Finding your voice – in art, and in life.

Finding your voice sometimes can take a lifetime. We often have to dig our way out of a mountain of conditioning, and voices telling us how things are “supposed” to be and what is “acceptable”. Confusion ensues, and we can be afraid to color outside the lines. Because discovering one’s own voice is such a rich topic, and one central to the fabric of my being, this post will be the first of four installments.

I was blessed to be born to a mother full of life, and with a love of teaching. My mom, Liz Smith-Cox, was a highly influential art educator in the public school system. Her students remember the powerful impact she had on their lives, in the art classroom, and in life in general. I remember how she recognized my artistic abilities at the age of five when I crafted the “Happy Squirrel” out of terra-cotta clay. The little guy had movement, and personality. She kept putting clay, drawing paper, crayons and pencils in my hand, and encouraged me create or draw anything and everything that struck my fancy. No limits.

The woman who taught me to find my own artistic voice - my mom, Liz Smith-Cox.

The woman who taught me to find my own artistic voice – my mom, Liz Smith-Cox.

Then, I entered first grade, where I was under the tyrannical rule of a mean old lady, Mrs. Anderson. Someone had “taken the meat out of her sandwich” years before, and she was keen to rule with an iron fist, and a hard set of rules as to how things should be done. Why such an embittered soul was put in charge of joyous, and impressionable young children is beyond me. On my second report card, Mrs. Anderson gave me D in handwriting. My mother was dumbfounded, and when she met with the teacher to gain an understanding of why, Mrs. Anderson explained that handwriting included “coloring” and I was refusing to color within the lines of the drawings provided. It had nothing to do with my penmanship. My mom was furious. I think this is one of the first times I understood the force of my mom’s belief that creativity should be unfettered. I also remember how she stood up at a PTA meeting and gave a man a thorough dressing down for suggesting that all that was needed for art in the schools was some crayons and a coloring book. “Coloring outside the lines” became a recurring theme and mantra in her many years of teaching and workshops.

My Momma Liz was a tiger when it came to protecting and encouraging the individuality of the creative voice. I am incredibly blessed that she nurtured me along in this regard, as I believe such a foundation has helped me find my voice much more easily. This isn’t to say that I haven’t taken detours into what I believed was the accepted way to go, but something always has harkened me back to my own path.

Even though I am writing about finding one’s voice in the context of being an artist, I believe the lessons I’ve learned apply to life in general – and to the search for finding your authentic self. Funny how art and life are so inextricably intertwined.

Unearthing your authentic voice can take some work, so have your pick ax handy.

This often involves a bit of doing, especially if you are swimming in all the shoulds and don’ts of our conditioning. In many cases it is like undertaking an archeological dig, to remove all the noise getting in your way. Artistically, this has been an easier path for me, since my mom always prodded me to look at things from a different perspective, and always with fresh eyes. I was taught that art is a potent language of expression – one that communicates the full gamut of human experience and emotion. Yes, both dark and light. My mom also had a knack for understanding and supporting that the view from every individual set of eyes beholds something different and precious. She was a master of coaxing out the creative spirit in me, and countless other people.

My mom always liked interesting “characters” and she seemed to avoid idealized beauty, especially when it came to people. Liz was highly influential in this way, and I found myself drawn more and more to depicting older people whose faces were topographic maps reflecting their personalities and their lives. I love telling stories, and such faces speak volumes. I almost aways start with the eyes, and build a painting from there. If the eyes aren’t “right”, and if I don’t feel as though I’ve captured the person, I just have to scrap the painting and start over, or move on to another subject.

In finding my voice, I’ve had to fend off opposing opinions, and fears from other artists. I was once told by a commercially successful artistic that I “should” avoid painting Greek widow women wrapped in black garb because it seemed too similar to a black burka, and therefore “might turn off potential clients”. This artist’s work was beautifully executed, but I felt like the soul was missing. Sure, he had landed a successful formula, and was duly cranking it out and raking in the dough, but I just couldn’t bring myself to approach my art like that.

From the invitation of a mother-son museum exhibition.

From the invitation of a mother-son museum exhibition.

Another artist whom I admire immensely, was and still is an amazing watercolor artist. Being the primary breadwinner in her family, she bent to the directives of her gallery and painted florals, which were selling briskly. But, executing art in this factory-like manner wasn’t bringing her joy. I happened upon a conte crayon sketch she had done of a woman brushing her hair and, in my opinion, it was spectacular and full of life. I asked her best friend why she wasn’t doing more of this. Her gallery had convinced her there wasn’t a market for “that” kind of work. Not much raises my ire, but this kind of soul-killing stranglehold that galleries and art critics have on artists makes my blood boil. My hero, and the artist whose work has always been highly influential to me is Andrew Wyeth. He rose to fame and success, and stayed there. What is remarkable about his ascent is that he accomplished it as a realist in the midst of an explosion of abstract expressionism. Critics and many art purveyors scoffed at his work and called him a mere illustrator. They couldn’t stand that his work resonated with so many people. Maybe you’re not a fame of realism, but I invite you to do an internet search of his work, particularly his Helga series.

One’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes – Andrew Wyeth

The journey to finding your own voice can take many twists and turns. In the journey to discovering what resonates with your soul, love is a trustworthy guide. Without love, you may find yourself just going through the motions. I believe, as your internal compass leads you closer and closer to your unique voice and expression, you will feel the love that will transport you from doing into being. This has been my experience. Dear Momma Liz modeled this for me, and even though I sorely miss her constant presence, she still coaches me from the great beyond. I can hear her now, saying, “Now that you’ve found your voice, remember to play, and never forget to color outside the lines.” More on learning to play in the next installment.

By |2015-11-13T14:41:17+00:00October 13th, 2015|Personal musings, Reflections on the Journey|27 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

27 Comments

  1. Kathy Sexton July 16, 2016 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Jed, your mom was a wonderful person. She and Rob both taught at DWD and I remember her endless enthusiasm not only with her students but also decorating for the prom! She could transform that gym into a place of wonder and beauty. She loved our church and going to Honduras on our mission trips. She was so content sitting under a tree and sketching whatever caught her eye. I can only imagine the journey all of you had with your mom and dad but especially your mom. She will always be missed by those of us who loved her.

    • Jed July 19, 2016 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, Kathy, for your kind email. I so glad you were able to experience my mom’s wonderful spirit. She is with me always and I feel her urgings to “keep going” with my own artistic pursuits.

  2. Kathleen Boggs October 26, 2015 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    So the joy of each ascending day
    Should not be obscured by thoughts benign
    For as you travel on your way
    Sometimes you must color outside the lines.

    Here’s to you and your mom. Stay outside the lines!

    Miss you.

    • Jed October 27, 2015 at 6:52 am - Reply

      Ciao Kathleen, Beautiful words you share. I love the perspective of “each ascending day”, and I’m learning to realize that each day presents us with a new, blank canvas on which to create – as long as we’re unencumbered with thinking that robs us of being present. I also raise a “salute” to wonderful moms everywhere. Miss you, too, and think of you often. Bacioni, Jed

  3. Renee Trent Sardinas October 18, 2015 at 2:03 am - Reply

    Jed, beautiful words for a beautiful soul. My family and I were indeed blessed to have been a part of her world. We are all better because we knew her.❤️Thank you

    • Jed October 18, 2015 at 3:36 pm - Reply

      Hi Renee, It’s so good to hear from you. Thank you for reading and commenting about the tribute to Momma Liz. I’m so glad you knew her and experienced her radiant spirit. I hope life is treating you well. Good thoughts, Jed

  4. Anita October 16, 2015 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    I love this piece on mama Liz.. many people squash young talent it’s sacrilegious in my book! You are so talented Thank God mom was close by to feed that flame of artistry. So glad I met you on twitter you’re an awesome dude so keep coloring outside of the lines and giggle next time someone steps on your crayon! Baci Baci Anita

    • Jed October 17, 2015 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Grazie Anita for inspiring this series. I’m writing about the importance of “play” right now, which will be posting Tuesday. I’m so fortunate to have met you through Twitter, and to encouraging one another along the journey – of “the path less traveled”. Bacioni, Jed

  5. Barb Toland October 16, 2015 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    I never met your Mom although living in this area I have heard many awesome stories about her life & love of art. Thanks for a great piece on why finding our creative voice is so rewarding. Here’s to Momma Liz – her spirit lives on!!!

    • Jed October 16, 2015 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Barb, Thanks for the encouraging words. I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. Stay tuned for the next installment. Jed

  6. Cindy October 15, 2015 at 1:53 am - Reply

    I so enjoyed reading this piece. Mrs. Smith was my art teacher at Daniel and was such an amazing and teacher and individual!

    • Jed October 15, 2015 at 10:01 am - Reply

      Ciao Cindy, thanks for writing. I’m glad you were able to experience her talent for teaching first hand!

  7. Howard Loring October 14, 2015 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Your Mon was a staunch supporter of the Clemson Little Theatre, painting hundreds of sketches of characters, many of which are hanging in Cox Hall.
    One of these is of me long, long ago.
    She was a grand lady.

  8. Nancy LeMaster October 13, 2015 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Jed,

    This is so well done. Your mom was all that you have said, and more. Not only did she love characters, she was a great character herself! Her influence has touched so many in such a variety of different areas. You learned well from a master teacher. Continue loving the journey that is life. She always did.

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks Nancy. Yes, she was quite a character herself, and embraced the journey of life with great gusto. I hope I’m still as fully engaged in learning and exploring when I’m almost 90!

  9. Robin Fink October 13, 2015 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    Wonderful post Jed, adored your tribute to your dear Mother, and her influence in your life. I love your spirit and introspect. Robin

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 10:06 pm - Reply

      Grazie Robin. I’m so glad you and Markus had the chance to experience her in person! xoxox

  10. Ellen October 13, 2015 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    Charming and loving she was – as are you and sisters. I smiled as I read of her strengths, fortitude, perseverance, creativity and through it all…her love. Thanks for this bright remembrance!

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 8:03 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad you knew Liz and can appreciate this tribute to her! I’m happy if I can reflect even a fraction of her radiant qualities. Thanks Ellen.

  11. Hugh October 13, 2015 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    Finding my voice – it’s my whole life journey! Along with the courage to follow that voice (“…though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice…”) . Very grateful for this Jed. Anticipating more.

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      Hugh, it’s so good to hear from you. Thanks for writing and for cheering me on!

  12. Michelle October 13, 2015 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Love this Jed!! You’re right — very applicable to much of life. It’s wonderful to learn more about your mom. Thank you for keeping her essence alive through all you do to inspire others. I look forward to reading this series.

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      Grazie Michelle! I’m learning so much about myself as I write about this! It’s also very cathartic in the grieving process, which never quite abates. xoxox Jed

  13. Karen October 13, 2015 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, Jed! Can’t wait till the next installment. I hope all of this sticks to me like glue. Thanks!

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 6:40 pm - Reply

      Thank you Karen. Next installment coming in a couple of weeks! Hope your final days in Italy have been wonderful!

  14. Nancy Perry October 13, 2015 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Jed, this is such a wonderful tribute and memory of your mother, and I am so glad I stumbled upon it on Facebook. Liz was such a beautiful person, who always had something nice to say about everyone. We ( in her art group in Anderson) always hoped for just a portion of her energy and goodwill. Thanks for this!

    • Jed October 13, 2015 at 6:41 pm - Reply

      You are so kind to write, Nancy. I am so fortunate to have my mom’s genes helping to guide me through life, and helping inform my discoveries through art! Jed

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