I had the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in awhile last night, so I thought it was a good time to reconnect with everyone. My lack of continuous rest can usually be attributed to one of three things:
A. Keeping myself awake having imaginary conversations with people in my day to day existence that will never happen in real life.
B. Making lists on various topics that I will never remember in the morning anyway.
C. Being kept awake by the sound of air molecules gently bumping into each other, even through my earplugs. Seriously, I am the auditory equivalent of “The Princess And The Pea”.
It was also the first week of a new semester at Express Yourself Artshop, which brings a lot to do and think about, so item B in particular was happening a lot ;).
It will be my first full semester as program coordinator after being involved as an instructor for a little over 2 years, and the fascinating idea of art as a tool for self expression is something that one is immediately confronted with the moment they enter the classroom.
Many great thinkers and creators of all types have spoken on the importance of creatively expressing oneself, but rather than posting a list of 20 quotes or articles, I’d rather share with you through personal experience. Yes, I am an artist, but no, you don’t have to be to use something musical or visual or written to release whatever you are holding back. Often times, through written words or sketches is the only time anyone is afforded the opportunity to see our true selves, the selves we know we are on the inside that look so much different from others’ perceptions of us. It is why I panic whenever anyone I don’t know too well asks if they can look at my sketchbook. It’s not some temperamental artist thing where I am like “No, but it’s not beautiful yet! I can’t possibly reveal my rough beginnings!” It is because it reveals a 100% transparent view of my every thought and emotion, and that can be a bit embarrassing.
I had a lot of social anxiety growing up. Even through early high school, I would often go through an entire day without speaking a single word. I’d go home after school and my mouth would have that yucky stale, dry feeling like when you wake up in the morning, because I had literally not used my vocal chords for around 7+ hours. Then of course, lovely acquaintances would ask the oh-so-helpful question,”Why are you quiet all the time? Is there something wrong with you?” which made me want to clam up even more. If people already thought I was odd, God forbid I should open my mouth! Then they’d really have something to talk about. I knew that the person I was presenting to the world wasn’t the real me. I was actually pretty damn opinionated and strong-willed from a young age (I think in one of our garage sales I saw that my mom actually had a parenting book called something like “The Strong Willed Child”, meant to advise parents in coping with this particular sort of, ahem, “gift”). I had ideas and interests and things to say, and I hated the fact that others may see me as dull or demure, but I couldn’t break through this seemingly invisible force that held me captive. That is where I turned to art, my sketches being anything but safe, quiet, or boring.
When I look back, my frustration with the self imposed isolation that I didn’t know how to navigate around is encapsulated in these visual expressions. Figures are often shown bound, missing one of their senses with eyes hidden or mouths literally sewn shut, or rendered immobile in an isolated environment.
Though emotionally painful at the time, I luckily connected with a few good friends junior and senior year who struggled similarly and could understand what I was going through, something that I couldn’t explain since it was all internal. This, coupled with going off to college and being forced into uncomfortable and unknown situations in which I would have to communicate out of necessity, helped me adapt and change, growing away from this extreme anxiety. Did it completely disappear? No, but it greatly lessened. Within the last couple of years I have also found that when I have a purpose to my communication and am passionate about what I am sharing, such as with art instruction, no matter how large the group of strangers may be my fears disintegrate (Ask me to talk about menial conversation fillers like the weather or how my day is going, and we may have a problem. I always say I prefer “big talk” 😉 ). Not all are so lucky. Some individuals are permanently nonverbal due to developmental disorders or injury. For them, finding alternate means of communication is not just therapeutic but necessary.
I am going to close with another Kurt Vonnegut quote that I’ve probably shared before, because it’s that good:
By expressing ourselves creatively whether the result is a masterpiece or not, we are not only helping ourselves, but are touching others positively as well. Through making oneself vulnerable, we “give permission” to others to do the same. We all think we’re the only one; the only one who thinks _________, the only one who feels _______, the only one who has experienced ________, when the truth is most likely we are not, everyone else is just too scared to say how they really feel. I can’t count how many people have looked at the piece below and simply said, “Yeah, I know the feeling …”
Of this next piece, viewers have commented that looking at the work was actually uncomfortable because they could feel her claustrophobia. They understood the feeling of being confined and held back, of feeling like you have outgrown your current life or situation, of wanting to move and change while everything and everyone around you is staying the same. Everyone experiences feelings like this, there is just this unspoken rule that you don’t talk about it.
You don’t always have to be expressing negative emotions, either. A student in Express Yourself Artshop’s Painting Exploration class this week wanted to tell a story about bright colors, music, and dance with her piece, and made a modern art version of a dancer playing the flute, referenced from an old painting from an art history book that she had found and connected with right away. Another tried painting for the first time, and chose to celebrate her favorite colors and the things that make her happy, like gardens. Besides aiding in dealing with difficult emotions, de-stressing and joy are two other side effects of self expression through art.
Just pick up a pencil and play … you may be surprised what comes out, or whom you connect with and inspire along the way.