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Art and Life

Somehow art has lost it’s standing in our world. We have forgotten the pleasure of catching an image on paper in our own hand. A hundred years ago everyone carried a drawing pad, and practiced daily. Today people are afraid to draw anything. “I can’t even draw a straight line,” they say. Or “all I can draw are stick figures.” Then draw stick figures I tell them. Even stick figures contain information you will need to fathom the imagery your mind has stored up. “I don’t have any talent,” is another excuse we often hear. But talent is nothing more than desire turned outward. I’ll bet every great artist was told at one time in his life that he or she lacked talent. But they had the desire to overcome these negative criticisms. How many times have you heard someone say, “It looks like a kid painted that”? Everyone’s a critic. We all think we know what is good, even if we know nothing about art. We need to turn off that inner critic, suppress that negativism, and open up to creativity.

Everyone needs some kind of creative outlet. Some people are creative in sports, or conversation, or poker, or the arts. But illness bulldozes everything. You are involved in just staying alive. You are overwhelmed by treatments, therapies, and feeding tubes. Some are submerged in self pity, “why me,” “woe is me.” Negativity rolls in and plays a large part in the psychological stress. I remember trying my darnedest to keep painting when I was diagnosed with cancer. I have had cancer four times now, but when I found out about the tumor on my prostate I froze with fear and doubt. I couldn’t paint. My mind was working full time on other things, wondering if I was even going to survive. My creative outlet no longer existed. But gradually I worked thru my illness. As I gained strength my thoughts turned more and more to art, only to be thwarted again and again. First by the return of cancer in the prostatic bed, then by throat cancer, which was by far the hardest to endure and one who’s after effects I’ll always be living with. The third diagnosis was Squamous cell of the penis, then bladder cancer. Every year or two I have a new diagnoses. So I have come to believe I might have a predisposition to cancer. I have a sneaking feeling I’m going to experience a return or an entirely different problem. Or I will discover some new side effect from radiation; the therapy referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving”.

Fear is a prison that is hard to escape. You get locked in a box and you can’t get out. Art can help you escape that prison. Art can be a part of the healing process, and that is why we call our group “Art for the Soul”. This kind of art isn’t a commercial endeavor. It is not about creating a “work of art”, but it is about creating art “that works for you.” It is about healing, not selling. That doesn’t mean it can’t be sold. Survivor art is highly personal and truthful. It can be very naive and innocent. These are desirable characteristics in any work of art. So this art can be highly sought after in the commercial world. These works of art are nuanced, complicated investigations of what it means to be alive. These are images straight from our subconscious. These are images that we haven’t or can’t verbalize. We go to our support groups and talk about our problems in a kind of verbal psychotherapy. But there are images that we can’t verbalize. Some that we don’t want to verbalize. The brain deals in imagery before it forms them into words. Our emotions are held in the mind as images, so imagery rather than words would be the most direct route to these emotions. And art is the release of these emotions and feelings through imagery.

I’m getting a little too clinical with all this talk about the brain. My wife and I are artists not therapists. We deal more in images on paper and their visual effect, rather than the subconscious. That is why we make a good team. We are both artists, I am a four time cancer survivor and she is a longtime caregiver. She is a born caregiver, just like she is a born artist with far more talent than I will ever have. Picasso was a born artist who was drawing before he could even talk. His first word was “piz” the infant’s abbreviation for “lapiz”, which is Spanish for pencil. I think Rolanda was born with a pencil sticking out of her curly black hair. We are both certified Reiki practitioners and like to use meditation and relaxation techniques to help survivors recover through art.

This is kind of our simplistic mission statement.

- Val Engstrom