Category Archives: Art and Healing

Is Not Succeeding the Same as Failing?

I recently organized by studio and believe it or not I threw away some pieces that I didn’t feel were worthy of salvaging.  These works were lackluster and weren’t worth the investment of time and effort to save.  As I watched them disappear into the bin I didn’t have any sense of loss or disenchantment because although these pieces weren’t masterpieces.  I learned something about myself and my creative voice by attempting them.

The piece I’m posting was my most recent attempt at creating small works for experimentation and education (education of my soul and artistic ability).  I had created some works in the past that were simply cut outs of fabric placed on a batting and a backing.  I followed the old recipe and as I began quilting the piece, but the components started to shift and fall off the quilt.  I became increasingly frustrated by this less than perfect creation, and finally decided to stop.

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I took the piece out from under the needle and assessed the errors of my ways.  What I came to realize is that I needed to secure the small pieces of fabric down on the base so I would have a sturdy foundation when it what time to quilt.  I made a commitment to taking a little more time in the preparation so I would have success when I went to finish the art.

This small adjustment made a huge difference in my attitude toward making small works as well as the increased completion rate of the work.  I don’t feel that the piece was a failure.  I made some wrong decisions and what’s most important is I learned.  The learning process is what propels me forward in my creative endeavors.  It also gives me the motivation whenever I reach an impasse in life to see what I could do better next time the situation arises using this information.

I think this is especially important when discovering ways of easing our anxiety, lifting depression, or reducing physical pain.  If we only try one avenue of healing and it doesn’t work we think we’ve failed instead of it failing.  If we assess what didn’t work with this method, then we can look at the alternatives, make new selections, and discover better options that fit our life and our situation.

We’re resilient beings!  I hope you’ll look at what’s not working for you today and then ask yourself what else is available that will improve your quality of life!

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I Zigged When I Should Have Zagged

I mentioned in my previous post that I spend a number of years traveling the country for work.  I drove to each location so I spent a lot of time on our nation’s highways and byways. I always wondered why is it that there’s so much space available in the air and yet the bugs and in my case a bird found my windshield.  I was driving home from Nashville when a partridge flew into my windshield while driving 70mph.  It shouldn’t be surprise that it shattered the windshield.

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Why am I telling you about my windshield mishap?  I’m wonder about the choices we make on a daily basis.  When I was working on this piece of art, I reflected on all the times I went in one direction when my intuition told me I should go in another direction.  I’m beginning to focus on interpreting the ideas, thoughts, and feelings that rise during my meditation.

Creating work is a reflection of our stories.  It allows us to explore what’s important to us.  It gives us the opportunity to play with the creative expression of our emotions promoting self- expression and an outlet for negativity while celebrating what’s positive in our lives.

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I’m currently enrolled in a graduate certificate program in Health Humanities and Bioethics.  I’ve been combining my mental health background, work in health and healing, and art to tell stories that reflect my personal experiences and as a means of social justice.

We all have something that gets our attention, makes us think, and hopefully gets us to act.  As creatives, we don’t have to march or picket.  We have the ability to create poems like those by Nikki Giovanni that get the attention of the nation.  We can create paintings like Keith Haring chronicling the AIDS crisis.  We can watch movies like Hairspray that shines a light on segregation in our country (something very relevant given the energy in the country).

It’s time that we pay attention to our own energy and follow its lead.  We all have those whispers giving us direction and when we don’t follow their lead we veer off in the wrong direction.  What would your creative life look like if you zagged when that’s the direction of your energy?  Don’t you think it would turn up the volume on your voice if you followed your creative intuition and energy?

Give it a try and let me know what shifts you’re making in your personal storytelling.  Don’t forget to zig when you zig and zag when you zag!

Crossing Paths

Things can change in a minute as life teaches us each and every day.  I took some fabric that I was going to use as a backing for a mini-quilt.  I proceeded to cut up scraps of fabric and when I put the quilt sandwich together, I flipped the fabric and what was the back became the front.  It’s this type of extemporaneous creating that adds to the creative experience.

The piece I created was originally titled vectors.  I like to name my pieces, but sometimes the work yells that it’s got the wrong name and I need to reconsider both the intention and design.  I went from calling the piece vectors to crossing paths.  The piece was a visual representation of what is coming up in my meditations.

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We just finished a year and it’s usually a good time to reflect on what transpired in our lives.  I thought back to when I had traveled for work and was away from home four to six months at a time.  I lived in various parts of the country, urban and rural areas, highly affluent and socioeconomically challenged communities.  I learned something from each person I had the pleasure of meeting at these diverse locations.

What did I learn?  I learned that small town living is intimate while at the same time being a bit enmeshed.  I learned that economically challenged communities are always looking for new ways of reinvigorating their communities while trying to provide opportunities for those who live locally.  I learned that the foods in western Texas are very different from the foods in northwest Pennsylvania.  What I learned first and foremost is that people are people.  All we want is to be included, heard, and seen.

I wanted to show that we never know who will cross our paths and we definitely don’t know the impact they will have on our lives.  Who has crossed your path that had an impact on your life?  How are you expressing that creatively?  Perhaps you’re writing a story. Maybe you remember a song that played on the radio while you visited a particular location and every time you hear the song memories of that place rise to the surface.

Working in oncology services I met many people who commemorated their last chemo with a celebration, a work of art, and written words.  People and experiences will continually cross our path trying to get our attention and teach us something that will propel our lives forward.

What has crossed your path?  How did you mark that experience?

Capturing a Moment

I read a lot of medical journals and research statistics about what the world will be like, medically, in the coming years.  Lots of people I know are posting about the health and illness of family and friends and that gets me thinking about the future.  The statistics in the United States regarding dementia are staggering with no cure arriving in the immediate future.  I remember sitting in the movie theater watching Julianne Moore in Still Alice and astonished at the course of her illness.

There is a lot written about the impact the arts can have on those with memory deficiencies.  A song can trigger a memory.  When someone smells a scent from their childhood they reflect on those memories and stories giving their loved ones a glimpse of the individual’s world and allowing the family an opportunity to recapture a moment in time of their loved one.

I decided to follow my own advice and go to my studio to capture a moment.  One of my favorite experiences, in my life, was a trip to Japan back in 1990.  I spent ten days visiting Kyoto, Nara, and Mt. Koya.  It was a magical trip and drew me in deeper to my love of Asian culture.  It shouldn’t be a surprise given that information that I went to my studio and pulled out a drawer of fabric filled with Asian inspired fabric.

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Since that inspirational trip, I’ve developed an ongoing love of the Japanese people, their food, and their culture.  One of the most memorable experiences I had was visiting the Zen rock gardens across the country.  I’ve created a body of work where I the quilting follows the Zen rock garden designs.  They are meditative pieces and I often use them in presentations because participants can do a finger meditation directly on the work.

I went to the studio today with the idea of capturing another memory that I can use as catalyst of the mental file folder I have of Japan.  Every time I look at this piece it will take me back to an earlier time.  It honors a culture that has taught me many valuable lessons.  The work was a meditative experience in and of itself, providing me with studio time to be reflective emotionally and spiritually.

What moments do you want to capture?  Is there a song, a poem, a photograph that sparks a memory?  How do you use your creative energy to share your life stories?  Remember, every creative venture leaves a legacy!

A Blank Canvas

A new year, a new you…of that’s what you desire.  The one thing I know about creativity is its incredible ability to transform our lives.  It allows us to tell our story creating the pieces to the human quilt.  Creative energy provides us with the momentum we need to create a life that evolves and can be crafted with deeper understanding and meaning.

I’ve been fortunate to enroll in a graduate certificate program in Health Humanities and Bioethics.  The class is a mix of health and allied health professionals all focused on one goal; how to incorporate the humanities in medicine.  I’ve been a huge proponent of art and medicine for years.  I’ve utilized my own artistic practices to reflect my own health challenges and the stories of those I’ve interviewed.

The professor for the class I just finished allowed us to do something creative for our final project.  I created four new art pieces and combined that with eight pieces in my personal collection and paired those twelve pieces with poetry reflecting the sentiments of the art.  I curated the show in a round room so classmates could stand in the center of the work and absorb the gravity of the subjects I tackled in the art.

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The experience was overwhelming.  The work had an even greater impact than I expected.  As health professionals, each class member related stories from their own professional lives punctuating the exhibition.  If that weren’t enough, one of my classmates wrote a song for her final project.  The song debuted while everyone was standing in the middle of my art.  The synergy of our two projects was spectacular.

When we combine our creative energies, we can build upon each other’s stories.  The songwriter approached me after the presentation about doing a collaboration in the future.  The idea of combining visual art, poetry, and music speaks to the impact art can have in healthcare.

My hope this year is to take you on a journey giving you the opportunity to explore your creative side and meaning making.  Our creative storytelling can deepen our connection to one another easing tensions inter-personally and in society.  Let’s take this journey together and see how we can transform the world.

If Acceptance is Your Goal…It’s Time to Reevaluate

I’ve been hanging around artists for a long time.  I go to art galleries, museums, and artists’ studios.  I belong to an art guild, buy art magazines, and subscribe to a number of artist sites on social media.  I’m drawn in by the artist’s narrative.  I would love to spend time in art studios just observing the process.  I get to do that when I watch the series Art 21, but in person would be better.

Listening to artists who are caught up in notoriety leads many to make things that are “pretty”.  They are visually appealing and if that’s how you define success, then you’re successful.  The problem for many creative beings is that they became artists because there was a calling.  There was a moment in time when there was a knock on the door and they decided to answer.

I’m always intrigued by installation art because it’s a huge mystery to me.  It took me a long time to realize that installation artists depend on commissions to make a living.  Installation artists embody a quality that many other artists don’t experience, freedom!  There is a freedom to tell a story.  They aren’t concerned about whether or not the work will fit in someone’s dining room.  The Mattress Factory, an art museum in Pittsburgh is devoted to installation art.  They provide the artist with space to create, and a place to live while working on the installation.  They are given the freedom to create with a sense of purpose, honesty, and authenticity.

We live in a world full of judgments.  Feeling judged is a way of herding creative beings to a place of safety.  Some artists create in a place of safety because the world can be harsh and they haven’t developed a tough skin to brave what comes at them.  Acceptance is a tricky thing because it makes us prey to the valuation placed on us by others.  I understand that if someone is going to make a living creating art the work has to be marketable, but if it’s not about the artist’s truth is it worth the sacrifice?

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Michelangelo, Crouching Boy

If freedom is the goal then the artist can create from the soul.  They can tell stories that need to be told.  As artists, we’re social commentators.  We have a platform the expose cultural inequities, historical mishaps, and question authority.  We can create work that challenges cultural norms and provides a haven for people to explore their inner worlds.

Striving for acceptance and sacrificing freedom eventually is a stifling force.  It will in time stifle creativity.  Open yourself up to freedom and see what rises to the surface.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Life is a Mystery

It’s amazing how life can change like the wind. Those facing challenges whether it be health, or some other life-altering event learn quickly that savoring the moment is critical because the next moment may not be as serene. I’ve been looking at how artists share their journey of health and healing for the past ten years and every time I come across a new artist I’m increasingly inspired to share their stories of hope, resilience, and narrative.

The first artist who peaked my interest at the beginning of my journey was Hollis Sigler. Sigler was a painter who after being diagnosed with breast cancer began creating work depicting her journey. Unfortunately Sigler died in 2001 but she left us with Hollis Sigler’s Breast Cancer Journal. She is honest in her depiction of living with breast cancer.   She knows the cancer story from two sides, the caregiver and the patient. Hollis’ mother died of breast cancer. In her painting Some Days You Feel So Alive shares a moment in time when she’s feeling great. She’s experience a personal vibrancy evidenced by the colors in her work.

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I couple this with Anya Silver’s Leaving the Hospital. Silver also a breast cancer survivor is living with metastatic disease. Her self-reflection is inspiring and honest. I was struck by words in the poem like undimmed and withered, very visual terms.

Leaving the Hospital

Anya Silver

As the doors glide shut behind me,

the world flares back into being—

I exist again, recover myself,

sunlight undimmed by dark panes,

the heat on my arms the earth’s breath.

The wind tongues me to my feet

like a doe licking clean her newborn fawn.

At my back, days measured by vital signs,

my mouth opened and arm extended,

the nighttime cries of a man withered

child-size by cancer, and the bells

of emptied IVs tolling through hallways.

Before me, life—mysterious, ordinary—

holding off pain with its muscular wings.

As I step to the curb, an orange moth

dives into the basket of roses

that lately stood on my sickroom table,

and the petals yield to its persistent

nudge, opening manifold and golden.

Poem copyright ©2011 by Anya Silver, whose most recent book of poetry is The Ninety-Third Name of God, Louisiana State University Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from the New Ohio Review, No. 9, Spring, 2011, by permission of Anya Silver and the publisher.

As I continue searching for creative narratives, I’m acutely aware of the stories I hear daily about challenging episodes in the lives of friends and family. If you’re watching the news today you know that Hurricane Maria is ravaging Puerto Rico and Mexico is suffering the aftermath of a 7.1 earthquake. What was status quo yesterday has been turned upside down. Those whose lives were “normal” are now uncertain.

So I am learning that what I know today is only for today. I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, but I do know I have to keep telling my story. In addition, I’m compelled to keep telling the story of others because all our voices create a human quilt providing comfort, care, and showing that we all have lives worthy of a story.

I Have to Tell My Story

I’ve currently enrolled in a graduate certificate in Health Humanities and Bioethics.  The students in the class are from all areas of healthcare: physicians, medical students, physical therapists, nurses and nurse educators, and me a visual anthropologist.  Our class this week focused on “the gaze”, the way we view the medical community and their interaction with their patients.  We read works by William Carlos Williams retelling his account with a child who was suspected of having diphtheria.  The conversation switched to the visual of medicine; paintings capturing doctors performing autopsies, and then paintings showing doctors caring for their patients.

Williams has written many books of poetry focusing on his experience as a physician.  He captures the struggles he experienced being a physician, and simultaneously flipping to express the perceived experience of the patient.  He’s honest in his accounts, not trying to sugar coat the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a physician.

We moved on to other depictions of illness and disease and on the screen, was a self-portrait done by Frida Kahlo.  Kahlo had polio as a child.  She then was involved in a very bad accident and was bedridden for a long period of time.  It was during that time that her parents put a mirror under the canopy of her bed so she could see herself.  It was during this time that she drew/painted many self-portraits.  Throughout her life she was her most prominent subject.  Her honesty shows us her determination to tell her own story with truth by painting in-you-face self-portraits.

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Kahlo’s work punctuates the desire, even need to tell one’s story.  She shared her life and a visual autobiography.  Her paintings showed what’s possible following a life challenge by depicting strength and vulnerability.  It’s clear that she was motivated internally to get her message out to the public.  Her works are an inspiration to those who are facing life altering events.

What do you need to tell us?  How will you use your internal creative instincts to share your truth, the story of your life?  View some of Kahlo’s work and see what moves you and works you.  It’s an interesting way to see what serves as a catalyst for telling your life story.

New Outlook…Same Message

It has been a couple of years since my last post. Let me assure you it’s not because I abandoned the message, but I’ve been taking a deep dive about the impact of the message on my life. I’ve had the opportunity to visit new venues, talk with more artists, and see how all of the stories integrate into a cultural quilt.

I’m always intrigued at the different voice each museum creates for its patrons, community, and visitors. Phoenix had an exhibit of a contemporary Native American artist. El Paso had an exhibition of contemporary Mexican artists, along with a special exhibition of Diego Rivera’s cubist work. At home, the Denver Art Museum has a Western Art exhibition featuring not only art and sculpture, but also western films from a bygone era.

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“American Portrait with One Eye” by Fritz Scholder

It’s not only people that have a voice and story, but locations tell stories. Have you ever been to Muir Woods in California? The groves of redwood trees tell a story of time and perseverance. The red rocks of Utah display a majestic landscape that no man could have ever created or even imagined. It’s these stories that draw us to interact with our environment and incorporate into our own narrative.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel over the past few months and came home not only with wonderful new friends, but memories that will last a lifetime. How do I know this? I created a piece of art for an exhibition of one of The Church of Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg Russia. The piece is infused with the memories from the trip, but also its impact on my own story. It is a forever piece!

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Bling it On…Church of Spilled Blood”, “75”Exhibition

In the coming days I’ll be exploring arts impact on individuals, communities, and societies. I’ll be sharing research, interviews, and articles I find along the way that hopefully will expand our vision of art on narrative and narrative on art.

Every work of art is like a cell in the body. It has a critical role to play in the story of our current and past history while shaping our future. Art and narrative skip along the pathway to exploring how we live our lives. It provides us with comfort. It allows us to scream without words. It broadens our understanding or our own lives.

I hope you’ll join me for this exploration. I encourage you to start dialogues either through words or other mediums. We must keep the conversation moving forward.

Are Artists Ministers of Truth?

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in a Harry Potter movie and play the role of the “Minister of Magic”? The position may not exist in any country on the planet, but as artists we certainly are Ministers of Magic. Let’s take it one step further; we are also Ministers of Truth.

One of the things I admire most about artists is that they shed any pretext or persona when creating and create from a place of purity. The artist’s studio aka the sanctuary is a place where there is no judgment, no penalties for getting something wrong, and fosters a place of growth and expansion of consciousness.

You would be able to tell is an artist was lying or exaggerating the truth when creating about a subject because the work wouldn’t/doesn’t feel authentic. The work takes on a shroud dulling the true nature of the work. When an artist creates from their place of truth you see into their soul and you get a glimpse of who they “really” are walking this world.

It may be difficult for those who don’t knowing live creative lives because it seems like a far-fetched scenario. I know from my own experience that when I create something that isn’t me it looks sloppy, off kilter, and not representative of my nature, personality or spirit. I believe that my truth is based on the story I live each and every day of my life. My experiences are cataloged in my soul and ready to be retrieved to explore with a simple desire to revisit that part of my world.

As Ministers of Truth we have an obligation to our creative spirit, and those who interact with our work to be above board about our stories. We have a duty to uphold our truth so that our messages are clear and unobstructed so they can reach far. It may seem like a big responsibility, but in reality it’s just our lives and we should cherish every creative moment!