Choosing Not to Render

Jessica was always the better artist. I used to think this was weird because my mom would get commissioned to do murals and sets and costumes for church and local high schools. So why was Jessica better at art than me? Wasn’t this stuff genetic?

By high school, Jessica’s paintings and drawings were winning awards. She was included in this regional young artists show called “Wunderkind,” and her work was shown off in galleries. I’d go to see them and read the artist statements, by her and the others. It was the first time I seriously thought about art – what it was and what the people thought who made it.

She could render pretty much anything. It became a kind of parlor trick in church vans and on family road trips; Jessica would have a pad of paper and a pen (She drew in pen!) and people would call out different requests of things, and she’d draw them from memory. Everybody knew she would grow up to be an artist.

Jessica got into an elite fashion school in New York, attended for two years, quit, and hasn’t done much art in the five years since.
Jessica in art school
She doesn’t want to be an artist, not as a job – she doesn’t like the solitude of it or the pressure to produce (and produce without spontaneous inspiration). Art makes her tired; she can’t do it all day. And, she says, there’s a difference between being good at something and being passionate about it.

She’s been talking a lot about feminism and social justice. “I could sift through boring documents all day and be excited about it if I was working towards social change,” she told me. She only wants to do art some of the time, when something particularly inspires her.
Jessica graduating with a degree in English
What it makes me think about is what we’re all supposed to be doing with our lives. Is Jessica, with her wild individualism, robbing the public good the use of her artistic services? Do we owe it to the wider community to do what we’re good at and leave our passions to the side? (I have discovered that I have a rare and refined skill at pushing paperwork, which I would happily drop. But, I suppose, there is a lot of paperwork out there and somebody has to do it.)

And what’s even worse is that some of us (Jessica and I included) are challenge junkies. Part of the allure of the things we are passionate about is their difficulty. It’s in the knowledge that we will be able to put our full efforts into them, and then maybe only scrape by.  It makes us dreamers of possibility and, I suspect, somewhat delusional. I wonder about it.

The artwork that Jessica did last was drawings on her notes during one of her favorite Lit classes. It was inspired by the lecture, the discussion, and the spectacle of the Victorians. (She took a picture of one of the spreads, and I wanted to make sure that people saw it.) She'll do more art in the future, when she's inspired to; it's just that she won't do art as an occupation. Everyone knows that the president isn't required to paint.


  1. ah .. two favorite girls in my life.. (now young women) Hello to you Jessica.. Shira's mom here if you don't remember me and Amy you won't forget your other mom.. me...Shira also falls into this wonderfully artistically talented group of friends that you had growing up...I enjoyed reading you blog very much and understand those challenges of which you speak.. I miss you but so glad you are happy in your life, marriage and family!! LOVE You and miss you... Merril

    1. Merril! It's so nice to hear from you. Thank you for your very sweet comment. I'll have to do a post on Shira's artistic talent as well (maybe her athletic talent, too, because we all know that's a thing).

      Thank you for reading. I love and miss you as well,