When you know who you are…
Excerpts from Dawns & Dusks, Louise Nevelson
TAPED CONVERSATIONS WITH DIANA MACKOWN
“My theory is that when we come to this earthy, many of us are ready-made. Some of use – most of us – have genes that are ready for certain performances. Nature gives you these gifts. There’s no denying that Caruso came with a voice, there’s no denying that Beethoven came with music in his soul. Picasso drew like an angel in the crib. You’re born with it.
I claim for myself that I was born this way. From earliest, earliest childhood I knew I was going to be an artist. I felt like an artist. You feel it – just like you feel you’re a singer if you have a voice. So I have that blessing, and there was never a time that I questioned it or doubted it.
Some people are here on earth and never knew what they wanted. I call them unfinished business. I had a blueprint all my life from childhood and I knew exactly what I demanded of this world. Now, some people may not demand as much as I did. But I wanted one thing that I thought belonged to me. I wanted the whole show. For me, that is living.
I don’t say life was easy. For forty years, I wanted to jump out of windows. But I did feel I had the strength and the creative ability. There was never any doubt about that. No one could move me till I got what I wanted – on my terms, on earth. And I do. And it did take, maybe not the greatest mind, but it did take courage. And it did take despair. And the hardship gave me total freedom.
People have said to me, “Aren’t you glad you were born?” Well, I had no choice. I didn’t ask to be born. Just think of the burdens we have at birth. We’re born to people. We have labels. And we have to carry them. all our lives without our choice. It’s a hell of a thing to be born, and if you’re born, you’re at least entitled to yourself.
So I saw from the beginning how one exploits another. And I recognized that the most important thing in my life was to claim yourself totally. I was always independent. That I inherited. By the time I was nine, I had thoroughly decided I would never – in principle – work for anyone as long as I lived. I was gifted and I knew it, and I wasnt going to permit anyone on earth to take my true heritage. I felt I had the equipment to fulfill living life, and I don’t think I wanted less. I anted to fulfill life. An that’s exactly what I’m doing. I claimed what I have. I still clam what have. And youknow, as long as we’re aware, we have a right to that.
Everyone is entitled to recognize their full being. Male or female, the human being is entitled to that total heritage, no matter what. There’s a corny expression that from an acorn a big oak tree grows. You can have that: that’s your inheritance. Less than that… if you really believe in a power beyond, then you’re cheating that power. They claim that we are created in the image and likeness of God. That takes my femininity away [laughing]. So anyway… if you do think like that, then you’re cheating and selling cheap who you are created in the image and likeness of.
We underestimate what humans are, you see. When I hear people say “the common man” … I hate that phrase. You know, we hear it, writers have used it, poets have used it. I think it’s a great mistake. There’s no such thing. There’s nobody that’s common. I think that in every human being there is greatness.
The tragedy on earth is that people are born into a certain environment. Think of this. When you’re born, you have two parents, usually. Now, those parents are in a position to control every move we make, so already we’ve got a ton of this on our heads. And then as we move on, we go to school; the teacher has pets, and for some reason she may not like a student and can destroy them. You see, the human relationships are deadly. Of course there’s the other side too – otherwise we couldn’t live. But what I’m bringing out is that from birth until you’re grown, you have superiors. you’re educated all along the line, not necessarily by your parents, but by your schools, academic training and all, in the strange way that you have to be subservient to religion, subservient to the older people, subservient… God knows… down the line.
You see, sometimes you have to turn about the things you are taught. You have to stand on your two feet and claim your true heritage. What does that mean? that means you belong to yourself. The fact that we can breathe is really kind of a miracle, and so if you see that and work for that, you finally find yourself claiming who you are, and you can be a total human being and be a human being to others when you know who you are… and you have every right to that.”
~Excerpts from Dawns & Dusks, Louise Nevelson