By: Hefner the Hare
When I was in the 4th grade all of our teachers took us to the library for a seminar. The point of which was to ask all of us the burning question, “What is art?” A wonderful power point display graced the wall before us, slideshow of images featuring famous artist’s work like “Starry Night” and “The Mona Lisa”, and then a photo pops up of a cake. The teacher running the power point stops to ask, “Now is this art?” Our 4th grade class was puzzled by this question, and my answer to “What is art?” in the 4th grade became, “Everything.”
Why do we create art? Where did it begin? What drove cave men to paint bison on their walls, or stick men with arrows blazing? What inspired the images gracing school art books all over the world? What drives someone not only to bake a cake, but decorate it? Why do they sell fake geese with very well-tailored dresses at the flea market?
What qualities must an object, or image portray to be considered “art”?
When I consider why I personally create, I am taken way back in my hall of memories, to very early childhood, watching my father paint. Many parents are unaware of how their actions play a part in the development of their child. Your children watch everything you do, and they pick it up. In this case, it was a fantastic habit. I loved doodling as a kid and wanted to learn how to make realistic creations. My father was never an art teacher, in the sense of giving me any kind of lesson, other than watching him live his life. When he would be tired from working long shifts as a mechanic, or sawmill worker, he would find some kind of joy in painting or drawing unicorns, and scenery. This gave me the early idea, that art was an escape. Art for my father was a private passion, where he was in control, and where he could find happiness without the concern of his boss, or wife, or even me, his child.
As I entered school, and the gaze of fellow peers, I was singled out visiting the kindergarten class for drawing a duck. Every kid at my table thought my duck was the bee’s knees. I was requested to recreate a duck for every kid at my table. I felt special for the attention they gave me, and I was an avid fan of the children’s program Pappyland. When you’re in kindergarten, it’s hard to feel useful, or like you have a place, other than being a child. Pappyland made me feel like if I worked hard, one day I would have my drawing featured on his program. That as a child, I could have a “place in this world” being an artist. My art was never featured on his show, but I sent in letters and drawings until the program went off the air. Once recognized for my duck drawing talents, I had caught the “notice me” bug. Some children hang from their mother’s shirt sleeve screaming “Mom” until they forget what they had to say. I began to scream in Crayolas.
I didn’t explore my art in the form of drawing, or painting, as I went to middle school. The hormones hit me, and I began to get that teenage apathy vibe. As I explored the artistic side of my wardrobe, and physical appearance, it was not perceived the way I had hoped. The bullying I began to experience simply for wearing black clothing, or men’s clothing, put me in a hormonal eggshell existence. Entering high school, as a straight A student, and former member of the academic team, I was ready to throw my life away. I didn’t care about my grades. I didn’t care about anything. I certainly didn’t care for 9th grade science class. So, I began to doodle as a means of passing time, while I ignored my schoolwork. It became naps, or doodles. What does one draw in 9th grade science class? I drew my friends sitting nearby and musicians. It was like the duck all over again. Suddenly everyone wanted a doodle of themselves, like I was some kind of cartoon generator. This made me want to draw better doodles. This made me practice more. This again, became my “place in this world”.
As my hormones raged, and my heart tugged, I went from knowing I was “bisexual” in middle school, I liked girls, but not knowing how I felt about boys, to being sure I loved girls only. My personal life took a downward spiral as I broke up with my long time “boyfriend”, who was one of the only kids to be nice to me during some of the worst years of my teenage life. Upon my mother finding all of my love letters, from girls, and my coming out to her, I was removed from the public school system on numerous occasions. Who would see my duck now? What reason would I have to create, without an audience? Was Pappyland still on television? Could I send a letter real quick?
So, one could assume that some of my interest in art, was for the show. The joy it had brought to others, when I had nothing else to offer. However, the trauma of my coming out, set off some receptors in my brain, and suddenly, I was better at “arting” than I had ever been. No one was there to see it then, but I was doing it. The pain of my life, akin to the pain of coming home after a hard day’s work at the sawmill, I released the way I was taught. A heard of unicorns to carry me through my hard days, I found my joy. I battled those hard days with more creations. The destruction of my life made me want to make something out of the rubble the more it crumbled. Growing up in poverty, I was also taught that we use things till we can’t anymore, and that there’s a lot of materials you can re-use if you tear down a house. I couldn’t just throw away the pain, I had to transform it. I had to have something to show for it. I also felt deeply, that one day I would need to move away from the homophobic roots where I was bred. Only I was a broke, and helpless teen from Martin County… with no way out.
When I was allowed to go back to school, I was told there were many opportunities in the artistic field for scholarships, and help getting into college. It occurred to me, that I could be like the football player, and have a full ride, just off the talent I had collected in the pain. Many years I had thought that my book smarts would be my ticket to ride, and had I not had the parents I had, I was a strong candidate to receive the Robinson Scholar Scholarship. My mother refused to let me go for it, based on the requirement of spending weeks at the UK college campus. However, here were opportunities for me to shine, and find a way out of the abuse, without my mother’s permission. So, I spent hours, days, weeks…working on my college entry art portfolio. I tried to put all the individual pieces of myself in there, the weirdness, and the wild. My painting done in animal’s blood ended up winning me multiple scholarships to notable colleges here in KY. By the time I finished sending applications, I had over 10 acceptance letters, and I have them all to this day. So, creating became a whole other level of escape. A literal escape, somewhere over the rainbow.
Even though I had a gaggle of praise under my belt, when I graduated, I turned them all down. I let a co-dependent early relationship influence every decision I was making. I had wasted years trying to get over the rainbow, but somehow couldn’t take those last steps. Before graduating, a woman had seen one of my drawings in the school art show and wanted to purchase it. That was the first time I had ever received payment, a hundred smackaroonies, for my artwork. I had been kicked out of my parents’ home and used that first 100 dollars to help pay bills, and rent on my “apartment” at the Rainbow Restaurant. Then my partner’s grandparents wanted some drawings, and it seemed like there was some kind of income one could make, without the need of a degree in art. So, finances pushed me to create then. I wanted to make enough money to be an equal partner. Another relationship which ended in flames, I forgot about painting, and I started writing more and more, while trying to work a minimum wage job. Writing was my art then. Then work, took over, and relationship, after relationship swung through my sphere.
Creating took a new, and unexpected turn when I was 20, and decided to take LSD for the first time in my life. Lysergic acid diethylamide changed everything in my life, and the way I perceived creating/creation. I had done some drawings while working then, but nothing compared to the work I would create after my 3-month excursion with not only LSD, but multiple types of hallucinogenic substances. The first trip I took, was like seeing the entire world through a new lens. Every song, every album artwork, every painting of a flower on the wall… was alive. Not only were these things energetically stimulating, and exuding feeling, but all the symbology throughout history, and all the secrets of humanity, it seemed, were hidden in the creations of those who came before me. I had seen “the Mona Lisa” a thousand times, on coffee mugs even, but I had never LOOKED at it, until then. I was unable to create while on any of the substances, but the knobs and cogs in my brain began to shift. Creating wasn’t about the money. Creating wasn’t about the praise. Creating wasn’t about an escape. Creating was a language- a secret language that I had known how to speak before I came out of the womb. I was the art. My body was a marvel of harmony, and pain staking execution by a higher being. Everything was art.
Looking around me with new eyes I could see the hard work that has and will be put into controlling the masses with media and marketing. Many small things play very large roles in our moods and mindsets. You may be unaware of how wonderful companies are at getting you to buy their products. Blue, or red …and you’ll spend till you’re dead. I could see the rebellion throughout the ages, as artists were paid by churches to paint religious images but hid their own opinions among the trees. “Boring” art that would hang in a dentist office, suddenly became a visual treat, as it was like I could see the wind blowing through the flowers or smell the sweet scent a color can’t convey… unless you really LOOK. Did you notice that Paul’s barefoot on the “Abbey Road” album, or were you told? Give it another look. What does it mean?
My art took a surreal turn, as I tried to paint what I experienced, and maybe hide a few little secrets in some of my own work. How could you tell someone who has never experienced LSD what it feels like? What mysteries lay beneath a painted sky? Maybe I couldn’t tell everyone, but maybe I could show them. I could speak, through pictures. Screaming in Crayola… telling secrets in oils… painting things you can’t see, unless you LOOK.
I am now 26, and I still create in screams.
I still look at a bag floating in the wind like American Beauty and see art.
Creation is the counterpart of destruction, and this life moves in a cycle, with nature. Weather you consider yourself a creator or not, you must be making something out of this life. And when you’re too tired to, Mother Nature will always paint you a sunrise, and sunset.
But it’s up to you, when you see it… to really LOOK.
About the Artist
Hefner the Hare is a multitalented artist based in Eastern Kentucky. The owner of Hillbilly Hocus-Pocus, she is an Appalachian herbalist and a flow art performer. You can find her work at the links below:
Host’s Note: I approached Hefner to write a personal experience article because I find her story and outlook to be genuinely interesting and her work, exquisite. When Hefner says she “creates in screams”, I feel that. Her work speaks volumes well beyond her 26 years. You can hear more from Hefner in her own words Season 2 Episode 7 of the Weird Appalachia Podcast – Namastay Weird: Here’s Your Sign.
The views expressed in this piece are solely that of the writer. WA does not endorse the use of illicit substances. We do not own any of the images or trademarks mentioned.