In my last post I confessed to my fascination with chairs. Writing that post got me thinking about what I surround myself with and why; which in turn got me thinking about what other people surround themselves with and why. And all this thinking led me to a perfectly terrifying realization. If you happen to be an artist, this conversation might do the same for you.
Let me start with the obvious. What we surround ourselves with matters.
I know this is not a mind-blowing concept. I am, in no way, the first person to suggest this. In fact, when I think about this fact the first thing that rings in my ears is a teachers voice touting “Garbage in, garbage out!” I’m pretty sure I know which exact teacher said this catchy little adage repeatedly to us students, but it doesn’t really matter. In my mind it’s simply a strong, sure voice of my teen years. I know this saying was in reference to our young, impressionable minds and whatever trashy TV or music we were bingeing on instead of the great works of literature and noble sounds of Rachmaninoff. I think we would all concede this fact to be true. What we put into our brains will certainly effect what comes out of them.
But our houses and desks and calendars and lives are no different from our minds in this respect. What we place into our bedrooms, cubicles, or kitchens, has a profound effect on our attitude and outlook. It can narrate our entire day. And the constant creep of junk is just as insidious as my high school teachers warnings suggest.
Maybe I am alone in this, but my house is usually a mess. A lived-into mess. But there is, believe it or not, a quiet security in my mess, and a comfort in my clutter (I might not do too well with the whole KonMari thing). I have things in my day that ground me in the unseen reality of living. Chairs are one, yes, but there are so many other things, not the least of which is the collection of artwork that line the walls of my home.
Over the years my husband and I have accumulated art – like a lot of art. It’s hung everywhere. All genres and styles – antique, contemporary, etchings, ceramics, paintings, European, Indian, Japanese. Art from artists I know dearly and from artists unknown. Art with stories to tell, told with the very hand of its creator. I have chosen to surround myself with things made with intent, things created to bring into this world beauty or challenge or an element of the sublime. I have lined my walls and days with voices.
As I thought about all this with great joy and warmth, the flip side slowly settled in on me like a panic attack. I am an artist. I have been invited into other people’s homes and lives, to be a part of their daily living. In fact, my very livelihood is founded on the idea that people will want to invite a piece of me into their home, to look at one of my paintings or prints day after day and trust that it will have something valuable to say to them. The gravity of this idea is stifling. It is a terrifying responsibility to know that a small piece of you will be woven into another person’s daily life.
It is also the reality of being an artist; of making something and believing enough in it to think that it has something to say to another soul. When I look at my work, I can see the solid foundation of what I have intentionally placed into my path each day as well as what I stumble into (back to chairs of the side of the road…but also conversations at Target or interactions on the streets of my neighborhood). I have placed things that question and answer to me in different ways and which enable me to do what I do.
Some of my diehard collectors will know the story behind my pocket paintings, but for the rest of us I’ll share the tale. Many years ago I painted a tiny painting, so small it fit into the interior pocket of my beautiful sky blue winter coat. I slide the tiny piece in there and carried it around all day. No none knew, I didn’t show it to anyone. But I knew. And I felt different. I felt stronger and more connected, I knew that I had a bit of beauty with me during my rote daily jobs. With the very presence of this little painting everything became more. More intentional, more important, more valuable, more imbued with beauty.
More importantly, I acted differently. I felt the value of each interaction. I brought that tiny bit of beauty I was hiding and wove it into my day. It was amazing. All because of what I surrounded myself with (or in this case padded myself with). I keep very few of my own paintings, but I have kept that one to this day.
The act of painting for me is a form of seeking and putting into image some form of unseen truth.
Whether it is just for my eyes or to share with the world, the process is the same. I make something that surrounds the viewer in the unseen nature of things, questioning and answering in the same breath. When someone else is able to recognize this and understand it is exhilarating and deeply rewarding. And when they want to live with it, well that, that is an honor and privilege.