.
Finally, arts education is an aspect of my life, personality, and work that I am only now grasping. For my whole life, I have loved books; I was reading before kindergarten, which I started at age 5. My love of stories, and words, and books, has been a life-long passion. Furthermore, as a teenager, I began playing guitar and also got involved in theater, both of which formed much of my personality. I began to love music like most American teenagers, when the messages in heavy metal and punk and alternative music seemed so relevant to my life. I never became interested in the technical side of music, which leads me to believe that it was always the messages in the songs. My involvement in theater was more of an accident or circumstance, because I began working backstage in school plays that my older brother was in; that affair lasted from age 12 to 19, when I realized that theater was my brother’s passion, but writing is mine. Today, as an arts educator myself, I am beginning to understand more holistically the pieces of my own life, and how they fit together. During my teenage years, the arts and arts education brightened up the dismally boring world I saw around me, and taught me that ideas and ways of living far beyond those I experienced firsthand abounded. My experiences with the arts ranged from listening to the Misfits or Sonic Youth to watching from backstage during a community theater production of “Mame” or “Ballad of the Sad Cafe” or even reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger or Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. These things taught me that the world is a massive place.
[more in the next entry, “An Artist’s Statement, via Autobiography, Part Two”]