By Jerusha Gray
There has been article after article this month outlining the accomplishments of women in celebration of Women’s History Month. These women founded colleges, discovered particles, rocked the house short with their mathematical prowess and humanitarian efforts, all while refusing to be crammed into the female stereotypes of their time. As a woman and an artist, I often look to others who are modeling the driving passion and the complete lack of fucks for others who would rather that these women didn’t pursue that which makes their spirits spark.
In honor of bad-ass lady persons everywhere, I present you with five epic creatives of the female persuasion whose work has taught me some of life’s most important lessons.
Life Lesson One: Let life be what it is. —Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
My older sister took me to a traveling exhibition of Mexican painters at The Seattle Art Museum some years ago. I am sure that there were many talented artists represented. For me, there was only Frida. Frida stood on her own despite often being reduced to Diego Rivera’s sidekick/spouse in the media. She smoked and drank. She romanced other women and held a deep love for Diego despite his frequent infidelity. Her work shakes me up. It reminds me to stop second-guessing myself, and embrace the urge to paint and draw what I see. In sugar-coating pain we fail to see the beauty in what is rather than what we want it to be.
Let life be what it is.
Life Lesson Two: Be distinct. —Agnes-Cecile (born Silvia Pelissero, 1991)
“An artwork arises from the need to say something, to convey something; there is almost an anxiety to create something immediately.”
Born in Rome, Pelissero attended an art high school but continues as self-taught otherwise. She paints under the name Agnes-Cecile. She is a watercolor portrait painter though she certainly isn’t limited to that medium. She utilizes acrylic, oil, watercolor, and even varnish in her work. I stumbled upon her YouTube channel while surfing for time-lapse painting videos. Her work is distinct and seeks to communicate clearly. It fluidly expresses her vision. She applies emotion along with the pigment on each of her pieces. I instantly recognize works as hers and my spirit stands up and takes notice.
Don’t allow fear of revealing yourself through the emotions in your work limit your creative potential. Be distinct.
Life Lesson Three: My self-worth is not dependent on my ability or desire to reproduce. —Margaret Atwood (born 1939)
Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale screwed me up in the best possible way. An exquisitely subversive librarian in my rural middle school placed a well-loved copy of this book in my angsty teen hands in the seventh grade. “Waste not, want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?” This book outlined for me the tragedy of reducing womanhood to the ability to bear children. Margaret Atwood’s unapologetic approach to presenting the challenges of women encourages me to seek out and protect my own literary voice. There is power in the searching for answers, even if all we are left is more questions.
I am more than my uterus. My self-worth is not dependent on my ability or desire to reproduce.
Life Lesson Four: Show up for yourself first and make cool shit. —Debbie Harry (born 1945)
“I see a lot of people brimming with self-confidence that really don’t have anything to offer. I met a person who had the—I guess temerity is the word, to say that they were an idea person. If you’re an idea person, carry out one of your ideas. Do them, do them. Don’t just wait for someone. The work is where you get your shit together.” Debbie Harry’s career spans decade after decade. After all these years she is still making interesting and relevant music. She shows up and does what she does best, making cool shit.
“If you stay creative, interested and open to new things, you won’t stagnate. You have to look around, keep new influences coming in. A lot of people sort of pick a world to live in, and they’re comfortable in that – which can be disastrous.” Keep your eyes open to others who are involved with projects that get your heart pacing. Allow yourself to be influenced and inspired. Pursuing curiosity in the desire to create feeds the drive to keep going.
Show up for yourself first. Make cool shit.
Life Lesson Five: Rock hard. —Joan Jett (born 1958)
“I feel like it is my job to carry the torch.”
She is known as the “Queen of Rock and Roll” and the Godmother of Punk. Joan unapologetically created music the way she wanted to, regardless of the many voices telling her to shut up and sit like a lady. “People like to tear you down. People are always going to take shots. You’ve just got to go for it.” She got her first guitar at age 14 and has been rocking ever since. Joan’s bad-assery makes me want to buy an electric guitar so that I can wear black leather pants and crowd surf.
No apologies. Rock hard.
These are just a handful of the creative mentors in my life. Each of them is different, though their underlying message of being awake and pushing forward with our driving desire to build something from nothing ties us together on a fundamental level. We may not look the same on the outside, but our souls sing the same song.
Let life be what it is, be distinct, I am more than my ability or desire to reproduce, show up for myself first and make cool shit, and above all, rock hard.