The picture above is me under the Christmas tree in 1953. I was four and a half and I remember that cowgirl outfit vividly. It was exactly what I wanted for Christmas and I was perfectly happy. I wanted that outfit because my sense of myself at that time was that I WAS a cowgirl--not that I wanted to be one when I grew up. I WAS a cowgirl and this perfect present completed me. As you might imagine, horses played a very large role in this sense of myself. My grandfather Warner raised horses and I spent many hours in the stables, helping to feed the horses, polishing harness, watching the blacksmith, and petting the wonderful giants whenever I could. These were harness racing horses, not broken to the saddle, but it didn't matter to me. Just being close to them was enough. I loved to go to the movies to see Roy Rogers. I drew horses and my imaginative play always involved riding a horse very fast across a Western landscape. Being a cowgirl informed everything I did. As I got older, my sense of self altered, but I hung onto my love of horses and riding. By about age ten, I WAS an actress.
According to a LearnNet tutorial on sense of self, we define our sense of self with a combination of associations: occupation (I'm a librarian.), social relationships (I'm a married woman.), familial relationships (I'm a mother, a sister, and a daughter.), avocations (I'm a quilter.), affiliations (I'm a Democrat.), abilities or disabilities (I'm a smart person.), salient attributes (I'm hard-working.) As adults, we wear lots of hats and that sense of self often isn't as strong because it's more fragmented. Maybe this is why I have trouble saying, "I am an artist." Seeing that picture of my four-year-old self suddenly brought the intensity, the passion, the singleness of focus of those days back to me. I'm going to put this picture in my studio as an inspiration and a prism through which to view my sense of self as an artist.