DAY 33 - 45 HOW TO BE AN ARTIST / by Debra Matlock

Exercise: Build a Life Totem
Using any material on any surface, make or draw or render a four-foot-tall totem pole of your life. From this totem, we should be able to know something about you other than what you look like or how many siblings you have. Include anything you want: words, letters, maps, photos, objects, signs. This should take no longer than a week. After a week, it’s finished. Period. Now show it to someone who does not know you well. Tell them only, “This is a totem pole of my life till now.” That’s all. It doesn’t matter if they like it. Ask them to tell you what it means about your life. No clues. Listen to what they tell you.


Okay, so this was supposed to take me one week. I had an idea for a background- California. I’ve lived my whole life here. These are the towns I’ve known well or lived in: Newport Beach, Irvine, Saratoga, Los Angeles (Westwood, Fairfax District, Los Feliz,) Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and Hemet. As our country slips farther backward, I appreciate the fact that California could say fuck it and become its own country. California’s economic output is now surpassed only by the total GDP of the United States, China, Japan and Germany.

But then thinking more about the assignment, how do I make a totem pole of my life? Is it based on people? Parents, husband, child? But is that all I am, the people I’m related to? This project made me take a hard look at myself in the mirror and it’s like I’m a vampire, I can’t see anything.

I want to maybe do something a little Basquiat-y and have words but I’m worried it’ll end up instead like a kid’s mother’s day card where they do adjectives based on the first letters of your name.






I don’t feel any closer to being able to make this…

I watched some videos about actual totem poles. Maybe it is about people.