Echo Chamber

How many times do you need to be told or hear the same thing before it registers?  Are you attuned to the clues that step-in front of you on a daily basis?  When I was in college I toyed with the idea of being an English teacher.  I registered for the class Foundations of Education with Mr. Sacca.  One of the things he shared were his secrets for being a student and trying to figure out what would be on the exam.  Mr. Sacca shared that if something in the lecture was repeated it would most likely be on the exam.  His mantra in the class was “repetition for emphasis.”

I’ve been out of college for over thirty years and this mantra sticks with me.  Every day I try and pay attention to what enters my consciousness.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect.  It may take numerous encounters with an idea, a person, or an experience before its purpose registers.

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Spending time in the “echo chamber” is living in the cross-hairs of important components of our lives.  As creative beings, our ability to convert the same idea, color, tone, meter can be developed to look, sound, and feel different every time.  It’s this variety that helps us punctuate our message.  Repeating a theme increases the volume of our creative voice.

If you think you don’t have anything to add to the conversation in the Universe you’re wrong.  What I’ve learned over the years as an artist is that we can all want to share similar messages, but it’s our unique energy and point-of-view that makes it accessible to a specific audience.  We all have an audience waiting to hear what we have to say, so say it!

Don’t’ be surprised if you have to share your message over and over before it’s received.  We can’t expect others to get it and assimilate it any faster than we did.  Don’t give up because persistence shows the power of your message.  When you take a stand, you’ll be surprised how like the Pied Piper, others will stop, listen, and eventually follow.

Now more than ever we need your creative voice.  Your creative energy will be a catalyst for change in the world!

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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!

One Note

It’s easy to get into a rut.  We’re creatures of habit and leading us to a life of uncomfortable predictability.  I love to cook and I watch a lot of cooking competitions like Chopped and Top Chef.  It’s not uncommon for the judges to describe the contestants dish as being “one note”.   The judges are referring to the lack of complexity in the dish.  It’s flat and doesn’t give the diner anything diverse in their experience.

When creating what does that mean to you?  I had taken a quilter’s color class over a decade ago, and the first piece we created was monochromatic, a work all in one color.  One color doesn’t mean boring.  It pushes us as creators to think beyond one color, one note, one set of words or meter.  How are we able expand our resources?  This applies not only to art, but to business, finances, even politics.

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I guess what I’m wondering is “Have we been trained to settle?”  Are we inclined to stay safe because we’ve been conditioned to avoid “less than perfect?”  As I explore creativity and its impact on our well-being, I want us to explore what would happen if we changed or modified one thing.  I don’t want to through the baby out with the bath water, but I’m wondering what we can add to the bath to make it more enjoyable and more expressive of your identity.

One note in creativity is similar to believing there’s only one treatment for illness, one diet to lose weight, one way to save money.  When we go beyond one note we explore options.  We’re encouraged and rewarded for our efforts.  We learn things about ourselves boosting our self-esteem.

We’re complex beings and living lives that are “one note” compromises our uniqueness and our magnificence.  Go beyond the one note…use a new color, change the words you use most often expanding your vocabulary and enriching your work, use a new spice when cooking a favorite recipe giving a new twist in your diet and enjoyment of your food.  We’re creative beings.  If we weren’t we would have gone the way of the dinosaurs…let’s use that gift!

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!

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!