Category Archives: Meaning Making

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.

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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!

When An Artist Dies…Their Lasting Impact

It was with great sadness that I saw that contemporary artist Rex Ray died yesterday.  I was in shock and then a wave of uncertainty came into my consciousness.  I’ve been following Ray’s work for a while and always been amazed by his use of shape, color, and proportion.  His art was identifiable and I’m sure his work inspired many artists that are working today.

It got me wondering about more than just the actual works of art living on beyond the life of the artist, but his inspiration on others.  What will be his legacy?  I know that he not only was a great artist, but lent his work to good causes in the community.  His impact goes far beyond the world of art.  As an artist, what will be left behind besides your physical works of art?

I know for me I love making art.  I feel compelled to create art and it’s more than just the physical piece you get to see, but for me it’s about the process.  I try and share my process about art making because I believe it’s more than about art, but about living.  For this reason I believe the PBS series “ART:21” was so important.  Watching an artist be interviewed while creating work inspired the body, mind, and spirit.  It gives the viewer a deeper understanding of more than just the art.  It provides each and every person a context for the work.  It allows us to share, what is often, a secret part of the artist’s life.  It’s a representation of the artist’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

The world is a crazy place physically, economically, socially, financially, and spiritually.  Art such as Ray’s gives us perspective about the world in which we live.  He provides an escape as well as an explanation.  His legacy on the world goes far beyond the colorful works he created.  His legacy is about how he lived and how he participated in our physical world!

Who Do You Create For?

Ever listen to people talk about their dream jobs? Were you surprised to hear people say that they would do what they’re doing even if they weren’t being paid? I assume these individuals are talking about passion. It’s the need, desire, and connection to expressing oneself through one’s actions. The amazing thing is that many of the creative people I know do just that; create because it’s a release, an expression of their soul, and brings their body, mind, and spirit in alignment.

When you paint, sing, sculpt, write, or create in some other medium whom are you creating for? Are you creating with the intent of sharing it with the world?   Is it important that the world see your creation? Is it the process of creating that’s most important? As you can see I have plenty of questions and want to explore the importance of creating for healing.

Cyril Connolly stated, “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” When I first read this quote it struck a chord. The journal process is popular because it gives each of us an outlet for our thoughts and creativity. It provides a safe space to tell a story, your story.

If you’ve ever done Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way she talks about writing “morning pages”. These pages are a way to clear your consciousness for the day leaving you open to what presents itself. Her recommendation is not to read what you’ve written. It is a clearing exercise, not a creativity exercise.

Our creativity provides our spirit with a voice. It allows us to sort out our conflicts, soothe our anxieties, and clear a path for opportunity to present itself. Our creativity expands our soul’s ability to expand. It’s like taking a huge breath filling your lungs with clean air; you feel invigorated.

Don’t sacrifice your “self”. Create even if no one ever sees it because the only person who needs to see it and experience it is you!!

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Selfies for Creatives…Ahead of the Curve

One of the cultural changes resulting from smart phones and social media is the selfie. The selfie is prevalent that one of the major television networks has a show titled Selfies beginning this season. The selfie in many cases has gone viral as when Ellen hosted the Academy Awards in 2014 and squeezed as many A-List stars into one selfie that was tweeted countless times. Do we really have a need to take that many pictures of ourselves?

The idea of taking pictures of oneself to be seen isn’t foreign to anyone who has a creative bone in their body. Creatives have been taking or making selfies since the beginning of time; it’s called art. Sculptors, painters, dancers, songwriters, visual artist, digital artists, muralists, and doodlers all know that what we create is an expression of ourselves. It’s an honest view of our inner and outer world that we want to share. Imagine taking a photo of one of your doodles and sending it out on twitter as a thought you want to share, would it confuse people or would they know it’s you?

I love the notion that creative people invented the non-photo selfie. I believe it’s one more way that we as creative beings can express who we are and what we’re experiencing. It isn’t corny. It’s an honest representation of our humanity and that’s why art is healing. It gives us the opportunity to express ourselves honestly and from a place deeper than any selfie taken with a camera on your phone.

Allow yourself to create and share. We all want to know what you’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing. When we share our art/selfie we share ourselves and that builds community. It’s allows our story to reach places we never thought we could. Technology allows us to share our creative/life journey with like minded people and that’s healing!

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Taking It to the Streets

We often think about seeing art in a museum, gallery, or studio space. The truth is that art is everywhere. You can find original art in restaurants, hair salons, and hospitals. Culturally we’re beginning to see art become a part of our collective consciousness because it impacts our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives.

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I recently had the experience to work in the NY/NJ area and found myself in New York City f or a couple of sightseeing opportunities. I saw these few large black structures in the street. As I got closer I realized these weren’t structures, but art pieces. Upon closer examination I saw these pieces were made of rubber. I believe they are recycled tires that have been transformed into something beautiful. It’s that shift from functional to something beautiful. Even a tire can have a second life and that’s what art does for us; it gives us a new life!

The furniture world is jumping on the bandwagon with complete lines of furniture with “reclaimed” wood. People who are building or remodeling homes are looking for “reclaimed” lumber. There are even art exhibitions where the theme is “recycled” materials. This punctuates the idea that everything old can be new again!

We’ve told throughout the ages that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Art allows us to create, invent, repurpose, and make beautiful anything and everything we come in contact with. When we create we give meaning to the materials we use. We utilize these materials to tell our story and then share that story with the world.

Look for art wherever you go. Make art out of “unconventional” materials. Change the idea of something being “unconventional” to being innovative. Expand your create palette by taking it to the streets or other places where you can tell your story!

Keeping Your Art Honest

We read fairy tales because they sweep us off our feet. They take us on a journey and we join in whole heartedly experiencing every twist and turn the main character takes till he/she lives happily ever after. The authors of these stories create a fantasy, but are the stories honest? Are they representations of the life they are living or creating a life they would like to live?

Art as a healing modality can benefit from brutal honesty and a bit of fantasy. The brutal honest means that your art is true, a representation of the life you’re living. It doesn’t matter if it’s “pretty” as long as it’s real. George Orwell shared, “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.” Our art is our autobiography, are you willing to share the good, the bad, and the ugly?

I’ve been studying the art of autobiography for some time now and I’m continually amazed at the revelations shared by people. There is an energy of renewal when you read, view, hear someone’s story and experience how these people overcame life’s interruptions. When you’re honest in your art you give yourself the gift of freedom. There is no shame, no hiding, and no judgment. Your story can’t be denied!

Art allows you to expose yourself without getting arrested. You can show your true self and that allows others to follow your journey. We are all artists because we’re all storytellers. Our lives are meant to be shared; how we share it is up to us. We create because we’re all strands in life’s tapestry. It’s imperative to tell your story honestly because without your strand in the tapestry the world would be incomplete.

Keeping your art honest creates a natural flow. When you’re creating art as a reflection of your life story there is an ease since you don’t have to make it up. I think George Orwell is right; making art that is honest/trusted means showing not only the persona of who we think others want us to be, but who we really are walking in this world!

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Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2