In 1987 when American Artist was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the magazine published an article in the February issue by contributing editor Mary Carroll Nelson titled “Twenty-Six Artists Describe a Crystallizing Experience.” The people Nelson interviewed described the moment when they decided to become an artist or to change the direction of their career. Among the people who recalled their crystallizing moments were Janice Lovoos, Millard Sheets, Dong Kingman, Irving Shapiro, and Rex Brandt, all major artists who have since passed away.
Nelson told me of one person she interviewed who didn’t want to be included in the published article because her mother might be embarrassed. During the 1930s, the woman’s mother went to great trouble and expense so the two of them could travel across the state to visit a painter who was participating in a community arts program sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. “My family had very little money and no artwork on the walls of our home, so even though I was very young I knew what a sacrifice it was for my mother to make the journey,” the artist recalled. “During the long ride home I resolved to do everything I could to earn my mother’s extraordinary gift and to realize her hopes for my future.”
For most of those interviewed, the decision to become artists occurred when they saw a great work of art that made them want to paint like an Old Master or when they met an adult painter whose personality, lifestyle, or creations appealed to them. Their talent was also recognized and encouraged by parents, teachers, or classmates. “I was the class artist who could draw better than anyone else and who was always enlisted to paint the school posters and the set decorations,” several people said.
The lesson in these stories is that compliments, awards, and encouragement are extremely important to people who are thinking about exploring their creative potential, whether they are 4, 14, or 44. Those of us who know how a crystallizing experience can lead to a lifetime of artistic pursuits need to offer other people the same recognitions that helped us direct our lives.