Brush With Meaning

“Is she still in there?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s she doing?”

“Seems like she’s lost it or something. She keeps breaking stuff.”

“WHAT?”

Through the crack of the door, I could see it. Canvases piled up, mountains of color and time and energy.

All broken.

“What is she…?”

“Professor Dan says she’s working. Trying to figure out what she’s going to do for her final.” Lewis shrugged.

“But she’s breaking her old pieces! Shouldn’t you stop her?”

He shrugged. “I’m just the TA man. I don’t know.”

But I did.

I knew.

Those things she’d done, they didn’t deserve to be broken. Trashed like that. Her art was beautiful, a reflection of things that not even I could fathom. Everything about her art was thoughtful, considerate. Beautiful.

Art was a way to the soul. A way to show what was inside yourself. It was why I loved it. It was a lot easier than words.

And it was why I loved her.

Those pieces… reflections of her soul…

I loved them.

I loved her.

And she was destroying them.

So, I marched in there, ready. Rallying myself to stop her. To explain to her.

All this? All of it?

It was meaningful.

Are you a river that you can flow so freely? A waterfall that you can drop ceaselessly, unafraid of where you’ll land? Are you a canyon, so ready to be filled?

I don’t know.

I don’t.

This was the struggle. All of it. I didn’t know until now, didn’t realize. This was the struggle, the reason behind my art, and yet I hadn’t known it. How can one fix something they don’t understand? How can my art convey things that I don’t have words for? How can any of this be beautiful when I don’t understand what true beauty is?

Make something meaningful.

I think Dan did this specifically to me. Or maybe for me.

Make something meaningful.

The tasks before were easy, simple. My mind wrapped around them quickly, my techniques laying out wonderful piece after wonderful piece. Making work that was professional grade, that won awards and earned me A’s.

But this was the challenge.

Make something meaningful.

Was anything I made meaningful? Did any of that mean anything to me?

Or was it a means to an end?

A way to reach the goal?

I don’t know.

And that’s what’s killing me.

Another piece comes apart in my mind. Fragmenting as my brush is in the middle of striping out a red line.

“Shit.”

I can’t stand to look at it any more. This directionless mess.

Meaningless.

I slam my fist into the canvas, breaking it. Hurting my hand in the process, yes, but this isn’t my first time punching through my work. In fact, there’s a whole pile of it by the wall. Uncompleted works, destroyed canvases. Paint that’s splattered beyond my reach.

After adding my current canvas to the pile, I pick up another one, careful to keep it clear of paint.

“What are you doing?”

I don’t need to look for the voice to know that it belongs to Pike.

I laugh harshly as I set the canvas and frame up.

“I have no idea,” I admit.

And then I dip my brush in blue paint.

“You’re destroying a lot of what you’ve done, you know,” he asks/tells me.

“I know.”

“That kind of pisses me off.”

I laugh again. “You don’t have a right to be mad.”

“And why not? I enjoyed those paintings you know. I loved those pictures and, here you are, destroying them. Deciding all on your own that they’re not good enough.”

“They are good enough.”

Of course they’re good enough. If they weren’t, I’d be failing this class.

When I turn to look at him, he’s baffled. Confused.

“They’re good enough for contests, and good enough for grades, and good enough to be looked at. They hold up under criticism, and even kids like looking at them. It’s crazy stupid how good they are.”

He raises his eyebrow, as if nonverbally calling me out.

But I’m not arrogant.

I just know the facts.

And I also know:

All they are is good.

“It’s not enough though,” I tell him. I turn back to my empty canvas. The white that stretches before me. “I want to fill the canvas. I want to make this paint with purpose. I want skies and seas and caves and the darkness of night. I want it all, because it all is beautiful, isn’t it? But it’s not enough. There’s nothing. Nothing!” The last word is a desperate shout, nearly followed by a sob or a gasp or something just as desperate.

Pull yourself together.

I take a stuttering breath and glance at Pike. Only for a moment. And then I look back to my canvas.

Blue paint hits my bare foot, sprinkling the ground as it splatters. I pay it no mind as I speak again, my voice quiet. Unsure if I truly want to make this confession or not.

But I’m already here, so I might as well.

And I do.

“I want to make something meaningful, but I don’t know how.”

The room is quiet for a moment. My brush let’s go of another hefty splotch of blue paint. It’s desperate to reach the canvas, but I can’t let it. Not when my mind is worse than the portrait before me.

In the seconds that pass, nothing comes to mind. The canvas stays empty as I continue to look at it. As I continue to watch.

It stays empty.

When sound finally breaks through, it’s the sound of feet moving. Shuffling across my tarp.

It surprises me.

Pike stands directly behind me.

It causes my heart to leap, whether from shock or surprise or something else, I don’t know. I can’t process at the moment, I’m too overwhelmed.

Slowly, as if afraid to startle me, Pike’s hand comes to rest over mine. Over the one holding the brush.

His hands are warm. Soft. The muscles in them are fine-tuned. Smart hands. Hands that understand how to make fine lines, how to create beautiful details. Hands that know where meaning lies.

Gently, he lifts my hand with the brush. He doesn’t press it to the canvas. Doesn’t even try.

His other hand rests on my hip. Another surprise that startles me so bad, I nearly jump.

“If you’re not sure where to start, then don’t stand here staring at a blank canvas. Stare at one that’s full.”

His voice is so soothing, impossible to ignore. “Where do I find a full canvas?”

Glancing over at the pile for a moment, he gives me a wry look. “Where, indeed.”

Before I can say anything—tell him that it’s still none of his business what I do with my work—I find myself silenced.

Things with the most meaning are generally small. Tiny moments that build, snowball into something greater.

I didn’t realize that until Pike kissed me.

My head spins.

There’s fire and electricity somewhere in the world. Colors exploding under the ocean that I’ve never seen. A sky full of bursting stars. Radiant beams that cease to be.

I’m baffled.

Because I can see them all.

As the world returns to me—like a blanket slowly drifting overhead—Pike smiles and steps back.

“You can do this. I know you can. Give it some time. Rest. Don’t think. Just let things be. Meaning will always find a way.”

Still too dizzy to speak, I simply watch as Pike leaves the room. Confused, and dazed, and a million other things I’d rather not be.

But my heart?

It instantly picked up on the meaning.

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