Cont’d from blog 1 of 4, May 9, 2015 https://redandorangehouse.com/2015/05/09/the-red-orange-house-conducts-first-workshop-to-fulfill-symington-foundation-grant/) The drawings and writings highlighted in this blogpost and the 3 subsequent blogposts speak to the power of art as personal and community medicine. Tolstoy believed that the purpose of art was to provide a bridge of empathy between artists and viewer. Philosopher Alain de Botten believes art is not mere aesthetic indulgence, art is a tool — a tool for both artist and viewer that serves a rather complex and important purpose in our existence~ to help us remember, find hope, feel our sorrow, re-balance, discover self-understanding, grow and appreciate.
My two recent Bodyscapes Technique art workshops were conducted for women living with, surviving or loving someone who has cancer. The words and the pastel drawings offer you new visions of illness~ from those who know it best. Their work reaches Tolstoy’s noble heights, using boldness, humor, pain and hope to heal both themselves and the rest of us.
De Botten says that both art-making and viewing art invite deeper knowledge of our own selves. “Art allows us to expand the boundaries of who we are by helping us overcome our fear of the unfamiliar and living more richly by inviting the unknown. Artist, Healing Breast, walked into the unknown when came to my Bodyscapes workshop. She knew nothing about the technique other than it used art for women living with cancer. I instructed the group that the Bodyscapes process would first require each of them to look up the word, cancer, in the dictionary. Second, it would require each to open the Color Atlas of the Human Anatomy and find a picture of a breast to use as a reference material to create a contour drawing of a breast with cancer. The artist found herself immediately confronting the tremendous fear of huge unknown. She had been diagnosed one day before the workshop.
Healing Breast is a lovely, elegant and composed woman. In the workshop, she worked steadily, speaking pleasantly but minimally. She followed the process with intention, collecting a group of words connected to and or contextually related to cancer. She listened to instruction and carefully drew the curved lines of a breast. Using red pastel color she filled in the inside of the image and using yellow, she surrounded it. The words in her poem, Shaking Cancer Away, speak of optimism and hope. The email her daughter wrote to me shared her mother’s enormous growth and deeper knowledge of herself she experienced during and after the workshop.
“My mom wants me to write to you, Diane. Shortly after BodyScapes, she suddenly “remembered” several moments in her life that have been catalysts for pain and resentment. All of these experience festered within her for many years. Your workshop brought a lot of this to the surface and it was transformative. She chose to love these moments and then, let them go. Her surgery last week, became the symbolic release of toxic energy she held for 50 years. She wanted me to thank you for creating the venue for the restoration of her body and spirit through poetry and art. There is still a long road ahead, but she goes forward living in her strength and suffused with divine light.”
De Botten writes about the achievement of optimism as a skill to live well. “And hope, its chariot, is something to cherish something to celebrate.” Evoking the essence of hope in the artist as well as the viewer’s experience is one of the critically important functions of art as therapy, he wrote.
The artist, Survivior, is not in denial of her illness. Cancer has come and gone three times in my life so far. Her drawing, Survivor, is not a pretty picture. Three different flesh colored images sit on a page next to each other but not connected. We are not certain what they are. But, we intuitively know they are body parts which signals to us to think there is a problem somewhere. Critical and alert, we search for “the problem” in the picture. We identify the brown circular masses as the “problem”.
We switch to read the words of her poem. Maybe, thinking, she will focus on the “problem”. But she does not. She offers encouragement. Expectation, Oh, Contraire! She puts us in touch with the hopeful part of ourselves and helps us remember that courage and optimism are the necessary ingredients for a good life no matter the circumstances.
“Art”, de Botton and Armstrong argue, “is one resource that can lead us back to a more accurate assessment of what is valuable by working inviting us to recalibrate what we admire or love.
The drawing, Lymph Dance, shows us a silhouette of the body, one arm reaching off to somewhere outside the page with bright aqua blue color in the background, fainter aqua blue color on the inside and deep blue-green dots inside the body. Can we value anything more than our bodies, fluid and the way fluids dance inside us?
De Botten continues, “Art can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavor to make the best of our circumstances. Art can do the opposite of glamorizing… it can reawaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it.”
Chava’s poem, Life and Lymph Uncertain, calls for us living without Lymphoma, to better appreciate the ability to have graceful motion. Because, Chava, will dance! No matter what! Of this she is certain.
dance fluid daily