When I look at a painting, hear a song, or watch a play, my mind strays to think about the process that the creator took to develop the piece. Within the hidden world of artists, I wonder how exactly do they tick and what makes me similar or different from them. Do they have the entire idea formulated before placing one stroke on the canvas or is their work more spontaneous? Do they write lyrics before the melody or are they written simultaneously? Do actors become the character they are pretending to be, or are the characters just their real selves with specific lines to say? Some of my favorite books like I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater grapple with these ideas and helped me gain more clarity about myself as a struggling artist. I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borten de Trevino, winner of the 1966 Newbery Medal similarly exposes the hidden world of artists and their motivations.
I, Juan de Pareja is set in early seventeenth century Spain and tells the true story of Juan de Pareja, a slave owned by painter Diego Velázquez. Juan shares an insider's look into his master's workshop and artistic process as he narrates his varied experiences with his master. While Velázquez is portrayed as a kindly, indulgent master, Juan is forbidden his heart's desire. He is forbidden by law to paint, to bring the images in his head to life. However, Juan cannot control his craving for self-expression and steals away to scribble. His conscience is racked with good Christian guilt at his transgressions and he yearns for forgiveness. Throughout his years of service to his master, he earns the right to create - a right which should never be taken away from any human being, even when repressive governments are threatened by free thought and artistic expression. This novel taps into the essence of what it means to be free. When we are truly free, we have the ability to express our thoughts - to paint, write, sing, act. But when we are enslaved - either externally or internally - we are blocked and cannot create. From Juan de Pareja's example, we learn that art can not only create beauty, it can set us free.