The Artist – Nature or Nurture
Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and your set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
On a recent trip up north I stumbled upon a pair of men’s figure skates at a yard sale. The black leather skates with the red embossed maple leaf immediately triggered the traumatic memory of Christmas morning 1963. I was eight and had asked Santa for a new pair of figure skates, not hockey skates, figure skates.
Needless to say, that morning I had my own Dawn Davenport, “These aren’t cha-cha heels” moment. (Google YouTube – “Female Trouble” – cha-cha heels) and the realization that the whole Santa thing was a whopping hoax.
For some unknown reason I wanted to be a figure skater, not a hockey player like my brothers or every other kid in the neighborhood. I wanted to dance on ice.
According to my mother I was more than content to spend hours alone in my room drawing and coloring. She also helped me sew the hats and tiny clothes I created for my two dolls that were “best kept hidden” from dad in the back of the closet. It was to be our little secret.
I often wonder why I, the middle child of five boys, raised with the same two parents in suburban Toronto, turned out so different than my siblings. It wasn’t just the obvious, my being gay, but about how I saw and experienced the world differently – a world where it was important for me to express myself through art; a world free of “Hockey Night in Canada.”
Art was something that was never encouraged or even discussed growing up in our household. No planned trips to the museum, symphony or theatre. If anything, everything, with the exception of music, was frowned upon. How many times did I end up in class detention for the massive “doodles” on my student notebooks?
Contrast that with my dear friend Micah Barnes, who I first met as a twenty-something at an audition in Toronto when we were both wannabe actors. Micah is a successful writer and recording artist who was raised in the city by his mother – a nationally known writer, his father – an award -winning classical composer, and exposed to every artistic medium starting at an early age. Could Micah and his brother have turned out to be anything but artists?
Micah had nature and nurture while I had neither, yet we are both driven to create. With no obvious evidence of creativity in my family tree, I have to wonder where it comes from. Is it possible the passion to express oneself artistically comes from some as-yet-unidentified gene mutation?
What possessed that first man or woman to paint a bison on his/her cave wall, and wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to study his/her brain, and those of Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol and Rauschenberg – the large majority also gay, and compare DNA to see if there is some gene that determines artistic nature?
Maybe science will one day determine that artists are predisposed to do what they do and see the world in a different way, but in the mean time I’m down with Lady Gaga, “I was born this way.”