Essay: How I Almost Did Not Become an Artist

Artwork and words by Clara Bolle 

More by Clara Bolle here

Call it coincidence or call it faith, but somehow my short life has lead to the ‘slashie’ lifestyle: I’m an artist slash writer slash philosopher. If we look at our history – any history will do, whether it is personal or global – we think of time as something linear. As if the chaos that is life can be recycled into moments that neatly follow up into a grand event or a defining moment. My personal life, or any personal life for that matter, is not much different: a chaos of events that we try to schedule in clear cut sequences. To be honest, I don’t know which moment made me decide to become an artist. You could even argue that I became an artist by accident. What follows here are four moments from my life that somehow were relevant to me as an artist today. 

A big white carton box stands on the table. My tiny hands grab the lid to see what is in it. It’s a cake! Not just any cake, but ‘slagroomtaart’ as we call it in The Netherlands. It’s a cake made out of cream, more whipped cream, and lashings of strawberry jam. It’s the best, and even though I’m small, it’s my favorite cake (even to this day). The cake is a gift from my father’s best friend, a great painter, and even a greater human being. The painter friend is not only my father’s friend but also my friend. He shows me his studio, and I’m allowed to use his brushes, his spray paint (masks weren’t a big thing back in the day), and oil paint as if I’m a grownup. I love the smell of all the chemicals; it makes me a bit high. Most of all, I enjoy the freedom for a brief moment. 

Artwork by Clara Bolle

Fast forward to my twenties. By then, I already had a career as a caretaker for the mentally disabled and as an amateur Thai boxer. In my spare time, I read for days on end, mostly the great classics. Anything will do to satisfy my hunger for knowledge of the great world that is out there. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Thanks to the inheritance of my grandfather (who I’ve never met, unfortunately), I’m able to go to university. My first choice is philosophy. Studying philosophy means studying every academic discipline that is out there: from natural science to art history. It’s precise during this period that 

I realise that it’s not about the knowledge itself but the longing to obtain knowledge. Desire itself is what drives me to read and to write.

But philosophy, at least academic philosophy, is not enough for me to discover the world. I run into limitations in doing academic research. My brain and my hands want more than words. Of course, writing is a fine way to express yourself, and you could even argue that words are images in themselves. However, I want more tools to do research and experience something tactile, sensual. Between my bachelor’s and master’s, I decided to see if an art school would be the right fit. Fortunately, I get the chance to do a prep course. I say fortunately because at the end of the day art school and I don’t seem to be a match made in heaven. The biggest realisation for me was that I needed to become my own teacher. This proved to be a real challenge: from now on, I need to rely on myself. 

Today I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but that’s okay. Being your own teacher means setting out your own path.

– Clara Bolle

Artwork by Clara Bolle

Today I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but that’s okay. Being your own teacher means setting out your own path. Asking the right questions proved to be key. What do I need instead of what do I want? In the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a great project for the Science Gallery and our local hospital Erasmus MC together with patients. My question to the participants was: How can you experience your body outside the usual medical terms? We made paintings and poems together to celebrate this ‘new’ body. Already I gained so much insight into what fuels me as an artist, for example, how to work together, how to communicate your ideas, and, most of all, how to let go. My hope for the future is, of course, to do more work, become a better artist, but also to contribute to all those wonderful people out there who could use the spark of art. 

Editor’s comment: Peachy Magazine features both independent and established artists and creators with a story to share. Showcasing a creative, original and diverse range of artists is a core value on which Peachy Magazine is driven.