Art tells us who we are

Sandy and I met at a Jens Lekman concert. I saw her, petite and singularly fashionable, giving her ID to the bouncer at Lincoln Hall, and I was nervous to say anything. She was an internet friend of a friend and I was not yet numb to the awkwardness of meeting people on the internet – thanks Twitter. Eventually, we connected at the show and that was it. We’ve been through Big Star margaritas, music festivals, bad boyfriends, bad jobs, grad school stresses, life revelations, and vintage shops together.

Sandy works at the Hirshhorn Museum in DC and, fittingly, the advice I snagged from her comes from her work with artist Ai Weiwei. I just about died when she posted the following Instagram:


Ai Weiwei infiltrated my consciousness because his sculpture Forever Bicycles made its way to Austin. I know next to nothing about the artist, but I’ll leave that to the curators and art historians out there. What I do know is: that’s some damn inspiring advice. Let’s break it down:

1. Learn a new skill

This week, I made a lasagna. That might seem like no big deal, but it’s one of the few holdouts of my mom’s recipes that I just have been too intimidated to make. I looked at the recipe, realized it might take around three hours, and balked. But that Saturday afternoon, it was raining, Sam was with Buddy the dog, and I had three hours. I did it – and it felt amazing. This was a new task, not a new skill, but it made me feel good as hell. Using muscles that hadn’t been discovered yet made my whole self feel strong and ready for whatever comes my way.

2. Travel places your parents never went

My spin on this is a little different, since my parents travel more than I do and never invite me to Hawaii. I try to live the lives that they didn’t have, to make them proud of the opportunities I take advantage of. To be clear, my parents have lived lives I can barely dream of (insert joke about millennial home ownership), but there are still worlds to conquer for the Martins. For me, this means living in three major cities, going to grad school, and moving cross country at the drop of a hat (okay, like three months of the hat dropping). These are opportunities that they have helped me meet, and I hope to continue to have experiences that they can ooo and ahhh over for years to come. I also hope to continue giving them heart attacks over my whimsical tattoos (Mom, it’s just the one).

3. Find things to tell stories about

This is really my passion: telling a story through non-fiction writing, through painting, and through archiving. My dreams tell me stories. My friends give me stories to tell. This is one of the great surprises of life – the stories that unfold and that just get better when repeated. I wonder about new ways to tell stories, about how to gather the stories of other. I’m always looking for your help with this, for your stories, for help telling my own.

∙  ∙  ∙

When I asked Sandy if I could share Ai Weiwei’s advice, she added a bit of additional wisdom. The artist said, “Art tells us who we are.” The art we make reflects not only who we are at the core, but it reflects the art we’ve taken in and devoured – the nourishment that life and art has given to us. What others create can be just as much (or more!) about ourselves than about those who made it.

Stay hungry, my friends!

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