Tony ferociously attacked his Bible. He then clapped his hands sharply over his ears, shut his eyes tight, and started rocking back and forth in his seat. I had just started working with Tony as a classroom buddy at his Bible School. Panicked, I ran to the cupboard and returned with a box of crayons and some paper. He cautiously accepted my offering. As he made the first mark on the paper, I saw his eyes light up. He tried out all of the colors, but especially loved the sea green crayon. He evidently liked to scrape up the wax from the paper for sensory stimulation and enjoyed coloring as a means of relaxation. As I watched him create piles of wax on the table, I had a revelation.
As an artist, I had previously believed that art is centered on the aesthetic. In my mind, art meant the creation of a masterpiece. However, my work with Tony demonstrated that art is so much more than something to admire in a museum. Art facilitates communication in ways I couldn’t have predicted. When I offered Tony the set of crayons, I drew the first link of communication between us and established the beginnings of what is now a solid four-year relationship. In fact, the two of us have bonded to the point of communicating without having to say a word. We speak in color.
A few weeks after my interaction with Tony, I had an encounter with my mom that advanced my theory of art as a communicative medium. One night, when I was doing my homework, my mom called me over. She was reading The Help and ran into an unfamiliar word: obstinate. As an immigrant from Korea, she often relies on me for quick translations or explanations. She asked me to define the word for her, but I couldn’t explain it in simple English, and I definitely couldn’t translate it with my rudimentary Korean. Instead, I drew her a picture of Ranger, our pug, as he stubbornly refused to walk onto the dewy grass during his morning walks. Now, whenever she sees the word “obstinate,” she remembers all of the times that she walked Ranger and has developed a complete understanding of the word.
I created over two-hundred more entries in what is now an illustrated dictionary. My mother began to send my pictures to her friends, so that they could learn with her. Soon, a small community of family friends relied on this daily dictionary. As they have broadened their English vocabulary, these women have become more comfortable speaking with other people and participating in social events. Images are universal, and thus, my deficiency with the Korean language did not hinder my abilities to communicate with my mother. My developing vocabulary book for my mother was further evidence that art can be used to serve as a channel of communication.
When I was younger, I wanted my artwork to be framed in the Louvre or the Guggenheim with a spotlight over it and adoring crowds praising my skill. However, I have grown past this vision of art, which I now realize does not need to be restricted to museums. It should live where people live. My two favorite contemporary artists, Banksy and Shepard Fairey, create public art with the purpose of enacting social change. Their legacies inspire me to create work that will impact my community and change the world around me. In the future, I intend to use my artistic talents to continue bringing people together through art, regardless of the community that I am a part of. I want to be the crayon or the illustration that facilitates communication in other people’s lives.