A truck was approaching, and I recognized some art work on the side and smiled. I thought back to the first day of class a couple of years earlier. The students were introducing themselves. When we got to Wyatt, his introduction was unique.
“I am a graffiti artist,” he said.
“Not like the graffiti on buildings and trains, though, right?” I asked.
“Well,” he said slowly, “yes and no.”
By this time the whole class was curious.
“Would you like to expound on that, Wyatt?” I asked.
“When I was a teenager,” he said, “I started out painting train cars with some friends. My friends soon tired of it. But for me, there was an adrenaline rush trying not to get caught. In addition, I found I was good at it. I must admit that I felt proud when I was out driving by my creations with someone and heard them say it was awesome artwork, even as they talked about how wrong it was for someone to do it. And I hated not being able to tell them it was my work.”
“Did you ever get caught?” another student asked.
Wyatt shook his head. “I came close a few times. One night I’m sure the police knew they had me cornered, but they couldn’t find me. It was winter, and I stayed hidden all night. They stayed until the next morning but finally left. I nearly froze to death.”
“Obviously something must have changed,” I said, “or you wouldn’t be telling us this.”
Wyatt nodded. “I had been doing it for around four years when one evening I was out with a girl, and she asked me what I did. When I told her I painted graffiti, she said that was awesome. I had the strangest feeling come over me as I thought, ‘I don’t want to date someone who thinks it’s awesome to break the law.’ Then I realized I was the person breaking the law, and that was worse. I decided I needed to change my ways.”
Wyatt said he went to his church leader and explained to him what he had been doing and that he wanted to change.
“The problem is,” Wyatt told his church leader, “I love doing it.”
“Do you love it because of the excitement of doing something wrong, or because it is a creative outlet?” the church leader asked.
Wyatt thought about it and realized there was a little bit of excitement, but that was getting old. It was more the creativity.
“Creativity is a part of human nature,” the church leader said. “You need to take care of the illegal things you have done, but you also need to find another creative outlet.”
Wyatt turned himself in and was sentenced to hours of community service, much of it scrubbing off graffiti or painting over it. But he couldn’t find a creative outlet and could feel the desire to create growing within him. Then one day he heard a business owner talking to a customer.
“We need to paint our shop,” she said, “but I wish I could get someone to paint a logo or picture or something instead of just a boring paint job.”
Wyatt had an idea. By promising to paint over it at his own expense if the owner didn’t like it, he talked her into allowing him to paint a logo in a graffiti style on the building. The evening he started to paint, the police arrested him. He had to get the business owner to explain their agreement before he was released. Wyatt bought a suit to paint in after that so he looked professional. Graffiti art is something that takes some getting used to, and at first, the owner wasn’t sure she liked it. But she got so many compliments that she kept it and grew to love it.
Soon job offers poured in. He even painted cars, pickups, and trucks. He had a waiting list for months of work. He said he even checked with the art department to see if it was possible to major in graffiti art. They had never even considered it before, yet Wyatt ended up making a good living at it while going to school.
As the truck whizzed by me, my thoughts returned to the present, and I smiled and said, “Nice work, Wyatt.”