Accessing Your Genius: A Little Story from the Life of Taos Artist Melissa Zink (1932-2009)
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, Ph.D.
Have you ever heard of artist Melissa Zink?
No? You’re not alone.
She’s still relatively unknown outside of Taos and Sante Fe.
I started researching Zink after I read an amazing quote of hers, which I’ll share with you in a minute.
It’s a quote about how Melissa Zink lived before she broke the rules in art land.
It’s a quote about the pain of being well behaved and not setting your heart free.
But I also see it as a quote that speaks to the delicious joy of saying; “screw all y’ all, I’m going to make the art I want to make, instead of the art I “should” make.”
Art School Dropouts Rock
But some back story would help you put the quote in context.
All her life, Melissa Zink desperately wanted to be an artist.
So she got up the courage to go to art school as a young woman in the 1950s.
But professors told the shy but brilliant Zink she was bad at art.
“Discouraged by the Kansas City Art Institute because she wasn’t doing abstract expression, Zink went 20 years doing very little art, though obviously working in her head all those years,” said her gallerist Stephen Parks.
“After she met and married her second husband, Nelson Zink, [a therapist, many years her junior] he asked her one evening, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’
She pulled the covers over her head and whispered, ‘I want to be an artist.’ Zinc was in her early 40s. There haven’t been enough hours in the day since,” said Parks.
Zink blossomed in the second half of life and became an accomplished prolific artist. She invented magical, mysterious works.
These creations ranged from figurative clay dioramas and bronze sculptures to mixed media pieces that combine sculpture, painting, collage, and assemblage.
Melissa Zink’s love of language and books was a river that coursed through her creations.
Melissa Zink and Her Magic Suitcase
“It’s like you’re walking around with this enormous suitcase full of magic and you are never allowed to open it, because the rules say that the things in that suitcase are not worthy of artistic consideration.
Worlds, childhood memories, pretend, fantasy, archaeology—all that.
And so, until I could open that suitcase, I really didn’t have anything to work with.
It was like trying to paint with your hands tied behind your back.”
— Melissa Zink
Your Magic Suitcase
One reason this quote resonates with me is that I’ve had a theory for years about enchanted suitcases. You see, I think every one of us is walking around with a suitcase full of potent magic inside us.
And in your Magic Suitcase lies your most original novel, your most transcendent painting series, or your most poignant opera or play.
However, it seems our Magic Suitcases remain stubbornly locked until we wake up the sleeping genie snoring away within them.
This genie has been dozing off for decades. He’s been waiting to be let out. He wants to earn his freedom by helping us bring our wildest creative dream into reality.
The Bad News About the Magic Suitcase
But the sad thing is, most of us will never have the nerve to disturb that genie. Most of us, even most of us artists and writers, won’t go ahead and access the peak creativity in that suitcase.
Why do we sabotage ourselves as creatives and not make hay out of the most twinkly aspects of our brain in this lifetime?
What the hell stops us from opening it?!
Well, I think we don’t open our Magic Suitcase because opening it requires facing our own personal Fear-O-Rama/hall of mirrors.
This Fear-O-Rama is also known as The Jonah Complex, which I’ve written about overcoming in another post here.
The Good News About Our Magic Suitcase
But our suitcase opening fear can be overcome.
And late blooming is the way.
Melissa Zink was in her forties before she barely started cracking her suitcase open.
And you know what?
Every day on this planet some ceramist in her fifties or potter in his seventies is leaping about their living room like a gazelle because they’ve finally busted that baby wide open.
How can we become living room leapers ourselves?
Why not follow Zink’s example?
Melissa Zink hit the second half of life and decided to give up on ever doing the kind of art she was supposed to do (abstract expressionism).
Instead, she got crazy-brave, threw off the approval of others, and consulted the treasure map inside her suitcase. It was only then that she began creating eccentric assemblage art powered by the magic of reading.
What Was in Zinc’s Magic Suitcase?
“The center I have been circling around and around is a private aesthetic formed from books and by books […]. That aesthetic developed from the act of reading, the memories of reading, the literal companionship of books, the enchantments of photography, typography, graphic design, paper, leather, etc. Everything I find most beautiful and moving is in some way connected to books.”
And creatively, she lived happily ever after.
(If you love books and reading, and want to be inspired, grab a copy of my favorite, Zink: The Language of Enchantment.)
My Zink-Inspired Questions For You For the Road
If so, what weird thing do you secretly long to do instead?
What do you think? Have you opened your suitcase? Opened and closed it? Let me know in the COMMENTS below!
P. S. It’s difficult to get permission to reproduce Melissa Zink’s work online. But you can see some wonderful works from the former Parks Gallery on the Art Matters blog here.
P.P. S. The Enchanted Suitcase© is the title of my upcoming super weird/genie-approved book for artists and writers. Just getting through the Fear-O-Rama myself. 🙂
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