Richard Johnson of the Washington Post answers the question “Why We Draw” in a poignant article that appeared Dec. 31. Johnson drew pictures of his infant son in neonatal intensive care as a way of coping with the boy’s heart condition after his birth.
Johnson says, “I don’t really remember the person I was before he was born. I don’t think any of us really become the person we are until we face some adversity. In this case, having a sick child made me the person I am, and in a way, he even taught me to draw. I owe him a lot and I don’t think he even knows it.”
I know what he means. My son was born two months ahead of his due date when his mother developed eclampsia. Although she had been feeling unwell, one evening she said she was feeling better, and since she had an appointment at her clinic the following day, we began an evening typical for most expecting parents: laying in bed, watching television, and making plans for the birth. Despite language and cultural barriers, we decided to remain in that city for the birth. We had found excellent support and believed we could manage. We were confident the experience would be memorable.
She began convulsing at about 10 in the evening, and by 1 a.m., was at her doctor’s clinic. The nurses sent me home, to return when the clinic re-opened. When I did, I learned she suffered more convulsions during the night, and was taken to a hospital I had never heard of. I rushed to find the hospital, then the maternity ward, then a doctor who spoke English, and learned that in order to save my wife’s life, the baby would be delivered by c-section. My son came out in good form. My wife survived. She spent a month in hospital, the baby two months in NICU. We left Canada about six weeks after his release.
I remember these events not only because they are burned into my mind even after 24 years, but because from the moment I returned from the clinic, I began keeping notes on what was happening. My journalism training kicked in. Aside from wanting to record all the details for family so far away, I was in a mental state where everything is reduced to its most elemental. For me, it was writing. Take notes. Get the facts. Write what others were saying. Write what I was feeling. Make sense of a confusing time. I knew I had a story to tell, if only for me, and for her, and the baby.
Why do we draw? Why do we create art? Why do we tell stories? All artists have their reasons. For me, I think it’s important to remember that our creativity erupts when our world is turned upside down, and there’s nothing left for us to do but pick up a pencil and draw, or pick up a notebook and begin writing, in the hope that after a while, the world will make sense again. And maybe, we will have created something to remember, if only for ourselves.