In honor of Pride, we’re chatting with a queer member of our teaching community each week this June.
These conversations are a way to honor the artists and their art. After all, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” And yet, these conversations also revealed a new thread: again and again, we heard that being part of a community has been a crucial step to creative self-expression.
And so, in the spirit of both individualism and community, of celebrating empathy and expression, we’re excited to share these conversations — and curated resources for the queer creative community — with you.
Marie-Noëlle Wurm describes her life as a navigation of the “in-between.” She’s French, American, and German. She’s bilingual. She can pass as being a native of France or the U.S. “That’s often confusing for people — that and the fact that I can’t quite answer the question where are you from?” she shares.
She’s also bisexual, an identity she says is often difficult for people to wrap their heads around, especially when they learn she’s in a monogamous relationship.
The truth, of course, is that easy categories to define identity fail to capture our whole selves. As Marie-Noëlle explains: “Sexuality is a spectrum, and I lie somewhere in the middle — a grey zone full of complexity and nuance.”
It’s this complexity and nuance that defines her creative career, too. An artist and illustrator whose credentials include degrees in biology, film, and puppet theatre, she loves to explore the liminal spaces, the areas in between the figurative and the abstract, the grey zones that defy labels and beg curiosity. It may come as no surprise, then, that her Skillshare Staff Pick explores two approaches to painting abstract watercolors: one intuitive, improvisational method and another process that requires methodical planning.
We sat down with Marie-Noëlle to hear more about her story, and how in-betweenness, curiosity, and self-compassion has made her the artist she is today.
You identify as “in-between” in many ways. How is this reflected in your artwork?
I’m most comfortable in those spaces where complexity is embraced, where you can be one thing and another, and neither, all at the same time. Those are the spaces that I’ve always navigated, where my truth lies.
I’m fascinated by how we’re connected to the natural world and also to an infinite richness within us. Lingering in the semi-abstract, between shapes that we can identify and those that we infuse with personal meaning — those spaces are lush and powerful, full of symbols, stories, truth.
That’s why I work in between the real and the imaginary, the figurative and the abstract, the rational and the intuitive, the conscious and the subconscious. I’m fascinated by how and where these seemingly opposing concepts can intersect. It’s why the negative space in my artwork is as important to me as the positive space — there is equilibrium, truth found in the boundary between the two.
My art is delicate and dreamlike and sometimes, a little dark. Darkness and “negative” emotions are inherently part of what it means to be human — but rather than shun them, I believe it’s important to integrate them. Shining a light on our darkest corners is what allows us to transcend the darkness, to grow, to keep coming home to ourselves.
In-betweenness and complexity forces people to be curious, rather than to make assumptions. Why is curiosity so important to the creative process — and life in general? How has curiosity shaped your life and artwork?
I love that about the in-between, that it poses more questions than it gives answers. It challenges assumptions and puts us in the beautiful and vulnerable place of not-knowing. It’s a vast expansive space where questions lead to ever greater depths and nuance.
I honestly believe that curiosity is one of the things that saved my life, in more ways than one. I had a really traumatic upbringing, and one of the ways that I escaped the difficulties of what I was dealing with was through books. It was astounding to me that words could bring you to so many different places. Each book was like a doorway into another world, another perspective, and each book I read made me that much more curious to see what else existed, what other new things I might be able to discover.
Curiosity is what fueled me to find a different path forward. It’s what helped me be less afraid to try new things; it’s what fueled me to sign up for painting classes even though I was plagued with self-doubt and thought I had no artistic talent. It’s what helped me continue growing my art. It’s what led me to finding ways of countering the critical chatter, and replacing it with love and self-compassion.
Curiosity is one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings — it allows us to throw our arms open to greater understanding, greater compassion, greater healing.
“I’m most comfortable in those spaces where complexity is embraced, where you can be one thing and another, and neither, all at the same time.”
In your Skillshare classes, you talk about overcoming self-doubt and self-criticism. What are some of the ways you’ve done this in your art and life?
I think there are two components that are central to overcoming self-doubt and self-criticism: One is reconnecting with our sense of play. Play is connected to freedom, to pushing our boundaries, to exploring, and to pure unadulterated joy. It’s one of our greatest teachers, but a lot of us lose that sense of play as we get older. I find it so important to remind ourselves that when we create we’re allowed to make mistakes — and not only that, but that we can learn to love mistakes, because they bring us to new places, force us to find new creative ways of working with them, and help us grow out of our comfort zones.
The second component is the cultivation of self-compassion. Often, when we struggle to connect with our inner playfulness, it’s also because we struggle with self-compassion. Criticism and self-doubt can make us lose sight of our greater goals and aspirations.
One of the things that’s helped me was imagining that my inner critic is a small child repeating that criticism to herself: that their drawing is terrible, that they suck, that they’ll never be able to make anything beautiful. If a child said that about themselves and what they created, what would you say to them? You would be loving and reassuring and would likely ask if they wanted to try again. Imagining the self-critic as someone else really helped me find new ways of talking to myself and approaching art.
With most of us sheltering in place, we are losing the physical connection and celebration of Pride month — what does that loss mean? How are you finding your community during this time?
Personally, I’ve found it difficult to not see my friends face-to-face. So instead, we call, chat, have Netflix parties — and though it doesn’t compare to in-person interactions, it’s been a huge help in keeping me grounded and connected. My online communities on Instagram, Skillshare, and Patreon have also been really important.
In terms of Pride month, it’s tough for me to talk about what its loss means for me, because although I’m bisexual and have always identified with the LGBTQ+ community, I haven’t inhabited the community very intensely. Probably because I’ve been lucky enough, privileged enough, to not need to. My partner is cis male, so I pass as heterosexual. That’s a privilege that is not lost on me. I’m also a white person in a society that is systemically racist against BIPOC. That’s also a privilege that is not lost on me. I do think it’s important to remember that the LGTBQ+ rights we gained over the past 50 years were started by incredibly brave trans people of color, whose history is often overlooked. It’s important to remember them, to honor them.
Over the years, I’ve found my sense of community through the personal connections I’ve built: my close friends and my chosen family. I surround myself with people who share my values, who are open-minded and inquisitive and, most of all, who are loving.
So I think that Pride month is incredibly important because it’s only through speaking our truths that acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ+ people can happen. The more the LGBTQ+ community is seen and heard, in all its shades and varieties and nuances, the more we create a world where complexity can be cherished for the beauty it holds.
In collaboration with our featured artists, we’ve curated a list of online resources and content for the queer creative community. Explore their recommendations here.
You can join Marie-Noëlle LIVE this month on June 28 in joyful and celebratory class about the power of using who you are — whoever that may be — in your work and letting vulnerability shine in your art. Skillshare Premium Members are invited to register for Creating Your Identity – Live with Marie-Noëlle Wurm.