When there are no words

Mar 29, 2020 | Unseeing | 6 comments

Art as language

When I first started this blog back in the olden days of January, I was a little nervous. Nervous that I would run out of steam, that I would lack things to talk about, or the worst fear of all – that no one would read or care what I wrote. But I had a plan, a way forward, a schedule of what I wanted to say even if I didn’t know how to say it yet. And I figured who cares if no one reads it – I still wanted to write it. My heart was in the right place and I was going for it.


Best laid plans…right?


Fast forward to today, March something-or-another – I honestly don’t know the date. At the moment I don’t know much and to know the date is to think about time and to think about time is to think about the future. And that currently is a very difficult thing. This is a rough time for our world. We are isolated, we are scared, we are acutely aware of how vulnerable and fragile we are. And here is the truth I must face as a person and as an artist.

I have no words.


It’s not that I am in despair or anxious and don’t want to talk about it. I have hope. I see strength and beauty winnowing it’s way into our situation. It’s that I don’t have the words to talk about it. Words have failed me.

Whatever I hoped to be in this lifetime I cannot not deny the fact that I was made an artist. My communication, especially in times of trial or uncharted territory, will never come firstly in words. It will be in form and color and line. It will be in the quietness of a studio, deep into a painting when I will understand what is going on and how I see it. Floodgates of understanding will open – sometimes for good and joy, sometimes a torrent of sorrow. But understanding and processing will come and words will have no part in it. It is another language we artists converse in which is understood as a native tongue.


I have sat these past few weeks in my studio, tracing line upon line in ritual to ease my uneasy mind. I have layered color upon color as a liturgy to calm my unkempt spirit because words could not reach it. I have created very little in the form of a finished product, but I have created space, breathing room, acknowledgement. I have begun to create a dictionary for this time in my life. Not with words but with actions and forms and colors and line. A vocabulary which the deeper parts of me sees and recognizes and begins desperately to devour.


So, I’m speaking mainly to artists at the moment, but my guess is we all, no matter our vocation, are finding the failure of words at the moment. Artist, make things. Do things. Draw, create, sculpt, paint. Find the words you need hidden in the act of producing in the language you understand. It is not selfish. It is not a luxury or unnecessary activity. It is vital to getting through this tangled time with our sense of self and others intact. And it can be a gift to those around you that also lack the words but do know how to express without them. We need artists and artist’s ways of thinking now more than ever.


Do not worry if you don’t have the words at the moment. Words have always been limiting to our vocabulary as people. I say, give them up for a bit.


Art as language


  1. Dave gibbs

    The artist stands alone, but imparts inexplicable wordless truths that hit straight into the heart of the viewer. With any luck!

  2. Janie


  3. Barbara

    Rachel, I have gone back into my email to find your first post from January, then read through them all. I am so moved by your writing. So serendipitous, right, not even sure the “right” word here, that we first met in a writing class and you helped me with my visual art re-beginnings and now I am falling into your writing and finding so much meaning there. In my middle years I turned away from my writing and fully embraced visual art, and now I am starting to find my way back to writing to accompany my visual art.

    Reading your writing has led me to realize how important it is to keep doing what we normally do in this time of challenge. For me that’s being with my animals (except my horse, on a farm 30 minutes away; thankfully people there are caring for him for me). Relishing quiet time in my studio with the soundtrack of bird song and the many colors of green that surround me at the moment. Paying attention to the wider world but only enough to not be putting my head in the sand and not to the detriment of my sanity.

    I’m sharing art with people I think it can benefit. Which is what you are doing, Rachel. And so much more.

    Thank you.

  4. Dale Sawan

    Your art, and your words, mean more than you realize.
    Thank you.

  5. Linda Sue Tente

    Thank you for your insight and candor. You nailed it,,,No Words, I hear a fetal cry to be held close,

  6. Jennifer

    Gratitude…and hugs, to you <3


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