What IS the point?
I had a couple friends over the other day to do art. I was ready. I’d covered the kitchen table with butcher block paper, and set out glue, paint, brushes, and scissors. I haven’t been making art a priority since the end of July when I finished the 2018 ICAD challenge, and was excited to spend a few hours getting my fingers dirty, chatting with the ladies.
Shari and Sue arrived. Bags were set down, snacks set up. Before we could dig in Shari said, “I’m glad I’m here because I wanted to ask you what the point is?”
“You mean of doing art?” I said.
“Yeah,” she answered. “I was looking at my stuff and wondered what to do with it. I mean, why bother?”
Shari’s dad passed away a few months ago, and it’s been hard. She was quick to add, as women do, that her life is great. She’s got a loving husband, wonderful daughter, beautiful home, and food to eat. “But really,” she said. “What’s the point?” Her eyes welled, and I grabbed the tissues.
“Don’t worry,” I declared in solidarity. “It’s not a party until someone cries.” We chuckled, and I was glad she asked.
I’ve been feeling the exact same way lately. What’s the point? I was writing, and now I'm not. Again. I was creating art, and now I'm not. Again. This ebb and flow, finding the point and losing it, has been an ongoing struggle.
For a while, I’ll have what my dad used to call a “head on straight” period, or a “shit together” phase. A time when I feel life’s oft-referred to yet elusive balance. I take care of myself: eat healthier, get more exercise, drink less, express gratitude, create. I accomplish: meditate, write blogs, read a ton, reach out, commune. I feel good about myself, my place in the world, and what I’m doing with my life. Then, for reasons I usually can’t discern, at least at first, poof! The balance shifts. A majority of good stuff falls by the wayside, and I end up watching hours of television, fantasizing about cheese, and should-ing all over myself.
"Mind if I answer first?” Sue asked, cutting into my reveries.
“Heck no,” I replied.
Sue told Shari the story about how she used to make jewelry, until her husband Richard got diagnosed with cancer and she stopped. She said: “I thought, I can’t do something so frivolous at a time like this. Richard needs me. He needs to be my priority.” Richard passed away two and a half years ago. Sue went on to explain that her return to art was an a-ha moment.
"Art was, and is, a way for me to stay in the present moment, process my emotions, and take care of myself. At first, all the art I made was about Richard. But one day, after a while, I realized I had finally made something else. Richard is still with me, but I was able to experience joy again. I wish I hadn't waited to rediscover how healing and enriching art is.” I nodded, and then Sue said, “Art is an act of emotional kindness.”
Whoa. I wrote that down—emotional kindness—and I wondered, as I do, why some of us need convincing to heap ourselves with kindness. Why we grouse against regular self-care unless we’ve experienced some kind of trauma? Why we think the answer to finding what has ebbed or flowed is to be hard on ourselves? To crack the whip.
Why do we need permission to be nice to ourselves?
Shari got the purple, pink, and yellow paints. Sue broke out her Cuttlebug to emboss some paper. I shuffled through my ICAD cards and reflected on the process. ICAD is a challenge to create original art on one 3x5 index card every day for two months. Whether it takes two minutes or two hours doesn’t matter. The point is to create for the sake of creating. And every day for two months that's what I did. I painted and glued and embellished. I trusted my gut. I stamped and stenciled and collaged. I didn't overthink. I had fun because art is fun. Does there have to be another reason? Because it's fun is a perfectly excellent reason to do anything.
I selected a favored card—one with a magazine image of Mother Nature cradling elephants, plants, and penguins--to affix in my journal and grabbed the glue. I love the cards I created. Looking at them made me happy. Being happy reminded me how right Sue was that art helps me be kind to myself. If there needs to be a better answer to the point than fun surely being kind must be it. But there’s more even than that. Art is nourishing. It’s transformational. It’s a growing process. It enriches life. I glanced at Sue and Shari. Art brought us together. Art broke down barriers. Art helped us speak truth. Art connected us. Balance may ebb and flow, but art's gifts remain intact.
From the perspective of self-care, art and kindness teach me something else too. I can carry these feelings into my relationship with the ebb and flow. I don't have to judge myself if my shit's not together for a few days. It will be. I can be gentle with myself if life's responsibilities prevent me from meeting the page. It'll be there when I'm ready. I don't have to freak out about those wedges of gouda. Instead, I'll swallow my simvastatin, be grateful for medicine, and eschew cheese tomorrow. In due course the balance will shift. And maybe, just maybe, with more art and more words and more creativity and yes, damn it, more cheese, kindness will become the measure of my equilibrium. I think it will. No. I know it will.
Later that day, Shari texted me: I have been doing art since I got home. Our conversation really jump started everything for me. Let’s do it again soon!
Question asked and answered.