Just Do What You Can

The first time I gave a slide show and talk about my artwork, I developed psychosomatic laryngitis a few days before my speech. My then-boyfriend, an actor, told me such incidents were common in theatre, a variety of stage fright. He taught me how to project sounds from my mouth by pressing hard on my diaphragm and exhaling loudly, resulting in a faint but intelligible "voice". He assured me that by combining abdominal thumping and a microphone, I'd be able to make myself heard.

 The class was an art appreciation class at the University of Minnesota, over 200 people. As I stood high on an elevated stage and surveyed the crowd filling the auditorium, I held the mike close to my face and explained why my voice was so weird. Some of the audience nodded in sympathy, but the rest kept their eyes on the floor. When I asked how many were artists, only a few raised their hands. Most were middle-aged and wore the exhausted expressions of working students.

My paintings from that time period were very straightforward; I hadn't yet evolved into my current surrealistic style. All I wanted to do was paint pictures and sell them so I could make a living doing my art. The crowd seemed to enjoy the landscape paintings, street scenes, and still lifes projected onto the movie screen during my talk.

Toward the end of my lecture, I showed a slide of a cow, explaining that I'd noticed the cow during a road trip through Wisconsin and decided to paint a picture of it.

A man in the second row raised his hand.

 I gestured in his direction. "Yes?"

 He stood up and spoke loudly. "Why did you paint a cow? Why not a horse?"  The expression on his face was kind; I could tell that the question was an honest question.

I pondered for a moment, and then asked in my teeny voice, "Why would I paint a horse?"

The man's response boomed up to me and ricocheted around the auditorium. "Because the horse, he is a noble beast, the king of the pasture."

I leaned forward and croaked brokenly into the microphone. "But the cow, she is out standing in her field."

The man thought for a moment. "Ah." He smiled, nodded and sat down.

In a small way, I think I changed the world that day.