When I went to school in Olympia, Washington I was a fresh-faced kid from rural Oregon, looking to study painting and drawing, but too practical to go to a pure art school. I wanted the liberal arts education for security, because everybody told me that art wasn’t a viable career choice. That said, Evergreen, where I went to school, wasn’t necessarily all about viable career choices. Rather, I found myself attending a school based on experiential education and meandering intellectual investigation. And I landed smack-dab in the middle of the Riot Grrl movement of the nineties, where DIY ruled and the community lifted each other up. If you had a passionate idea, from putting out a record to building a loft bed in your apartment, you just had to ask and help was on its way. This ethos has influenced my world view in so many ways, empowering me to follow through on my ideas, and to support other people where I am able.
In this swirling hotbed of female empowerment, though, nobody influenced me as an artist and thinker as much as one of my very first professors at Evergreen, Marilyn Frasca. In classroom critiques, she taught us to spend time learning to see, to listen with our eyes, and hearts. Working with Marilyn changed my idea of what an image is, an how I can relate to it. She taught us to use intensive journaling as a creative tool, to dialogue with our work, bodies, dreams, society, and more. I still use the tools she gave me to access and clarify my ideas, and to remain true to myself as my work evolves. In fact, the work in my book In-Between Days evolved out of this very process. It was Marilyn who taught me that the work is not done when a piece is finished, that each piece is part of an ongoing dialogue, a lifetime conversation between me and my work. She told me to watch for patterns, because I might find that in ten years, I’m circling back to cover the same ground again, with a deeper and richer understanding.
What Marilyn taught me, in teaching me to look and really see, to investigate and listen, is so much bigger than teaching me to use media. These are great, big, huge life skills that have informed not just my work, but the way I live my life. It was one of my life’s greatest gifts to meet her when I did, just as it was a tremendous gift to land in Olympia, surrounded by inspiring and empowering women, at every turn.
TEVA HARRISON is a writer and graphic artist. She is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic memoir, In-Between Days, which is based on her graphic series about living with cancer published in The Walrus. It was named one of the most anticipated books of 2016 by the Globe and Mail, which also named the author one of 16 Torontonians to Watch. She has commented on CBC Radio and in the Globe and Mail about her experience. Numerous health organizations have invited her to speak publicly on behalf of the metastatic cancer community. She lives in Toronto.