Category Archives: Storytelling

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.

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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.

The Medical Community Taking the Lead in the Arts

I spend a lot of time at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. When I was writing my dissertation it felt like I lived in the library. The school is home to a medical school, nursing school, pharmacy school, and dental school. In addition they have programs in various sciences and public health. One of the school’s attributes is their incorporation of the arts in medicine. They believe, quite strongly, that the arts will enhance the education of their students, professors, and providers.

The school offers a minor for undergraduates in Medical Humanities. The healthcare schools offer a course in Arts and Medicine. There are weekly lectures by faculty members and community experts on the issues surrounding art and healthcare.

One of the outcomes of the Arts in Medicine program is the annual public of The Human Touch. It’s an anthology of poetry, prose, and visual art related to the individual’s experience of being a medical provider. The program and the resulting anthology gives providers and students an outlet for the emotional experiences they witness daily. In addition, it gives the students, who may be seeing things they never thought imaginable, a place to debrief through artistic expression.

These students, faculty, and providers aren’t looking to become “working artists”. They are incorporating art into their lives to relieve stress, explore the impact their studies/work have on their psyche, and provides the world with a peak into their healthcare journey.

It gets me thinking about the possibilities of expanding this concept beyond the medical community. What if big corporations had a program that created this type of anthology utilizing art to unleash potential within their organizations? What if spiritual communities unleashed the “big” questions by congregants by using art to explore the depths of the soul? I congratulate UC Health Sciences Center for being a leader in thought and practice in the field of Art and Medicine!

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Can You Hear Me Now?

We all know the Verizon commercial with the guy asking repeatedly, “Can you hear me now?” demonstrating coverage. Although art is not about selling phones, the notion of being heard/seen/experienced is very important to an artist. We want to know that our message is being received. I want to make it clear that I’m not making a differentiation between “working artist” and those who create for fun, release, and joy. It doesn’t matter if your work is hanging on a refrigerator or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Creativity is not hierarchical; it’s universal!

The Voice, a musical competition show began a new season last night. The gist of the program is that the auditions are blind. The judges only hear the contestant and if they want them to be on their team they hit a button and turn their chair around. A few of the judges were courting one of the singers and Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5 said to the contestant, “As your coach I just want to be your amplifier.”

One of the important aspects of living a full life is the opportunity to tell our stories. Our stories punctuate key moments in our lives that are the foundation for who we’ve become. Our stories are memorable and make impressions on those around us. Our stories have impact the lives of others, sometimes without our knowledge.

Using our creativity to “amplify” our lives gives us a broader platform to share what’s important to us. Amplification is important because too many times our stories get drowned out from all the “noise” of society. We all want to be seen and heard and creativity is one way to make that happen. It’s a way for us to remain true to ourselves and that’s the key to living a genuine and authentic life.

If you’re looking to embark on a healing journey, amplifying your story is key to blazing your own unique trail!

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Is Creative Block a Myth?

I hear a lot of artists talk about being blocked and it confuses me. We’re creative beings, how is it possible to be blocked? I believe that what artists are trying to say is that their next masterpiece is not imminent, but how does that translate to being blocked?

As a person who’s extremely focused on process creativity is never out-of-reach. My focus on art and healing isn’t about trying to make a living from the art I create, but continually storytelling as a means of creating wholeness in my physical, emotional, and spiritual life.

Using art as an extension of my voice allows me to tell stories, sometimes the same story in many different ways. It gives me the freedom to explore feelings, physical sensations, or life experiences in a safe manner. It promotes holistic thinking and that’s important if you’re on a health and healing pilgrimage.

I feel fortunate that when I don’t feel inspired to sit at my sewing machine, I can pick up my pen and write something. If that doesn’t fit the bill I can pull out my needles and yarn and knit. The laws of physics state that a body in motion will stay in motion, seems obvious and I don’t believe we stop we just aren’t in masterpiece mode.

If you are a working artist follow Austin Kleon’s words of wisdom from Show Your Work. Kleon states, “Concept of chain smoking-you avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: Instead of taking a break between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one.” I think this is one of the reasons many of the artists I know work on more than one piece at a time so there is always another piece to jump to because they are following their energy!

Tell your story, continue telling your story, don’t stop telling your story and do it creatively! Doodles, a few words on a post-it, swaying to the music are all ways of self-expression. Don’t buy into the creative block as an excuse for not creating something, anything…just do it!

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Art: Our Language of Understanding

We create work that is meaningful to us and represent our life stories. We share not only events in our lives, but our belief system, our hopes, our political leanings, and our like Julie Andrews sings, “A few of our favorite things.” Our art makes us transparent. It’s not that we’re not leaving anything to the imagination, we’re just choosing how and when we let those unspoken areas of our lives reveal themselves.

It may be easier for some of us to show how we think and feel about something rather than speaking an explanation. Gia Mora is a cabaret singer with a unique twist. I saw a segment about Mora on PBS’ Arts District. Mora created a cabaret show that incorporates music, humor, and academia; yes you read it correctly…academia.   It’s a unique twist, but emphasizes the power of art to explain what some may feel are complicated intellectual concepts.

Gia Mora uses art to disarm the public about science and technology. We are continuously looking for ways to engage kids in the fields of math and science and Mora may have the method to draw them in to those subject arenas. When we utilize creativity to share a concept we expand the possibility for connection between us all.

The concept of teaching through art was emphasized in the television movie “The Ron Clark Story”. Clark left North Carolina and went to the inner city in New York and taught kids previously thought to be underachievers. When teaching these kids about the Presidents of the United States, he created a rap song about the presidents and a factoid to help them remember the order. These kids thrived because Clark was able to tap into another part of their brain, their creative side, increasing their capacity for learning.

Looking to share something that others don’t quite get? Try using your creative brain and engage others through art because art is a common denominator!

Hoping to share something about the interruptions life presents?  Visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

Follow me on Twitter: @GregKatz2

Bring It To Life

One of the great things about being an artist or expressively yourself creatively is your ability to bring things to life. We have the vision to bring something to the world that has been lying in wait to come forth. We are devoted to providing the world with a new way of viewing things expanding our reach emotionally and spiritually. We make conscious those ideas that have been bubbling below the surface of our collective unconscious.

I remember when I was writing my dissertation, I fell off the grid. I was incommunicado with my advisor. She was patient with me giving the space I needed growing within my own chrysalis. Then it happened, I had emerged from my cocoon and was ready, willing, and able to create. I asked her about her approach to letting me have the time without anyone harping one me, and she said, “It’s a creative process and your giving birth to something that needs time. I knew when you were ready to give birth it would take off.”

Our ideas, our inspirations, and our creativity come together to gestate. When the time is right the art will appear. Have you ever looked at an artist’s sketchbook? There are too many marks, doodles, drawings, scraps of paper, words, etc. to count. These are the seeds that will eventually become the art we create. These are the components of the story we want to tell. These are our truths we want to share.

Bringing our intentions, hopes, observations, and aspirations to life requires us to be present in our daily lives. It asks us to solve problems and spark debate. What we bring to life eases our pain and that our society. What we birth is our reality. It’s how we show up in the world.

Our art allows us to show our strength and weakness, opinions and beliefs, and our joy and sadness. What we bring to life is limitless. Our inspirations continue everyday, the moment we open our eyes and say good morning to the world.

What will you bring to life today?

Are You “Happy”

I’m addicted to interviews. Interviews allow me to be a voyeur into someone’s life without having to know them. If the interview is good, the interviewer will gain the trust of the guest and be allowed to explore more than just the surface issues that the tabloids are interested in, and get to more of a soul level.

Yesterday I was watching Oprah Prime. Her guest was Pharrell who has been having a breakout year. If you didn’t know Pharrell before “Happy”; I’m assuming you may know him since the breakout song “Happy” took over the world. It’s a good thing he’s not an evil man because a song like “Happy” could have been used for world domination (hope you know I’m just kidding).

Oprah asked him about the song “Happy” and did he know it would explode into a global phenomenon. Pharrell shared that at the beginning he couldn’t get any airplay on the song. It was a struggle. Obviously that has changed and people around the globe are dancing to “Happy”.

They showed a clip, a montage of uploaded videos from people around the globe doing their “Happy” dance. I was watching the montage and started to cry, not because I was sad, but because something so simple as music has transcended to become a global anthem. When they panned back to Pharrell and Oprah both were crying. They both made it very clear that they were “Happy” tears because it tapped into the human need and desire for community and self-expression. The song broke down barriers between nationalities, age, race, and gender.

This is why creative expression is healing. Art doesn’t have any boundaries; it’s limitless. Our creative stories and expressions provide a backdrop for our humanity to shine. Art heals because we give our souls flight when we express ourselves so honestly and authentically.

If you haven’t seen the montage of global “Happy” go find it or simply watch some uploaded videos from people in countries you know nothing about and she how art and in this case “Happy” translates!

Life As A Musical

The world of Broadway lost a tremendous talent with the death of Elaine Stritch. A talented performer, she originated many roles that many other actresses have been nervous to recreate when revivals of those shows came to Broadway. Her career lasted for seventy years, that’s incredible.

The death of Stritch makes me think about the Broadway musical. When I watch the movie Hairspray, I often think about how life would be if it were a musical. What if every time we faced a challenge we broke into song to express ourselves? What would life be like if everyone around us knew all the dance steps as if the air infused the choreography into their bodies.

This is the healing part of theater, and for me the musical. The ability to draw you in, put a bounce in your step, and have you humming when you leave the theater is like going to church (or in my case synagogue). The uplifted feeling is contagious. It also makes me wonder when will a group of background singers or a troop of dancers appear in my daily activities.

Those who write for the theater, both plays and musicals, are providing us with a platform to explore our fantasies. They are documenting social and political history as in the show All the Way, about the life of Lyndon Johnson. These shows can provide entertainment and education while providing the audience with questions to ponder after the show.

The other part of the theater experience that adds to its healing properties is the fact that it’s live. You’re seeing and experiencing people in real time. There is no editing and they only get one chance to get it right. The ability for these actors to go beyond simply reciting lines, but immersing themselves in a life created from scratch, or recreated based on research is transformative. Any time you get to witness transformation is serves as a springboard for your own transformative attributes.

Go see a show and enter the world of wonder. Give thanks to the actors and actresses who have graced the stages for years and were trail blazers for an art form that personifies passion!