In both art workshops and branding sessions the question of the big why often comes up; as in why do you do what you do? What do you want to accomplish? I denied my answer for a very long time believing it ‘wasn’t good enough’ or just ‘wasn’t enough”. This was a reflection of what I felt about my art and my entire endeavor because, truthfully, I knew I wasn’t living my big why, even though I wasn’t certain exactly what it was.
The question of why is a crucial question. The why of art influences everything about it from the way it is created to where it is exhibited and how it is sold. The why is also what keeps an artist on track during the ‘teen years’ of a painting. All decisions need to align with the why. So. to be uncertain of the answer has left me struggling.
The workshops I’m attending this month both have a common theme – finding your artistic voice. To do that defining your why is an important part of the process.
My Tentative Answer
I’ve never stated this publicly before, so I hope you’ll bear with me. My silent answer when asked about my why goes like this. Art and nature have both been powerful healing forces in my life and I want to share these possibilities with others. I feel called to create a safe space within my paintings where people in transition can spend some time in stillness and allows a space where their world can begin to evolve.
Now I was concerned this sounded woo-woo and a little crazy to state out loud. That’s a lot to ask of a painting, and the painter. So, I kept denying that could be my big why, but I couldn’t shake it.
The History of My big Why
Going back in time 15+ years, I was the sole caretaker of my aging mother. I received a stipend from Medicaid to be her caretaker which allowed me to quit my office job and give her round the clock care. When she had a hospital stay, I was there all day, every day, and often through the night. Her hospital stays could last for a month or more, so I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics. Day in and day out they are very intense and stressful places for everyone; patients, family members, and staff.
I, of course, spent a lot of time looking at the art. At first, I thought this was just because of my interest in art generally. However, over time, I noticed mother and the other patients doing the same thing. When a staff member saw me losing myself in a painting, they would comment on how the art affected them, which pieces were their favorite, and the location of the pieces that they would go to when having a particularly stressful day. It was always about how it made them feel. How it lifted their spirits or gave them a sense of calm. Art plays an important part in the healing process. I also noticed myself wondering why they often had such bad art. It played such an important role yet seemed to be treated as an afterthought. I wanted to change that. I wanted to put transporting works of art in medical facilities. Transporting. Ha, no pressure there.
When my mother passed, the hospice provided, at my request, an art therapist for the grief counselor. The work I did with her changed how I understood and created art and, as with everything then, I went to a deeper level. My desire to help rose again and I ached to provide comfort and hope to others in transition; to others with strong feelings no words could touch. I thought maybe greeting cards as a distribution system and set myself to the task. I thought Chinese brush painting was a great medium and set about learning how to do that. The truth is I didn’t really know how to, or have the confidence to, express what was in my heart. Then life’s demands soon crowded out my greeting card plans. A secret failure I‘ve never gotten past but didn’t know how to rectify.
My Answer Can No Longer Be Denied
Fast forward about ten years to the present. I’ve now committed to seriously pursuing my art and making it my retirement income. (Again, no pressure.) Well in workshops, and in branding sessions, the question of my big why keeps coming up. Everything rests on the answer. When the question is asked, I draw a blank but in my heart I realize my desire to help those in trouble and/or transition still pulls me. When I finally told myself to get over myself and stop looking for ‘cool’ reasons to be an artist and just go with my truth this is the truth I have to admit. It sounds too big, too lofty, and I still didn’t know really where to begin. The process I’ve been working on for the last year or so might not be relevant. I felt the very shaky pins being knocked out from under me.
Then I went online. In the years since my time as caretaker, the medical community has come to realize the importance of art in the well-being of patients, family, and staff. There are evidence-based studies conducted and websites devoted to healing art. There are art exhibitions with that theme. Most hospitals have an art budget and often a curator. St. Luke’s in Houston even has an art cart that is taken to patients so they can choose the art that hangs in their room. There is now an industry surrounding healing art. I don’t know how much time you spend there, but have you noticed how much the art has improved in medical facilities? Sometimes in public areas I feel a bit like I’m in a gallery.
Where Does This Leave Me?
My big why still seems a very big task to me. Still, I’m no longer denying what is in my heart to express. My most recent method of creating art may or may not continue to be relevant. This is what I mean by the why defining every step of the way. What will be the best methods of expression? I’m in workshops this month so doing exercises in a variety of creative methods. Some may stick, most probably won’t. Maybe I’ll get a new twist on what I’ve been doing or see that it is not right after all. Only time will tell. Through the Purple Trees I see there is a bend in the road ahead. I’ll just have to journey there to see what it holds.