The things that children say are profound and prophetic. Many years ago I was teaching elementary school 2nd grade art class and out of the blue a little boy stood up and said to me “Miss Whittington, I had a dream about you last night. You were the artist of the world.” I was quite surprised. It was quite unusual. There was nothing going on in class that would lead to that kind of talk. But it wasn’t something I could forget. Perhaps God sent a child to encourage me.
It wasn’t too long ago from that experience in the classroom that an “art print dealer” who was going around hustling black artists, creating prints of their work and hustling them in a notebook around town selling prints that she felt would look aesthetically pleasing over fire places and dining room tables. She had her hustle down packed. But I didn’t fall in line nor did I fit in with what she was doing. She insulted me and my work to the wrong person who read her her rights and told me what she said. She told him my work was ugly, especially my depiction of Emmett Till and I didn’t know what I was doing. Even though my friend put her in her place, I didn’t want to be a part of her mess, so I vowed not to show my work to anyone ever again but to just go home and paint and document life as I saw it and create what was on my mind whether anyone understood them or not. I became a closet painter for the protection of my own artwork, which I deemed my children.
Years later I had a compelling experience happen to me. I had a very strong feeling to get to Paris alone and spend time immersed in Art. The feeling was so intense that in a matter of two weeks, I was on a plane to France. I had been to Paris before, but always with a group where there was a tour guide translating and leading the way and doing all the thinking while I went along. This time, I was called to go alone. I was scared to death. I was at war with my ownself-- “Girl. Are you crazy?” “You don’t know French.” “You can’t go by yourself, what’s wrong with you?” Mentally, I fought myself hard, but my Spirit was a war General and I forged full steam ahead .
When made I landed at Charles De Gaulle airport, I took the Metro to Paris and checked in to my hotel room. I dropped my stuff off and found my way back to the Metro and headed straight to my favorite museum, the Musee De’Orsay. My confidence grew as I found my way around this country by myself without speaking a lick of French. I was on my mission to spend time with the work of my favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh and immersed in the museum. But when I stepped in the museum things got a little weird. I wasn’t scared though. I cannot describe the experience I had and anyone automatically believe me and I haven’t met anyone who can tell me what I truly experienced that day without brushing it off as my imagination. As soon as I walked through the doors of the Musee de’Orsay, it was like I had entered into another dimension. The paint started dripping down the walls. I could hear voices saying “She’s here, she’s here, she’s here.” And every time I walked past sculptures, they would shake. I looked around wondering if anyone else could see or hear what I was experiencing. No they couldn’t. I wasn’t crazy. Not on medication. Didn’t do drugs. But what was happening was real.
A few day later, I was leaving France for the airport at 6:30 am, no one was on the street except me. I was walking to the Metro with my suitcase past a hotel that was a former home of Paul Gaugain. Just as I passed the hotel, I clearly heard someone call my name, “Lisa.” I turned around but no one was there. Nobody was on the street but me this early in the morning. Nobody in France physically knew my name. No one has been able to explain that to me either.
The only person who gave me a clue of my experiences was my doctoral professor at the time, Richard Siegesmund. He never judged me. He listened to me. He asked questions about my life, and dug into many of my experiences with art. Then he asked me a simple question that put it all in perspective. “What does art want with you Lisa?” And that is the journey I am on to find that out.