So, this isn’t really an art related post, but is living life not an art itself? I love to pass on anything I come across that has helped me, be it creative techniques or like today, otherwise techniques because why needlessly struggle?
People are complicated, we know this. They often don’t say what they mean, or when they do say what they mean they don’t direct it at the person who really needs to hear it. As someone who is not only one of those “highly sensitive people” but also tends to take others’ words at literal face value – it’s just the way my brain works – this leads to a lot of unnecessary anxiety, hurt feelings, and me scrambling around trying to fix things I was never meant to fix. I really like to fix and bring order, at least I think I do until it causes a total internal meltdown or burnout. Perhaps that is why I loved the Sims games so much in high school and college … Hm…
I unfortunately can’t be a Sims overlord and control people’s interactions and behaviors in real life, so I had to change my own mindset. One day, in the midst of a heated conversation, this sentence just popped into my head and out of my mouth, “I’m not really the one you’re mad at right now“… and everything changed.
Now, this doesn’t mean we abdicate all responsibility for how others are feeling. There are times we will accidentally hurt someone and need to accept what we’ve done and make amends. I’m talking about the times when we are taking the heat just because we are there, and the other person is struggling through things we may know nothing about. Especially those of us who come across as a “safe presence” can catch a lot of explosions. It may be because the other person doesn’t know why they are feeling the way they do, and needs to get back a sense of control so being able to point at someone nearby and say “This is the cause of why I feel this way right now” or “This is the reason why instance x went wrong today” makes them feel like they are making headway in figuring out why things are the way they are. It could be that the other person knows that if they blew up at the person in their life who actually upset them, this other person wouldn’t take it sitting down and would throw it right back, or gaslight them, or react violently and so it’s just easier to unload on someone they know won’t fight back as much. It could be that they are really upset with themselves, but aren’t ready to take the weight of that responsibility, it’s just too painful right now. Then of course, some people just aren’t rational and we may never know the reason. It took me a long time to learn that the reason doesn’t matter as much as our response. Because in the end, does knowing the reason why someone just tore us a new one when all we did was ask them how their day is going really help us feel any better?
A test that helps me is responding to accusing statements with questions. For example, if a loved one, coworker, whatever says, “You’re always holding me back!” (I did a whole other post on this one) or “All you ever do is discourage me!” I would respond with, “That’s not what I want to do, as your friend I truly want you to be successful and have your best life. Can you tell me how I’m standing in your way so I don’t continue to be unhelpful?” or “I’m sorry, that was definitely not my intent. What did I say that made you feel that way so I can be more mindful of my words in the future?” Sometimes, they will have an answer and guess what? That means I get to learn and do better next time. Oftentimes, however, they will have no idea and cannot even come up with a specific example of why they have said what they just said. This runs along the same lines of filtering out constructive criticism versus not so much. If someone at work or home says, “I’m so frustrated, you really made a mess of x!” and you respond with, “I’m sorry, I truly felt I was doing my best. What could I have done differently?” and they do not have an answer … I’m not the one you’re mad at.
The last thing to keep in mind is that this simple statement is for you. Sometimes when you speak it out loud it may make a lightbulb go off in the other person, but there’s also a chance it may not. You’re not saying it to correct someone else, you’re saying it to correct your mindset so you don’t continue going through life a stressed out mess because you are blaming yourself for things that were never in your control to begin with. Sometimes it won’t even be constructive or appropriate in the moment to speak those words to the other person – say it to yourself in your head anyway. I’m not the one they’re really mad at.
It seems simple, but the weight it lifts is immense.
Being a lifelong lover of reptiles, I was always drawn to the figure of Medusa. Back in 1992 when Matchbox put out these fun little mini monster figures aptly titled “Pocket Monsters” that you could get inside cereal boxes, the Medusa figure was always my personal favorite.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so fun being the real Medusa, cursed by Athena because Athena’s husband couldn’t keep it in his pants. I’ve always had an affinity for those fantastical beings that can’t be understood by a story told only in black and white.
In the pose I chose for her, she is attempting to shield others from that dangerous part of herself, but only halfway. Butterflies turned to stone hang in her chamber. Is it easier to be surrounded by lovely, inanimate things after what had happened to her than real living beings? Is there a hesitation before punishing others in her misery?
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about anger. Do we ever have a right to be angry? Can anger be constructive? When we unleash said anger, where is the line? Does the motive behind our expression matter? These thoughts as well as another unrelated project prompted me to finally dig out this piece that I started a little over 2 years ago that almost ended up in the garbage. I had the background done which I loved, and also had shaded in the figure. The page was filled with color and the piece was supposedly “almost done”, but for such a powerful subject there was no feeling coming out of it, none of that indescribable “spark” that makes me love art. So, in my portfolio it sat.
Over this summer I was chosen to participate in an art exhibit titled “The Chair Project” for my local United Way. Each artist was given a subject for their piece that fell into one of the major areas United Way services, with a real story from a community member. I was assigned mental health, and ended up using a lot of this similar reptilian imagery in the final project. For more details on my process and the thoughts behind my design, please check out the short video.
I spent a lot of hours outlining tiny, detailed little scales in metallic paint marker and the process became quite meditative honestly. This prompted me to give my Medusa a second look, and at least finish out her hair. The metallic accents had done so much to bring my chair design to life, that I knew it would do the same for the Medusa. Enter, silver foil and jewelry findings to the rescue!
There can be a wisdom to knowing when to let go of projects that just aren’t working, but as I always tell my art students, you have to push through that ugly phase. Every piece of art has a period in the dead center or even late middle – almost complete where it looks like a complete failure. However, sometimes even the smallest adjustment can fulfill your original vision or even surprise you with a new one. In my case, this at times can happen years later. Perseverance and faith are huge parts of creativity. So, I implore you, keep that ugly art! – At least for a little while longer.
It’s Disability Pride Month! Especially in smaller US cities, this celebration often gets overlooked. For this year’s reminder, I wanted to share my top favorite films centering around disability.
Though I was just a tiny pipsqueak when this movie came out, from what I know this film was pretty progressive for its time. It presents an honest snapshot of the strain and sacrifice caring for a family member with a disability or mental illness can often entail without turning the cared-for into a burden or someone to be pitied, which is a delicate but important balance. It also ultimately advocates for independence and autonomy. These two misfits, both with brains that work differently than what is considered “normal”, end up crossing paths in a pretty comedic way that involves a lost poker game. Benny is calm, easy-going, kind hearted, and incredibly knowledgeable on antiquated and obscure film history. He can recall a plethora of dates and trivia about his area of interest, yet he can’t read or write. June is impulsive and intense, and can experience pretty severe psychosis if unmedicated but is verbose and well spoken, an intuitive painter with a genius level vocabulary. As the Benny and Joon grow together along with the other colorful characters in their community, this film shows how we all have strengths and struggles. No one is meant to do things alone. We need all kinds and we need each other.
Another film that is a sort of love story centering on disability, this one is low budget and lesser known. I’ll be upfront, the intro credits look like they were done in Microsoft Power Point, and the acting is a bit after school special. It’s definitely independent. Still, it has over a 7 rating on IMDB, I believe because of the unique view of interabled relationships. The premise involves a love triangle between a group of old friends that grew up together as kids. Very Hallmark, except for one detail … one of the two ladies involved has down syndrome. I don’t want to give too much away, but as the plot unfolded and the male character admitted his unconventional crush, even I had trouble wrapping my mind around it. I was challenged to ask myself why I found this confusing when they are two consenting adults who both have an understanding of their feelings. Challenging is exactly how I’d describe this film, and why I’ve thought of it often since first watching it last month despite the fact that it arguably isn’t the best made film in the world. Some stories just need to be told.
Be prepared to be challenged again by this documentary. Michelle, our leading lady, is so vibrant and interesting you will wish you could hang out with her for a day. She is legally blind and autistic, and has struggled to fit in throughout her life only to finally find her place within the kink/s&m community. This documentary is not about sex. It’s about discovering your identity(ies) (we are all so much more of an “and” than an “or”), it’s about breaking barriers and assumptions, it’s about how people with disabilities are expected to live in a perpetual state of childhood and treated like they are all the same (For more on how people with disabilities can and do participate in alternative subcultures, see the fabulous Drag Syndrome). Seeing someone who loves who they are and just shines (I was an unconfident, self-deprecating mess at 20!) is a message we can all receive and apply to our own lives.
Ok not a movie, but this show is just plain fun and has all the trappings of a hip, witty sitcom but the main character happens to be a gay man with Cerebral Palsy. What makes it so different is the genuineness of the situations and dialog, I’m sure because the starring actor is also the writer. Ryan O’Connell based the show on his own experiences. His mother is another major player in the story who had her own arc around caregiver burnout, yet still having a difficult time letting go when her son wants independence and privacy. There are plenty of deep, sometimes very uncomfortable situations explored, always with humor, grace, and dignity.
Hailing from India, this coming of age story follows a college student who travels to America to attend school in New York. I’m going to get my one gripe out of the way early: I wish they would have cast an actress who actually had Cerebral Palsy. For insight into why this matters when “isn’t the point of acting to pretend to be someone else?”, see this short Ted Talk by Maysoon Zayid. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing skip to minute 7.
Like many at this age, the main character is finding who she is, discovering her sexuality and what she wants in life. She grapples with finding someone who finally ‘sees’ her, but still having romantic feelings towards someone else. It’s messy, she makes mistakes, she hurts people … You know, just like we all do sometimes. That’s kind of the point. Disability activism is also touched on which I think is great, as I wasn’t introduced to that world until I met some very cool people through my work … more about that at the end!
Ok, I had to add an extra one to the list because this movie is so under watched and just one of my beloved favorites. This movie was Taika Waititi’s directorial debut back in 2007, before he was a big old deal after working with Marvel. When people have seen it, they inevitably compare it to Napoleon Dynamite due to the purposeful awkwardness and quirky wardrobe, and this honestly annoys me to no end. This movie is so much more than eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity. Though disability is never mentioned, it’s pretty obvious the two main characters lie somewhere on the ASD spectrum. Amongst the quirk and whimsy serious themes such as grief, isolation, broken family relationships, isolation, trauma, bullying, and betraying yourself to be loved and accepted are all integrated into the more lighthearted moments.
Edit … One more! I was just about to hit post and I thought of another film that I just had add to the list last minute.
This film is a true story about Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and became almost completely paralyzed at 43 except for his left eye. It is based entirely on a memoir he wrote after the accident. How could he do this when he has what is called “locked in syndrome” (the mind still works as it always did but the individual is “locked in” to a body that can no longer move or communicate) and can’t speak? He and his speech therapist devise a system of spelling out words using a blinking system to indicate certain letters with his eye that can still move. I can’t fathom experiencing something like this. Beyond my astonishment at Bauby’s determination I don’t think I ever realized that speech therapists quite literally save lives. Throughout the film are also Bauby’s personal reflections on how different he became after the accident not just physically but spiritually and emotionally. Leading up to what happened he was … well, a bit of a jerk. He reflects, “Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?” It’s a tough watch, but always a creative soul, Bauby in his own way triumphs through what I can only imagine is unbelievable psychic pain, “My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly”.
I had the most wonderful experience of hosting a disability pride party this year at my workplace. Our art students with disabilities shared stories and performances, and I could tell from the whispers and reactions of guests that people went home a bit changed, with a new perspective on people with disabilities in our community.
If you’d like to see more of what we do at Creative 360, please visit our online gallery. You can watch some of the performance footage in the Acting Gallery. My favorite thing about art is its power to unlock untapped potential, and its ability to bring vastly different people together.
I’ve started making a series of “mini” 5×7 mixed media works on canvas board that recreate stills from my favorite movies using a variety of materials. This is purely a “for fun” project and a way for me to do some whimsical, low-pressure creating in between my larger projects. I will likely have them available for sale in my Facebook Shop so if you use that platform, give me a like. I’m starting with childhood favorites, and the first one I have for you is Wizard of Oz. Using a printout as inspiration, I am able to do a simple graphite transfer onto the art paper of my choice. In this case, I used watercolor paper. Finding printed fabric or paper for the background that is already similar to the pattern you are seeking adds ease to the art making process.
In each of these videos, I will be using completely different materials, and I hope you will be inspired to try your own mixed media projects at home. Don’t draw or paint and the idea of trying stresses you out? You could do this same thing all collage style and just cut and paste the figure from the photo! There is always a solution, just have fun with it and as always I’m just a message or comment away with questions :). Materials used for this project are: Viviva Colorsheets Watercolors (love the portability and zero cleanup!), watercolor paper, detail paint brushes, cotton printed fabric, a 5×7 canvas board, and Weldbond glue (used because it is a strong hold for all materials since we are using thicker paper and also fabric). Let me know what you think!
What are some of the prettiest movies you remember?