When I was younger, I was one of the most revered artists on the planet.
My artwork was sought after by museums around the world.
One of my horse drawings hung in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.
“That’s a Burrell”, people would say in french while strolling past one of my finely framed horse drawings in one of the most celebrated art museums in Europe.
When my Aunt Val told me that I had a talent for drawing, my imagination created scenarios just like that one. Her praise of my elementary school drawings made me feel like Leonardo Da Vinci and it was a powerful feeling.
I was fascinated by horses when I was younger. Everything about them was powerful, athletic, regal and graceful all at the same time. I’m not sure when I first saw a horse in real life but I became a horse fan from seeing them on tv and in books. Horses made it possible to jump on the back of a speeding train or cross a fast flowing river to get to the damsel in distress on the other side. Horses could run fast, jump high and it seemed to me do whatever they wanted, so I started drawing them.
The drawings were clumsy at first, but I got better and when Aunt Val paid me attention for it, I did what made sense to my 7 or 8 year old brain. I started asking myself what I could do to get more of this really powerful thing.
I worked really hard at getting the hind legs just right and the tail and mane of hair as detailed as possible. Then I discovered if I put my drawing paper on the picture in the book with just the right angle of back light I could trace the horse photograph. “My drawing” of the horse could be almost as good as the photograph I traced.
“Aunt Val look at this one”
She loved it and said I had gotten so much better. I really liked drawing horses and the challenge of doing it well motivated me but It was at this point that my motivation for her praise became stronger than my motivation to actually become a better artist. In my mind, her love for my drawings equalled her love for me. Or said another way, my worth to her.
I don’t remember when I stopped shoving my horse drawings into my Aunt’s face. Never once did she indicate that she was tired of encouraging me. Over time, I felt bad about presenting these traced drawings as my own. I was able to deal with this cognitive dissonance by rationalizing that since it was my hand on my pencil using my paper to trace a picture from a library book that I checked out using my library card then it was “my” drawing.
As I got better at other things that were truly part of my destiny, I outgrew the need for the horse-drawn carriage delivering praise from Aunt Val.
I never told her that the really good life-like drawings were traced nor do I know if she ever figured it out. If she did, she never told me. She still encourages me today and I’m grateful that she loves me more than any traced drawing I created back then and more than any shortcomings I might have now.
I have never asked her if she remembers my short lived notoriety as an art prodigy. My bet is she doesn’t realize just how powerful her attention was. Something so significant for me was probably for her just another day in the life of one of the coolest aunts in the world.
To this day I can feel the power her praise provided. Within me was something that I could offer the world and be appreciated and recognized for…a trace of greatness. She made me believe I had a talent or at least something like a talent. Someone who was not my parent gave me attention for my horse drawings and that fueled me to want more. I've stumbled along the way with my need for attention and learned some hard lessons but my quest for significance had begun.
Thanks Aunt Val!