Why the Artist?

by Mary Lu Brandwein
The cracked, dirty shoe stared at me across the intervening space and I stared back. My eyes went to its contours and my mind felt itself into the bulges and pulls of the leather...mile by walked mile, the kneading of the hide formed the furrows.

Glancing rapidly and without thinking, by-passing the brain, my hand learned from my eyes and slowly a shoe started evolving on my paper. "There are no bad shapes," Professor K. Baker said even though this was only a discarded shoe that would have been in the city dump but for some art teacher's request for useless things, the props of our lives.

So there I was with this worthless, old, sweaty shoe...and as the drawing wove itself, the shoe of pencil lines emerged beneath my moving hand. I learned about the grief of one anonymous man's wanderings, his longings, struggles, and his dreams. Slowly I went a little darker. What could my own old, soon-to-be-thrown-away shoes tell another of my own journeys: seventeen years in Mexico working with farming communities, three sons born there and now in the United States having learned English and gotten college degrees, my small import business from Central America, outreach work with families of abused children, being a student again, and later my personal assitance business, my bamboo music and art.

It was only a shoe, and then my hand was picking up the pace. The emotion was higher. The pencil made blacker lines, impulses from electric unknown sources. Five billion humans throw away shoes and most of us do not take time to learn from them. That's why the artist must make us stop and ponder. And then, perhaps, just perhaps, we will feel a little more the shoes on our own feet, the earth beneath, and the walking.

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