In my line of work, I spend a lot of time in schools (though I’m not a teacher by trade). When I’m in a building, I usually try to take it all in. The warm, salty smell of cafeteria lunch. The instant roar of a full hallway. The way adults are invisible. The way everything is labeled. Named.
7th Grade Hallway.
Affirmations are displayed everywhere, too.
“BE PROUD OF WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED TODAY…WE ARE!” reads the yellow banner above the lockers.
In one of the glass display cases in the hallway I saw this:
And it bothered me.
I walked back and forth past the case 17 times before I finally stopped to snap a photo.
My first thoughts were of how impressed I was at the talent of the kids who put this together. I have always had a “thing” for van Gogh, I think in part because I knew so much about him at a young age myself. (A benefit of having artist parents) I have always had so much respect for his brush strokes–so controlled, and yet so manic. His work, even his still lifes, have always felt very emotional to me. Almost volatile.
I recall doing projects like the one above myself when I was in art classes. Take an image, divide it into squares, assign each artist a square to imitate. The finished product is reassembled back into the single image. In this case, it was a selfie of Vincent.
I think that’s when it got interesting for me. The original is a self-portrait, which means that it’s how van Gogh saw himself. He could take liberties. Did he? Wouldn’t we all if we were given the opportunity?
So here’s this whole self perception, fragmented into squares and replicated, interpreted, and put back together again to make a whole. Only it isn’t exactly the same. And it bothered me.
The idea sounds so familiar right? I keep thinking about myself broken into all the many pieces. Daughter. Sister. Mother. Friend. Wife. Lover. Worker. Colleague. Writer. Creator. All those parts can individually be taken by anyone and examined. Judged. It’s so easy to get misjudged. Edited. Rearranged. But I guess it’s also about just that. We are all constantly being torn apart and put back together, whether we’re the ones doing it or someone else is.
That feels so true to me, but also terrifying. For so many of the past few years I’ve suffered from what I guess can only be described as a loss of self. It’s part of the reason that I ran from this place for so long. I didn’t know who to be and when. The beauty though, is that we never have to chose and sometimes we don’t get to chose. It’s finding peace with that truth that is turning out to be the hardest.