Music and Film

Dir En Grey 2019 Tour: Music And The Power Of Vulnerability

I recently had the opportunity to get out of town and see one of my favorite bands, Dir En Grey, live in concert. I do not possess any musical talent or skill myself, but am a huge music appreciator. What I look for in bands is the ability to be diverse and work in a variety of styles while still staying true to their own unique creative expression, and Dir En Grey is one of the best examples of this I can think of. Each of their albums has its own distinct sound and story, and they can move between beautiful, melodic, and soothing and intense, hard, and aggressive seamlessly within the same song. I went into this experience with no expectations, just excited to hear a band I have enjoyed since late high school live. I never dreamed I would be so emotionally moved by an experimental metal band, or that I would leave with such a much-needed refill of artistic inspiration, a spark lit that caused me to reflect on my own life as both an artist and as simply a human being. The key to this connection was vulnerability.

The name of the tour was “This Way To Self Destruction“, and throughout the performance singer Kyo was playing a character that you could see slowly self destructing until their brand new, epic 10 minute song “World of Mercy” played at the end. The movements and miming, dance, and entrancing images played on the screen behind the band were so emotive that though the lyrics were in Japanese I could still understand exactly what each song was conveying.

Many of the band’s lyrics deal with depression, suicidal ideation, isolation, hopelessness, and anxiety, their art revolving around a lot of darker themes and imagery. However, the approach they use doesn’t glorify or romanticize negative emotions, but instead lays bare the things we all experience to some degree and asks us why there is so much greed, hatred, struggle, betrayal, and immorality in our society. Why is our world so hard to survive in? This raw honesty and straightforward, no-bullshit communication through their music is what makes them stand out, especially coming from a culture like that of their home country of Japan where transparency and public displays of emotion and opinion are more repressed and often considered inappropriate.

My friend Joannah, whom I attended with and who actually is a musician herself, posted this favorite quote of hers from 2007 before the show. For context, Kyo was asked in an interview ‘Is the purpose of Dir en Grey to disturb and unsettle your audience rather than simply to entertain?’

Maybe neither. I hate entertainment, but I’m not trying to disturb either: what I’m trying to do onstage is express the pain and frustration we all feel in life but also to look beyond it at a different world without that. If you’ve always lived in the light, then you won’t know what darkness is, and if you’ve only experienced happiness, then you can’t recognize real sorrow. You have to experience all of life to be truly alive.”

Just as their music moves back and forth from intense screams to melodic vocals and instrumentals, their ruminations on the burden of life are not without hope.

As a creator myself, I believe vulnerability is an inseparable entity from the creative process. Connecting with your viewers, watchers, or listeners requires honesty. One of my favorite TED Speakers, PHD Research Professor and Author Brene Brown, talks a lot about the power of vulnerability. I’d encourage you to take some time to watch her talk; it’s life changing.

I will leave you with another quote from Kyo,

“I think everyone has bad experiences and things they don’t want to say and I think there is meaning in letting it out.”

I’m definitely going to do a painting based on one of these photos. Any recommendations readers???

 

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Art Discussion

Art As A Tool For Expression

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.

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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.

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Transparency, 2012, Watercolor and Ink

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.

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With Opened Eyes, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Patches, Tears, and Loud Noises ; Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Of The Sea, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Timebound, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

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Frozen, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

 

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:

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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 …”

The Rush Hour

The Rush Hour, Prismacolor Pencil, 2014

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.

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Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small; Mixed Media, 2014

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.

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Artist : Colleen D.

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Artist : Michelle D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just pick up a pencil and play … you may be surprised what comes out, or whom you connect with and inspire along the way.

 

 

 

 

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Artists To Know

Artists To Know! Installment 5

I know I promised sculpture in my next Artist To Know! post; I even had all the images picked and everything! But, with another semester of Express Yourself Artshop coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to share some of the empowering art about disability and mental health I’d been archiving. I hope these images encourage, inspire, and maybe get you to think a little differently about the people you encounter in your day to day life.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”. – Wendy Mass

Carol Rossetti

Manu

Kelly (inspired by this beautiful video – I implore you all to give it a watch. I never cry during touching videos but this one had me tearing up).

Lorena

I have been in love with Carol Rossetti’s “Women” project since I first discovered it. Since then, her incredibly personalized drawings have gone completely viral, and I’ve been seeing them everywhere in the great, vast world of the interweb! Her pieces highlight different women’s stories of judgement, with a response of affirmation from Carol herself below. Many of the stories are about women who have been judged based on their age, physical appearance, or life choices; but I’m so glad she also decided to include women with disabilities. Clicking the link on her name and also visiting her facebook page, which shows all of the stories, is worth a look. Some of the women’s stories I found myself nodding along with thinking “Oh my god, I know exactly how she feels!”, others were as far removed as can be from experiences I’ve had or decisions I’d ever find myself making. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? We all have stories to tell, and judgement gets us nowhere, it just blocks our ears from reading and our eyes from seeing a new story different from our own. As well as hurting others, we miss out on reaching out and forming important connections.

Christian Hopkins

20-year-old Christian Hopkins says he was never good with words, which is why he loves communicating with pictures. He is studying biochemistry, but has had to take some health leaves due to severe clinical depression that he has dealt with for the past 4 years. This struggle is the subject of his photography. Though his work has gotten notoriety, Hopkins says photography for him is just a hobby, and a medium through which he can express himself. He has never had a single photography class or any form of instruction, which is pretty amazing when you see his intense, moving images. Using creativity as a means to come to grips with personal struggles, and explain parts of your life you find hard to talk about with others is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and one of the reasons I have such a passion for art. Creating is so much more than making pretty pictures.

Viktoria Modesta

This Latvian singer and model was born with a dislocated hip and leg. She endured terrible bullying at school because of her disability, and underwent 15 unsuccessful surgeries. She moved to London for better medical care, but still the surgeries she underwent didn’t help. Finally, weary of surgery after surgery that did nothing she convinced doctors to amputate her leg. She has never looked back. She has more confidence now after what she went through than she ever did, and is living her life doing exactly what she loves. She is the first widely known amputee pop star, and is paving the way for other talented individuals with disability to take their turn in the spotlight.

Steve Rosenfield

The tagline for Rosenfield’s powerful photography project is “Building security through insecurities”. Rosenfield himself didn’t start out in photography, but network administration. He describes how his former self of over a decade ago as “a very opinionated and materialistic person with a huge ego”. He never shared his feelings or insecurities, afraid that they would shatter his carefully constructed image, and this left a lacking in both his relationships and personal happiness. Fed up, Rosenfield began to “research” why he was so unhappy through reading and journaling, trying to get to the bottom of the lack he felt. When he found that the key was honesty, compassion and transparency, he quit his 9-5 to travel the world and start over. A friend he met in France got him into photography. In his series “What I Be”, subjects are exposing a side of themselves normally hidden from the world, and proclaiming “I am not my ____”. It isn’t about whitewashing over their struggles, but admitting that though they have these issues in their lives, the struggles do not define them. “I am not my amputation.” “I am not my cycle.” “I am not my fatness.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed another art immersion! Lastly, I’d like to leave you with some work from some super cool artists with disabilities that I know personally through Artshop, my wonderful students. We’ve had another great run :).

Adorable mixed media birds

Adorable mixed media birds

Bright watercolor flowers

Bright watercolor flowers

Cool collage mandalas

Cool collage mandalas

Watercolor tiger

Watercolor tiger

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.

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