As a reader of this blog, you may know that my dad is an artist, and has been a full-time professional artist for over three decades. Much of what I know about the art world (and the rest of the world, for that matter) comes from my early experience watching my mom and dad build a successful business around my dad’s art.
I spent many days growing up watching my dad paint in the studio, and I would travel with my parents to art shows and on gallery-hunting trips as they sought representation for my father’s work.
Growing up the son of an artist provided me with many experiences that were unusual for a kid growing up in rural Idaho. In fact, my childhood would have been unusual anywhere.
As a kid, I wondered what it would be like to lead a “normal” life, and what it would be like to have many of the things other kids took for granted. It seemed like my family often had to make do without. Some of the things we missed out on weren’t a big deal, but you might not believe some of the things we learned to live without.
A Big House
I remember a friend of mine who lived in a mansion, or at least I thought it was a mansion. It was probably just a 4 bedroom, 3000 square foot home, but to me it was a palace.
When I was five years old, my parents sold the little duplex in which we had been living in a small town in south-central Idaho, and moved into a single-wide mobile home on 3/4 of an acre outside of town. Dad was going to build a geodesic dome for us to live in, so the plan was to live in the mobile home for the six to nine months he thought it would take to build.
It ended up taking a lot longer. We lived in that mobile home for almost nine years, and in the meantime our family was growing. By the time we moved out in to the dome in the late 1980s, there were eight of us, six kids and my parents, cramped into the tiny, two-bedroom trailer house.
It was a tight living situation, but, as a result, I spent much of my time playing outside. I developed a deep and abiding love of the outdoors.
The Hospital and Modern Medicine
Long before the current cult of mistrust had arisen about institutional medicine and vaccinations, my parents developed antipathy toward the medical system.
While three of my sisters and I were born in hospitals, my parents’ last five children were born in our home, under the supervision and care of a midwife.
When one of us fell ill, my mom was more likely to reach for herbs than cough medicine.
The only time we interacted with the medical system was when there was a dire emergency–like the time my younger brother broke his arm.
Luckily, none of us suffered any major health consequences, and eventually this mania for self-care and natural remedies would fade away, but we did benefit from a diet rich in whole grains and garden-grown food.
If institutional medicine was taboo, public education was likewise eschewed in my family. I began my education in a Montessori school. When the private school failed, I did spend a couple of years in a public grade school before my parents began home-schooling all of us.
A big part of our curriculum was life experience. We traveled the country to my dad’s art shows, and saw many historical sites and national parks along the way.
Mom pieced together some textbooks to help us get a base understanding of math and English. Eventually, for high school, we enrolled in a correspondence school.
This nontraditional path didn’t encourage higher education, and, though I put myself through a number of community college courses, I never did receive a college degree.
And yet, I never felt I was inhibited from learning what I needed to know. I discovered that if I wanted to understand something, I was going to have to learn it on my own. I became a voracious reader, encouraged by a likewise auto didactic mother who would read to us from a very early age, and made sure we all had library cards.
While I didn’t pick up my Dad’s love for creating art, he did teach me how to work with my hands and how to persist to get projects done.
My education was unconventional, and a bit unorthodox, but it was also wide-ranging and pragmatic.
I didn’t mind avoiding the doctor, and it was fun to roll out of bed and get my education at home, but I didn’t enjoy the fact that my family didn’t have a television for a much of my early childhood. I’m sure we could have afforded one, but my parents thought TV a waste of time. Instead, we were encouraged to use our imaginations and get outside and play. We were also encouraged to devote ourselves to our schoolwork.
Eventually my family did get a television, and we watched our fair share of television programming, but I always knew that there were alternatives. Because I knew that there was a life outside of programmed entertainment, I’ve never felt compelled to waste a lot of time on media. That lesson stuck with me through the end of the television age and into the internet age. I’m able to get a lot done because I can turn off media devices.
Fear of the Unconventional
Perhaps the most important lesson my parents taught me was that one doesn’t have to live a conventional life. Growing up, I had many friends whose parents worked regular 9-5 jobs. I was taught to admire hard work and discipline, but I also learned, by watching my parents, that I could chart my own course in life and invent my own future.
We endured some very difficult financial times while I was growing up. I don’t want to gloss over those challenges, and being broke is never fun, but my parents showed me that persisting and hustling is the only way to achieve dreams.
Anything I’ve accomplished as my wife, Carrie, and I have been building Xanadu Gallery into a successful business can certainly trace its roots back to the daring it took my parents to strike out on their own to build my dad’s art career. My parents taught me how to face risks and how to persist.
I Wouldn’t Trade My Childhood
There were other things we went without from time to time: running water(!), square meals, Christmas gifts, to name just a few, but I will invite you read my memoir to hear those stories, along with many other oddities I experiences as the son of an artist.
Make no mistake, my childhood wasn’t idyllic. There were dark times filled with struggle and anguish. Moreover, we endured a particularly bleak chapter that began in my adolescence, and very nearly tore the family apart. But we survived; we endured; eventually, we prospered.
I invite you to pre-order a copy of my new memoir, Dad Was An Artist, A Survivor’s Story to get the whole story. I find the story of my parents’ struggles in life and their persistence in overcoming them inspirational; you will too. I learned a great deal about how to live an extraordinary life from my parents; you will too!