Stained: An Example Of An Art-Making Exercise For Self-Awareness

Author: This article was written by Kara LC Jones of GriefAndCreativity.com.

Sometimes looking at grief straight on is a difficult thing.  I think the idea of objectivity is myth in the best of circumstance (because I don’t see how we can ever be anything but subject to our own culture, education, environ, etc), but when you throw grief in the mix, I think objectivity is downright impossible.  We are subject to what has happened to us.  We are subject to our own personal beliefs about grief and concepts like healing or integration.  We are subject to the impulses and (explicit or implicit) rules and measures of our environment like family of origin, spiritual support system, work place and more.

With all that distortion, I think sometimes the best counter to it is more distortion in a way.  When we can’t look at grief straight on anyway, why not crick your neck, tilt your head, and look at it all sideways?!  Sometimes a metaphor is a good way to shift perspective, to gain an insight, to get curious about what is happening.

An example:  sometimes when I sit in curiosity about what grief has done to my life, I see a big stain.  At first this idea really got to me.  I was rose-tinting the past as if prior to grief my life had been some pristine, antique, sacred piece.  And then someone put down their giant cup of coffee leaving my life stained, sticky, and a big phat mess.  The truth is that nothing was pristine before either, but grief left me focused only on the stain.

It really is another metaphor that came into play to get me out of the twisted view of now living a ruined life.  Art itself came into play.  I began looking at canvas pieces I’d started and ended up hating.  A wrong blotch there, a slip in a cut out there, a lumpy icky texture there, an out-right stain I couldn’t remove over here.  I had impulses to throw the canvases away.  I didn’t want anyone to see how bad I was as an artist.  I had shame rise to the surface because 1) I was an untalented hack and 2) I was actually following a wasteful line of action in considering throwing away perfectly good canvases.

So I did my best to stop myself.  Breathe.  Put the canvases propped up across the room from myself and really sit and look at them.  The vile spewed from me.  Actually I eventually learned this vile was my own inner gremlins spewing at my own self! I was soooo not being gentle with self.  As I sat and let the vile spew, eventually I grew tired and kind of bored.  I had the impulse to get up and do something else, but I asked myself to just take another breath and keep looking.  I sort of zoned out after awhile, even feeling like I would fall asleep.  Then a little bounce of energy came, and I started to look at the canvases in a different way.  You know how you look at those 2D images and then suddenly your vision shifts and you see the 3D image embedded?  Like that.  Some shift happened.

I got up and sat closer to each canvas.  Turned it on its side, upside down, looked at the wrapped edges of them.  Eventually I started to see there was something else that could come out of these canvases.  Sometimes in re-working a new piece, I’d be working the stain into something new, too.  Other times, the stain ended up so far in the background that it was foundation for the new piece built on top of it, but you could hardly see the original stains and pieces I’d hated.

As I explored this more and more with art, I found it to be true of canvas pieces, art journal pages, even digital landscape pieces.  I work layer by layer.  There are times I absolutely hate what I see in front of me.  It all feels stained and like there is nothing contributing to the whole here.  But I keep working it.  More layers, more integration, more dancing around and with the stains.  Eventually some whole reveals itself, and it begins to feel … sort of done.

I say “sort of done” because even when I finish a piece and sell it, it never really feels done to me.  I let it go in that particular format at some point.  But usually I have a high res scan of that piece that sold, and I can take that into a digital landscape, re-work it, make new images from it.  You can see in the piece posted here today, it is totally new, *but* look at the shirt on this new GRRRRRL.  The image of the star crowned fairy on her shirt is from a canvas painting I did a couple of years ago.  That same star crowned image was a part of the MISSing Ingredients Cookbook cover, too.

Grief is like this.  Not so much the stain I hate, that ruined some rose-tinted-pristine past I think I had.  Rather it is one element layered amid all that I am.  It is integrated into this full life I’m living.  Sometimes it shows up in the foreground with some prominent element to share. Other times it is faded in the background, less seen, but contributing to the whole never the less.  And often it seems invisible to most because they are looking only at the top most social surface of me.  That’s okay.  I don’t need everyone to get it anymore.  Art is like that.  Some love it.  Some hate it.  Some have artists they love who can do no wrong.  Some are just hungry for as many new works as they can possibly feast upon…

Again, like grief.  There is no one single way to be with it, understand it, witness it.  Our experiences will be as individual as we are as unique human beings.

Understanding that helped me spew less vile most days.
And on the days when I do still spew vile, well, I think of it as playing with acid to create a layer on a new canvas.  It’s just a step along the way.  I know now that I’ll keep working the canvas till I come to some peace with it.

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