Viewpoint by Kristel Orta Puente
I am a 44-year-old sophomore and photography major. I am a mother, an activist, a daughter, a wife and a photographer, but my defining and life-saving calling came from a role in the community as an artist.
I was born and raised in this city that I love so much, and building my community is my life’s work. My first awards as a professional in a career have all been in the last three years of my life working as an installation artist.
Those small accomplishments gave me the courage to walk back into school here after 17 years. For someone who was used to failure, being successful is something I never dreamed I could do. It is humbling and terrifying.
Art saved my life, gave me direction and made me realize my displaced ideas had a home. I was not crazy, and I was not stupid, and others are way smarter, but I believed I had something to say.
I began in the San Antonio art world as a photographer about seven years ago. I got involved in an annual art show called “The Color of Blind” for the visually impaired and special needs community by Trina Bacon. Often when you visit an art show or museum, you are not allowed to touch any of the art. “The Color of Blind” makes sure that every piece in the show is touchable or has a sensory element to it.
I stood with overwhelming emotion the first time I experienced a visually impaired little boy touching a mermaid sculpture.
He told his mom as he touched a real mermaid, they had to take her home because he loved her.
Today that mermaid lives at his house courtesy of the sculptor.
In that moment, I knew I belonged helping people who are often left out of the art world. I took all the insane ideas in my head and tried my hand at being an installation and conceptual artist, with “The Color of Blind” and creator Trina Bacon giving me my first opportunity.
I believed from the time I was a small child that being an artist was unachievable for me because I had no idea how to draw or paint. All I had were ideas and no way to express them.
The most exposure I had to art was attempting to draw in grade school, making projects with construction paper for holidays and painting.
It would be over 30 years before I learned exactly who Frida was. It wasn’t until high school I had a real art teacher who had a film camera. Intimidated by having to buy my own camera, which I could not afford, I never took her photography class. I stayed in fascination of the camera, the darkroom and her.
Years later, I picked up a digital camera when my daughter was born.
I was terrified I’d break it, but I began to take photos of her, my muse. It would be another 13 years, and a career change before I’d discover I was good at taking pictures. And another five before I was in my first art show.
Today, I have devoted my professional career to advocating for art, making art and contributing to my community.
I used to wonder what might have been different if I had been exposed to more art as a child.
I have seen firsthand the impact art can have on the most lost and forgotten members of our community. Art is storytelling. Whether you choose to tell your story, or the stories of those who cannot speak, creating is liberating.
Without finding this form of expression, I would most likely not be on this planet. I create because I need it for survival and sanity. It grounds me and gives order to the chaos in my head.
I want everyone who is lost or struggling to go out and try creating something. Take a sewing class, go to an art show, go to an artist talk, buy a camera and dare to document what you see and feel on a daily basis.
Continuing to take art out of schools, defunding art programs and marginalizing the members of our community who would benefit the most from artistic expression are barbaric.
Our state Legislature continues to eliminate the avenues of expression and attempts to silence the storytellers calling attention to the distorted interpretation of what has value in a capitalist-driven educational system to promote science-based programs.
Our national government can slash the already emaciated budgets of art and music programs nationwide with the swipe of a pen.
Any scientist or anthropologist will tell you the greatness of every society we study in history is judged by the quality and sophistication of their art.
You can crunch data and carbon-date a bone, but you only get the emotion and essence of what great civilizations of the past valued by the artistic expressions they left behind.
Should we continue on this path, and if an anthropologist of the future wants to study any objects of beauty we in the United States of America have left behind, most likely it will be buried deep in stacks of petrified standardized test scores and TEKS binders.
The treasure will be suffocated by simple-minded good intentions and likely be a singular gloriously precise machine-sculpted plaque of declared ambition with the words “Educating the creativity out of children since 1980 — Department of Education.”