“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Certain things have kept moving for me, even while the pandemic has caused the world to press the pause button on our daily lives. I could quickly learn to teach remotely; thanks to intensive online training, work carried on. I have stayed connected to friends; with the help of Zoom, meet-ups kept happening. I have even been able to enjoy an abstract art class; through a combination of e-mail and social media , creative art has sustained me while staying home. At first, doing all of these things maintained the quick pace that has been so normal for me. And to some extent it distracted me from current events. But as the pandemic gained momentum, the realization set in that self-isolation was going to replace this speedy pace as my new normal. Things started slowing down. I have had a lot to think about, and an unprecedented amount of time for being so alone with my thoughts.
I have tried to appear as normal as possible, but inside it has been a mixed bag of feelings ranging from fear (that my family, friends or I will get sick), to worry (about the economy and financial security), to grief (over the loss of so many lives), to helplessness (because of all that is unknown and cannot be controlled) to loneliness (because I miss being with people). Of course, there have been positives too. The earth is getting some rest. People are finding innovative ways to entertain, communicate with and help each other. More gratitude is being shown to those whose work is often taken for granted. Creating is becoming an alternative to consuming. For me this time of slowing down has allowed me to reflect, read, knit, bake – to be creative. And engaging in art projects has enabled me to process what I’ve been thinking and feeling since March. In some ways I am emerging from this situation with an altered outlook on life and what matters to me.
“Stars can’t shine without darkness.” ~ Anonymous
Creating played a strong role in bringing me to this point, so I want to share here some of my work – a chronicle of my artistic journey during the pandemic. I was free to use whatever art material I had available, and represent my ideas in any form (though I tend to use photography, pastels, watercolour and collage). The topics included: an experience of food; quotes from books; paying attention to details; and emotions, among others. Each in its own way engaged my senses, asking me to be truly present while tasting food, or really noticing when looking at something. They let me react to and express feelings about things that are happening now. Each project provided something different: food for thought; a problem to solve; a goal to achieve; a new perspective; motivation to explore a new technique or material; a finished piece to critique or improve; permission to make my peace with mistakes; freedom to just let go. Mostly, I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect, and the process of developing not just a personal style, but an artistic voice.
When I painted my experience of food, I thought about my father, as a young child during WWII, and how the food shortages he experienced would shape his grocery shopping habits later in his life. I never really related to his tendency to over shop – to hoard food – until now. I have found myself considering the possibility that food shortages could become a real problem. And this has caused me to worry. So, in my painting, I tried to capture the flavours of fruits and honey, but I used negative space to suggest the spectre of food that may one day be difficult to find. Now I am working on eating more slowly, appreciating each bite, and I waste nothing. The decoupaged box was inspired by book quotes that spoke to my concerns about the loss of human life, and possibly the end of everything. If we think of each person as internalizing many stories, what happens when their library burns? And all of the music composed, every work of art, beautiful architecture and each invention? These all mean something and they are the evidence of our existence. I used images of human achievements, and quotes that captured my thoughts on the loss of stories and art. I thought about my own story and who will care about it when I am no longer here.
“Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor.” ~ Marianne Williamson
I got a sense of calm from photographing seashells in my bathroom (my sanctuary!) then making quick sketches of their lines, spirals, dots and textures. When I looked very closely at the photo of the sand dollar, I could see that the surface was made of tiny, raised circles. Something so very small became much bigger than I am. I try harder to be awake to what’s around me, what’s in my world, and how fortunate I am for nature’s many miracles. And when asked to represent how I am feeling, I realized that some days I feel great, and others I feel like I’m staring down an army of anxieties – extremes of feelings both positive and negative. Some emotions I internalize, some I name and define, and some I share. By creating watercolour faces I could show that sometimes our eyes say things that our voices won’t. That sometimes sounds stand as a substitute for words. I know that not just recently, but throughout my life I have felt everything, and that I carry and remember those feelings. And art has become an important, and necessary way for me to express them.