Sunday, May 12, 2013

Vulnerability in Life and Art

New Work 1334    30x30"   oil/cold wax on panel  © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves

New Work 1335   16x16"  oil/cold wax on panel © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves

Red 1   16x16"  oil/cold wax on panel ©2013 Janice Mason Steeves

I am reading the wonderful book, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown.  She writes of vulnerability. She describes it as the experience of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure that we face every day. Vulnerability isn't weakness, she says, but "it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage." 

I think of the work I am currently doing and how different it is from the work of the past year.  This past year, I worked on a series I called Silence. There is an urgent importance I feel, in finding quiet space in our lives and in our work.  It's vital as well to create quiet spaces in our paintings, where we allow breath to enter.  This felt like a series I could work on for years.

In April, after not painting for a month because of the demands of exhibitions and workshops, I began to work in the studio by playing on small paper panels. I painted quickly and freely, using quirky mark-making and line and bright combinations of colours.  The excitement for this work has continued and it seems to be turning into a series of paintings.  It surprises me the quick shift in direction and I've been trying to understand the reason behind this shift.  It came to me in the past few days, in the ah ha moment where we remember how our lives and our work and the world are interconnected.

One night this past January, my good friend Susan and I went to a movie.  One week later she began having dizzy spells.  Within the month she was in the hospital diagnosed with a brain tumour.  She has remained in hospital since.  Susan can't walk or even get out of bed without assistance. Her speech seems to be improving although it's sometimes very difficult to understand her.  She doesn't seem to be bothered too much by this, and still tries her best to communicate, even leaving messages on my phone from time to time.  As she fights for her life, she holds to her goal of becoming well enough to attend her daughter's wedding in August.

I realize that my new work is about joy and gratitude.  Joy and gratitude are what Susan's illness is reminding me to focus on every day.  Gratitude for her friendship and her courage. I am grateful that I am healthy, that I can walk and I can paint.  

The art critic that sits on my shoulder tells me that contemporary art should not be about joy and gratitude.  It requires a much more weighty construct.  

I brush the critic off my shoulder.  Susan's vulnerability is physical.  Mine is emotional-it's something that artist's have to deal with on a daily basis: do we put ourselves out there in an open, honest, truthful way?  Or do we hide that light, hoping the critic will like us more that way.