Last week I learned that my older, and only, sister is in the fourth stage of liver cancer (the survival rate of liver cancer is extremely low). This was unexpected news. Meanwhile, I had been in an intense stage of painting, creativity, challenging myself with my visual message, pushing my skills, writing, increasing my visibility on the Internet, re-designing my blog, etc. In other words, I was humming along in my world, but a STOP SIGN popped up suddenly, and I was in an emotional fog. These events happen to all of us unexpectedly. How do we artists continue during these times? Can you paint? Be creative?
Pardon a detour: Why am I telling this story? Because I am inspired by Brene Brown’s words I watched last Friday, in a TED video, entitled, “Embracing Vulnerability,” (a 20 minute video I strongly recommend.) During her talk, she states, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.” My interpretation – to be a whole and effective artist/person, I needed to be vulnerable. Pretending or denying my sister’s illness would not be emotionally healthy.
Hence, I decided I would accept her challenge and allow myself to be vulnerable about my grieving process and to share what I have learned regarding creativity/artmaking when an emotional crisis crosses my path.
I could not paint. Nada, nothing would flow. There are 3 paintings at critical stages, and I could not figure out where or what to paint on any of them. I even tried switching the paintings on my easel, but nothing stirred and I was frustrated.
Knowing that I have a business to run, a job, just as I did when I worked for a corporation and I knew I had to keep working. Important decision making is difficult, so I have been doing things such as: cleaning, sorting, signing & varnishing paintings, updating my data bases, cleaning, painting edges of wrapped canvases, tossing, cleaning, prepping canvases, re-arranging the studio, etc., and researching liver cancer.
All of these tasks allowed me to feel my sadness and deep sense of helplessness, for the tears to flow and to take longer walks with my dog. After a couple of days, I was compassionate with myself and stopped expecting any meaningful creativity. These were not activities of denial, but non-brain tasks that permitted me to still think about my sister, our relationship and her adult children (and to make phone calls) and wallow in my emotional fog. However, I missed a lot of other events during this time – such as sending out Valentine’s cards, not listening well to my husband, poor concentration, eating too much chocolate – but I believe that being vulnerable was and is necessary. To help with the processing of my sister’s pending death (her health otherwise is not good which adds to the poor prognosis), I am going to collect photos of her and create a montage celebrating her life. I know this will be cathartic for me and her children may like it as well.
What happens to your creativity and artmaking when an emotional crisis comes into your life? Some artists paint or create about these emotions, but that has never been satisfying for me. Is it for you? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable during these times of emotional upheaval?