Post-traumatic growth

Dear Artist, Over the past while I’ve had an abundance of emails from artists who are fighting cancer, stroke, stress, macular degeneration, concussion, body-destroying motor accidents and other trauma. Some are just reporting in, others are announcing they are throwing in the towel, while a few others are asking for help. It is, of course, difficult to advise on a one-to-one basis through the clouds, and I don’t always feel confident of my guruship but, as usual, I have a few thoughts: Post-traumatic growth is a relatively new area of psychological study. It deals with the positive changes experienced by some people as a result of a struggle with challenging life circumstances. It’s not simply a return to the way things were before the suffering, but the welcome experience of a profound improvement. The idea that suffering can be channelled to make us stronger runs through the history of philosophies and religions. While most of us no longer believe that artists need to suffer to make good art, we do know that a lot of good art comes from people who have suffered. Dr. Robin Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist based in Stanford, California, has introduced an interesting method whereby sufferers can grow their way out of trauma. Much like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces Rosenberg thinks folks can gain strength by following popular superheroes and their stories. We’re talking about the sort of characters in the current blockbuster action/ violence/ heroism movie, The Avengers — Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk and Nick Fury. She also thinks we should pay attention to Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Joker. This is good stuff — I’ve often thought there’s more in comic books than meets the eye. Dr. Rosenberg’s superheroes teach us a variety of life lessons. Among them: — We all have alter egos — We need to wear the costumes of our heroes — Being different can give us power — Adversity can be overcome — No matter what our abilities, life is frustrating — To overcome our fears, we need to run toward danger Regardless of whether you think Rosenberg’s superheroes are beneath your dignity, they do exemplify a simple and direct purpose uncluttered by nuance. Good and evil are sharply defined, and evil is often merely in need of shooting, beheading or blowing up. Best regards, Robert PS: “Every superhero has a mission.” (Dr. Robin Rosenberg) Esoterica: We all know of disabled persons who have overcome and excelled. By accidentally narrowing the range of capabilities, we often build strength in whatever talent or ability may be left. Further, some overcomers I’ve noticed have a strong sense of fantasy and self-delusion — even delusions of grandeur and superhuman abilities. I personally like the costume idea. As you may know, there are social clubs of dresser-uppers who claim to gain power by hanging out as Spiderwoman and Spiderman, etc. It’s becoming apparent that these nut cases are not so nuts. But I wonder if any psychologists or others might comment on my going to the party as Minnie Mouse.   Nice girls finish last by Carol Fetherston, Parksville, BC, Canada  

Carol and her self-portrait while she was undergoing chemotherapy

Recently, I bought a plaque that had a message that resonated with me, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” The message resonates, not because I wish to make history, but because it reveals to me that in order to be truly ourselves, women need to reject some of the “nice girl” conditioning that so many of us grow up with. Maybe this is the reason that superheroes are so important to us. They are able to freely be themselves and fly above so much of the repression that we experience as children and that can hold us back as artists. There is 1 comment for Nice girls finish last by Carol Fetherston
From: Marie Pinschmidt — May 11, 2012

Hang in there Carol & keep painting.

  Wrestler heroes interject strength by Mary Jane Brewster, Coarsegold, CA, USA  

original painting
by Mary Jane Brewster

Wow! Words put to what I experienced. One day the TV was turned to the WWF. The wrestlers made me feel stronger and the more I watched the stronger I got. I dreamed about Andre throwing him around the room and eventually I found my way out of the marriage. Later I painted my wrestler heroes and even got to meet and know many of them through my paintings.         Breaking free to fly by Duncan Long, Manhattan, KS, USA  

“Devils Sword”
by Duncan Long

Trauma can leave anyone emotionally paralyzed, unable to go forward, locked in a past that engulfs the present. Yet if you continue to shove against the prison walls, eventually the chrysalis breaks open and the butterfly you’ve become springs forth, and you wing upward in a way the caterpillar you once were would never have dreamed possible. When you’re locked in your chrysalis, it seems you will never escape. Yet, if you continue your struggle and don’t give up in despair, eventually you’ll do the impossible, breaking free to fly.       Loss of reactionary motivation by Loretta Puckrin, Lake Cowichan, BC, Canada  

“Canadian Sunrise”
original painting
by Loretta Puckrin

I was married to a controller who denigrated my efforts in any type of creation which did not immediately benefit him. As time progressed I found I could use the negativity as a springboard to advance. During better times we joked that I was like a bull — wave a red flag and I would proceed to show that it could be done. I got financing for the business when all thought it was impossible, took my pilots license at 45+ (got 4 levels completed in record time), and began to create in wood and paint when I had 3 children to raise and a business to run — even if it meant getting up at 3 a.m. when I could concentrate on the project at hand. I started a University education at the age of 56 — still working full time. So you see the reactionary motivation was in all parts of my life not just the artistic. Where my trauma was different is that when my husband died I was left with nothing to work against. It has been very difficult for me to find motivation as so much of my previous motivation was reactionary. It has almost been 2 years and the self-motivation is still a problem. I haven’t slowed down but what I am doing is, creatively, less fulfilling and more mundane than what I was doing just a few short years ago. There is 1 comment for Loss of reactionary motivation by Loretta Puckrin
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 11, 2012

This is not the only interpretation of what you see happening. You seem remarkable! Don’t give anyone else the credit (in a positive or a negative way)for that. Grief over the end of a long relationship takes a very long time and aging doesn’t come right out and tell you in so many words that it is happening. You will find a refined, and perhaps slightly different version of your best self as you regroup and get through the process of grieving and adjust to being older. Signed, the Voice of Experience, or the VOE as Reverend Ike called it.

  Regret for un-purchased treasures by Dennis Potter, Hsinchu, Taiwan   When I was in grad school at UC Berkeley in the ’80s I did a lot of work at the ASUC art studio. There was a fairly well known painter there who was paraplegic. He painted with a brush fixed to a headband, by moving his head and neck to paint. He was a serious painter and prolific; I wish I had bought some of his work then but I was too poor! I will never forget his images though. He painted superheroes! The paintings were “normal painting size” to small, about 30″ max, and were beautifully clumsy, a bit shaky like if your hands had palsy, but very purposeful and quite beautiful. Full moving action figures of the classic superheroes you mentioned, not detailed, very gestural and rich in color, “borrowed” from some dynamic figure style comic book illustration. They were very straightforward and direct and so touching in their subject and strength. I will never forget them! Sadly, I don’t remember the man’s name but do remember seeing the paintings in cafes and bookstores around the campus. One of those un-purchased treasures you always regret not having. There are 2 comments for Regret for un-purchased treasures by Dennis Potter
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 11, 2012

I can’t help one more comment today. The ASUC, a well equipped open studio on the Berkeley campus was a remarkable place; welcoming, supportive and enriching. I was there in the late seventies. I learned photography there, did printmaking and had a one person show of my abstract collages. I am sorry I missed that chapter but it sounds typical of the spirit there.

From: Michael — May 11, 2012

Well, Su, you should keep those comments coming. I saved a comment you made about a painting of mine and look at it from time to time as a pick me up.

  Modelling qualities of strength by Pam Ellis, Mission, BC, Canada  

original painting
by Pam Ellis

I work with post-traumatic growth on a regular basis in my practice as a Kaizen Creative NLP Master Practitioner / Trainer and creativity coach. The changes one can undergo for the good are most profound if it is handled correctly through the use of creativity. As an artist I fully understand the value of creativity with regards to the healing journey on a personal basis as well. It has helped me through many deep life changing events in my life, when nothing else was working. Below I’ve included a few of my own paintings that were done during my personal healing journey. There is a wealth of rich healing resources available for us when we open up to our creative center and use this creative energy in all areas of our life. The real magic begins when we are able to consciously direct this energy to where it is needed the most. This is where I come in as a practitioner — or, rather, a guide to help people to locate this energy and utilize it in the way that is most helpful for them. In the process I find that incredible breakthroughs take place rather quickly for the client, more so than any other healing modality that I have used in the past. In this article, Dr. Rosenberg is using a very classic NLP technique called “Modelling,” whereby we take on the qualities, characteristics, energy and strength of those who have what we need to make it through our challenge. Modelling in itself is also an incredibly creative activity, if done correctly. The branch of NLP that I have created, which combines classic NLP techniques with creativity coaching, takes this process one step further in connecting it directly with a client’s creative outlet(s), such as painting, music, gardening, cooking (focusing on their creative strength and joy) to bring an even greater depth to what is already working in the client’s life. Absolutely powerful beyond measure is the Creative Spirit within us all! My mission in this life is to help all to connect with it on a deeper level through all areas of life.   Painting through health crisis by Deon Matzen, Clinton, WA, USA  

original painting
by Deon Matzen

When I was a fairly new painter, then working in watercolor, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the same time I was given the opportunity to have my first solo show in a rather large facility. I had few paintings to show, but the dates were a year and a half into the future. At the time, I was not sure that I would make it a year and a half into the future. I decided to accept the challenge and started painting. I worked part time and went to radiation everyday and mostly I painted. Painting helped me keep my sanity and also gave me a goal a year and a half away to work towards. Sixteen years later I am still painting and again have been treated for a second episode of breast cancer — not related to the first. I remember setting goals, and working to meet the goals helped me through difficult times and difficult decisions. Painting for me was a lifesaver and still is. The show, back then, was a success, selling more paintings in one show than the gallery had ever sold. It launched me on a full time painting career and launched me onto a new life as a survivor and a painter. It is important to get outside of yourself and take a break from the stresses of the problems. Painting takes me to another space where creating takes full concentration and the other difficulties just fall away for a time. There are 4 comments for Painting through health crisis by Deon Matzen
From: Sherry P. — May 11, 2012

I love this painting. Thanks for sharing it.

From: susan burns — May 11, 2012

great painting!

From: Rose — May 11, 2012

Great inspiring story… Thank you for sharing.

From: Vernita Bridges Hoyt — May 12, 2012

A really inspiring story and a wonderful self-portrait painting! May you be blessed.

  Pretend you are wonderful by Lokken Liane, Denver, CO, USA  

original painting
by Lokken Liane

“Fake It Till You Make It” is a popular idiom in the A.A. world, and it’s worth trying. When all else fails, pretend you are wonderful. Certain very advanced, tantric practices in Buddhism involve visualizing yourself as a deity, such as Vajrayogini. Not because the deity is real, but because it is a powerful way to change our minds. These are precious and advanced practices. They open up the mind to all the possibilities of realization. Really trusting the essence of your pure inner-child can bring about lasting change in the way you view reality.   Finding the new normal by Mary Jane Q Cross, Newport, NH, USA  

“Son of the King”
oil painting
by Mary Jane Q Cross

People are curiously encouraged watching someone overcoming trauma to go on to new heights. It is not about the actual and singular overcoming but the example of not giving up that is such a strong sample of good character. People need and want to see this ‘getting the better of something’ that is trying to stop you. Standing out in such way is a responsibility that no one ever asks for. Some of the lessons that follow the trauma are: 1. You are on an adventure where everything has changed and will never be the same again. Finding the new ‘normal’ is paramount. 2. How to cope with what you cannot change. 3. And if you have to have something, having it well. 4. Running toward danger, put another way, is to find out completely what your new parameters are and then push them. 5. Take obstacles one at a time, relentlessly, until there are a number of them behind you. You don’t have to be better than anyone else but you always need to be better than yourself. Having an attitude of gratefulness is helpful and the perspective that God does not make junk even when the body is failing us. At nearly 20 years… post trauma, the lessons for me still mount up one at a time. I thought my life’s painting career ended, and it did while I made peace with the new normal. I am the woman who paints with her fingers due to severe tremor/movement problem. It took 5 1/2 years to relearn how to find the new normal and paint again when the ability to hold a brush or tools came to an abrupt end. Inventing several prosthetics have allowed small amount of brushwork to refine details. My body is not still on the outside but I am quiet on the inside. My post trauma paintings are all about the character of stillness and quiet. My theme became refined out of the trauma. It is important to be a grateful painter filled with hope. I am not thankful for this tremor but I am thankful in it. Perspective is not just important in paintings but in the uncertainties of life. There are 4 comments for Finding the new normal by Mary Jane Q Cross
From: Nan Fiegl — May 11, 2012

Amazing painting!

From: Rose — May 11, 2012

you are an inspiration….

From: marie tesch — May 11, 2012

Wonderful spirit in this painting. I’d like to know more about the process and the model. Do you have a website? Thanks.

From: Jacqueline — May 11, 2012

I can so relate to the ‘finding the quietness and peace’ in my work. I started out painting ‘the fight’ as I battled my illness, and now, as I find that I am not going to get better, I want to show peace and tranquility; quietness, in my works. That is what seems to be drawing me in now. Thank you for your comments. Its always good to know you are not alone and there are others feeling the same thing; this human condition.

  Let the madness continue by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada  

“Tula Belle”
original painting
by Bill Hibberd

I just pulled down yet another fruitless show, considered enduring a part-time unappealing day job and listened to my artist friends… advice regarding my marketing strategy. The pressure to earn enough to survive (I really mean to thrive) can be wearisome. Being a full time painter is certainly a misguided business plan yet the joy of creating trumps financial insecurity. I have tasked myself with painting 100 portraits this past year in an effort to improve my skills in handling the human face. As I near the end of this series I can see real growth in my work and the opportunity to connect with so many new people has been rich. This year has been an exciting and productive time. My mind is filled with strategies. Not marketing but art-making. Let the madness continue. There are 4 comments for Let the madness continue by Bill Hibberd
From: Mary Balzac — May 11, 2012

I’m smiling. As I read the above, I felt this could be me. I made a tentative decision a few days ago “to paint a painting a day for a year. In my retirement I discovered that I can paint,and have gone from being told my paintings are “naive”, to “you are getting better”, to “you’ve gotten good!” I also find I am not a marketer. Time to honor the decision to daily paint, not let anything or anybody get in the way, and yes, let the madness continue.

From: Michael Jorden — May 11, 2012

Bill, a lot of your friends are rooting for you and inspired by your efforts. Keep up the good work and don’t give up!

From: Vernita Bridges Hoyt — May 12, 2012

Tula Belle is truly a beautiful portrait! I did a painting a day for several years, and that was when I found my style and my technique improved a hundred fold. Keep painting!

From: Anonymous — May 12, 2012

… and by “keep painting” I mean that your talent needs to be seen. You are good!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Post-traumatic growth

From: TJ Scott — May 07, 2012

When I started painting 5 years ago my intention was to follow a dream of becoming an abstract expressionist. I figured why should multiple sclerosis stop me. But yet to this day no matter how hard I try, I can not finish a painting unless it’s in the style of realism. I have spent hours agonizing over why this is so. Although your article made reference to using fantasy as a way to regain what one has lost through illness by taking on traits of super heroes, I think most of us who paint with disabilities do so in order to gain some resemblance of control in our lives and an attempt to re-create a perfection we feel we may have lost?

From: Tammi otis — May 08, 2012

I find this a very interesting subject because I was abused through most of my childhood, and very angry as a result. I painted my feelings of bad memories and unreliable protectors for years. Now I’ve healed a lot of the hurt, but now I feel that my work lacks the deep feeling that was there when I was painting the pain! Right now, my life is great……..but my work is boring, and I feel less compelled to do it as well. What now? Do I whack my toe with a hammer and go at it. Jeeeeeeez! What a weird dilemma.

From: Darla — May 08, 2012

Your column comes at a very relevant time for me. Having survived many difficulties, I just found out that there’s another struggle ahead that will take all my strength and wits to get through. There are other people depending on me. We really do have super powers, and we got them through perseverence. We can paint or write anything we can think of, if only we can figure out how to do each work.

From: Jean McLaren — May 08, 2012

My friend Ken Levy is my Daughters ex husband. He is 65 and has had Parkinson’s for over 10 years. But he loves to paint and he came over to my place to show me some of his latest paintings. We have shared a venue to show and sell our paintings before. I just love his enthusiam for what he is doing and it is amazing. He paints and then add more colour on this computer. I wish I had one of the paintings right now to show you. If Ken can do it a lot of the rest of us who have woes can do it. Keep in trying. But draw out your inner love of what you are doing.

From: Trish Stevenson — May 08, 2012

While going through cancer treatment 3 years ago, I felt it would never end and that I would never get back to painting. Slowly but surely I began to feel better and finally when people asked me how I was doing, I replied “I feel like Superwoman!” as there were days when I actually did feel that way – unstoppable. I think I have become bolder, stronger and definitely more appreciative of our time on earth. I pray for your readers going through tough times for better days ahead.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 08, 2012

Karen Horney described the quandary of some trauma victims’ need to develop a false (super) self and to give that self special privileges…this results in difficulties with others. The trick is to become aware of that process in one’s self. There are lots of ways around/through this but once it is worked through, a lot of intelligence is freed from the burden of carrying around that false self. A side note…In my childhood, Wonder Woman was my superhero. One day my sister and I dyed all our underwear green for our Batman and Robin Costumes. Our mother was not amused when she looked at the clothes line.

From: Gail Ralphs — May 08, 2012

Thank you for these encouraging words….I have Macular Degeneration my paintings are getting bolder and more colorful than ever….they can take my drivers license but no one can take away my paintbrush….

From: Fostrart — May 08, 2012

When undergoing cancer treatment, I decided to throw caution to the wind, and paint any wild and crazy thing I wanted. An entire new series came out of this struggle, which continues through the fourth year out, and is the subject of four recent successful shows.

From: Linda Jolly — May 08, 2012

At the moment I am undergoing the trauma of my Art teacher of 14 years, retiring at the end of May. It is a bittersweet ending, bitter because I don’t want his classes to end, but sweet because I know this will be good for me to progress or digress in my artistic abilities. It will open new opportunities for me and new directions. Although it is scary, it is also exciting. I have had to make changes like this before and although they are difficult, I have found new skills and talents and strengths which were either latent or I developed. I had a major trauma in my life about 20 years ago which led me into the world of Art and what a wonderful experience it has been for me. It was like a reawakening and I have had so much enjoyment from it. Even if I decided to throw in the towel now (which I know that I will never do), I would feel that I have had one of the richest experiences in my life and that I am grateful to have found it. In adversity, we do find strength.

From: Peter Brown — May 08, 2012

I have two grandsons. One is five and a half and the other is a year and a half old. Both of these young boys are beautiful. One became the others best friend. Both these boys live in a home about twenty feet from my back door where my son and his wife live. It is an amazing thing. I am not fighting any of these conditions of which you are describing in this letter. I am most fortunate. The secret of life is to have something to live for. There are children all across this world that need adults. They can be one’s own relatives, or they can just be kids. I taught art in public school for many years. I have so many kids! I cannot walk on any street in my town without meeting a former student. My eldest grand child is always a super hero. I work every day to get him down. At this time of year, I bring him down to the strawberries, and the artichokes. I suppose that this is my job.

From: Leanne Cadden — May 08, 2012
From: Doreen Renner — May 08, 2012

I know of an artist friend who was stricken with cancer which affected her dominant arm but after cancer treatment she trained herself to paint with her non dominant arm. She went on to paint the most incredible portraits and go on winning as many awards as before. Never give up or surrender to illness.

From: John F. Burk — May 08, 2012

This is a thoughtfully sensitive reply to some sad issues. Well done. All art isn’t on canvas. And I hope if or when I find myself in similar circumstances, I find the courage you speak of.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — May 08, 2012
From: Pia De Girolamo — May 08, 2012
From: Barbara Youtz — May 08, 2012
From: Rick Rotante — May 08, 2012

In an hour of need I was told by someone I feel was stronger than myself that, “If I had what seemed an insurmountable problem to overcome – jump into the middle of it and not turn away.” What I discovered upon doing this was twofold; one- the problem wasn’t as insurmountable as I thought and two- the strength and confidence I attained fortified me for many future events that were to stand in my way. When things are turning bad, the first thing most do is feel sorry for themselves, which is a natural response, but we meet it head on we most often find many problems are solvable.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — May 08, 2012

I had a stroke in 2003 and was left with left sided weakness on the right side of my body. I have poor balance and can walk on a flat surface for short distances but for outside I walk with a walker. I am right handed and that is the worst part of my disability because it is hard for me to hold my brush steadily that sometimes when I like to draw a line it turns out crooked or sometimes I drop things that are heavy and writing is also a challenge. I still have this condition and perhaps I will not regain full recovery of my right side. On my part I am grateful that I still have this gift of life to enjoy with my family and friends. I am learning to be ambidextrous specially with my painting. I accept my limitations but never give up. I keep trying; doing my exercises and eating healthy foods. I think that acceptance of the condition that it maybe permanent but not giving up trying to do the things we can do and trying to go a little farther is the way to cope with disabilities. I don’t think that having a superhero is helping anyone. Believing in oneself and doing the best you can is all that matters.

From: Jennifer Bellinger — May 08, 2012
From: Claudia Roulier — May 08, 2012

I don’t think that reading comics or watching movies is going to help anyone do anything exempt pass time. Helping yourself is about “doing” not “not doing”.

From: Adele McDonnell — May 08, 2012

A mechanism for overcoming many problems is “role playing”. It also works when you are staring at a blank canvas for whatever reason–a brush with illness, breakup in relationships, etc. So, just pretend that you are Renoir, Munch, or Warhol and go and attack that canvas as you think that they would. It will get you over that “hump” and you can later find your familiar niche.

From: Lisa Argentieri — May 08, 2012

Thank you for this letter. I was in a serious accident and have been suffering with PTSD after a bad concussion. I couldn’t paint for months. Now I am back to painting, and my style is different, but for the good!

From: Beverly Galante — May 08, 2012

Recently I had a melanoma on my foot of all places. It was stage 2 and so I needed extensive surgery on it. Then, of course, I was laid up, unable to walk on it for weeks. During those few weeks I painted several small paintings at my kitchen table (unable to go to my studio alone) with acrylic paints my hubby bought me from WalMart. I painted depictions of a lake where I go with family every summer. I included family members, dogs and inner tubes, boats and docks. Then when I was able, I framed them, wrapped them up and sent them to delighted family members. I almost wish I could recapture the joy I felt at that time without the trauma behind it. But alas, now that I’m better and can walk to my studio, I don’t feel like doing a thing. I keep asking myself ‘What the hell is wrong with you girl?’ and getting no answer at all. UNTIL you sent this last letter. Thank you, your friend in my new superhero costume, CAT WOMAN!

From: Tish Murphy — May 08, 2012
From: Margaret Ferraro — May 08, 2012
From: Lou Gutsch — May 08, 2012

In response to “evil is often merely in need of shooting, beheading or blowing up” I had a pivotal moment in therapy a few years ago. Up until then my life had been filled with night terrors. I picked up a figurine of “The Scream” and held it in my hand. When I did my immediate reaction was to burst out laughing. What a cathartic moment that was and a big leap in my understand of myself.

From: Linda Tabor — May 08, 2012

A comment to the super hero newsletter that I just read this morning! Yes, even artists feel the need for costume. How many of us, before standing in front of our work area robe ourselves with some kind of “super hero” outfit be it an apron, an over-sized shirt, a lab coat of some sort, a favorite cap, etc! The simple act of this article being placed upon our bodies gives us the sense of a oneness, if you would, with the paper or canvas before us. With this simple gesture we become transformed, now able to face the empty expanse before us. Alas, even a “super hero” can have a bad day and the job doesn’t always get done, but until we place our favored outfit back on the hook, hanger or chair we are expecting something great to come from our hands. For me, it is all about what you do with what you have been given. You can become a victim of life’s surprises and let it take you where it will OR you can make the most of every door that has been opened to you be it good, bad or ugly! After all, being a super hero does require making choices on the road to our own destiny! We don’t always make the best choice but it is our choice and ours alone to choose the direction we will go.

From: Catherine Stock — May 08, 2012

Nothing to do with this posting, but I was wondering whether you had any thoughts as to working at different times of the day. I find that on certain projects, I cannot start working before three or four in the afternoon and then often continue on till three or four in the morning. It usually is when I am under the gun with a deadline, like the illustrations I am presently finishing up for a picture book. I faff around all day doing laundry, checking the postbox, cleaning out cupboards etc avoiding my desk, like a female dog circling and circling before lying down to give birth. I find that I need to wait for the magic hours, when life outside becomes still and quiet and dark, and the telephone never rings.

From: Elihu — May 08, 2012

This relates to the dark night of the soul, and the need for great heroes to experience the underworld. Some traumas can be totally disabling, while others challenge the individual’s ability to persevere.

From: Nancy Unsworth — May 08, 2012

It would be interesting for your readers to check out two of our national Canadian treasures: Earl Bailly, who was rendered quadriplegic at the age of three and Maud Lewis who suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. True inspirations!

From: Melissa Sciumbata — May 08, 2012
From: Ib — May 08, 2012

My current condition brought to mind John holmes as a super hero, not sure where to get the costume!

From: Jackie Knott — May 09, 2012

An accident, surgery, family events, altered physical abilities, finances, even a diagnosis can be traumatic … it is all part of the human condition. We would have to hunt a long time to find someone NOT affected by such things. That’s life, and some of us have had more than our fair share. Super heroes never appealed to me except as campy distractions. No, the indomitable human spirit is what is super. Couple our human spirit with the help and influence of The Spirit and you have a truly remarkable force. When we are faced with such situations we compensate for what is lost. We might have to change our style of painting, or where, or what — but especially why. Post traumatic art creation is often done for ourselves. The result may not be all that evident in my work but I recognize it in my personal perspective. For all the trials, past and ongoing, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Because I know without any doubt God is in absolute control and I take great comfort in that.

From: elzbieta zemaitis — May 09, 2012

I had a traumatic childhood by any standard. Then my son was born with one of the worst cases of “open spine” seen in our region. My life has been deeply changed and saddened by my father’s suicide and our son’s continuing life and death struggles. I have done a series of small works titled “It’s My Life” and one image is “The Unheard Scream” depicting my leaving my Dad in a locked ward with him at the small window in the door. To me it epitomizes my grief. Yet a recent visitor to the site left a note that we all have hard times in school! A humbling comment, indeed, showing my lack of ability to show my deepest angst in paint. I guess it will never be worth 19 million like Munch’s Scream so it is just as well it is NOT FOR SALE. I would say to people try to express your experiences – and don’t forget the happy ones, even if it is a MOMENT here or there. I think that has helped me. Betty Pieper AKA Elzbieta Zemaitis

From: Sam Packart — May 09, 2012

What about Snow White, could it be possible for Snow White to be a Super Hero?

From: Jordan Crosby — May 09, 2012
From: Warren Criswell — May 09, 2012

You’re talking about the doppelganger. We all have one whether we know it or not. Sometimes it’s a superhero, sometimes the superego. It can help us get over trauma, or induce the trauma. Sometimes it’s Faust, sometimes Mephistopheles. Sometimes it’s the Grand Inquisitor, sometime his prisoner. I think maybe artists can see these inner selves better than normal people. Goethe and Dostoyevsky wrote about them, Caravaggio, Bosch and Goya painted them. They reveal themselves in our work. Once I came to the party as St. George, along with my double, the dragon. Adversity can be overcome! PS. We send our superheros–our golems, spidermen, batgirls–out into the world or into our studios to do things we would never attempt ourselves.

From: Pippi Johnson — May 09, 2012

Your message on”post-tramatic growth” hit home. I have just come through three months of debilitating back pain..spending most of my time lying on the floor, visiting the ER and all kinds of therapists. During that time with my laptop and IPad, I researched, journaled and thought a lot. When I was able to paint again…I was sooooooooo very grateful. I was more selective, more careful, and turned out a series full of passion and joy. In the end, a positive growth experience.

From: Kathleen Slavin — May 09, 2012

The concept of UP-ROOTED resonates with my experience over the last couple of years with a dramatic life change in my vision following a series of three surgeries on one eye for retina detachment. I was uprooted by the experience from much that I took for granted in the interpreting of visual stimuli onto a two dimensional format because of the distortion that became a compelling factor in my vision. My skills for application of paint also had to be revised to adjust for change in my depth perception which impacted the physical relationship between the brush and the canvas. Once I accepted that although I still had vision, I would not be seeing in the same way that I had learned to expect, I searched for different visual entry points from which to craft a painting. Following my physical up-rooting, opportunities arose for experimentation leading to new directions, constructs, and images in my art. To my established methods of application of paint by brush and roller, techniques were added: flows of liquid paint to produce staining in areas, use of raw canvas, dripping paint, physical manipulation and dispersing of wet paint on a support by tipping and shaking, drawing using a stream of poured paint. These marks formed a random and abstract under-painting. This under-painting suggested the subject rather than starting with a preconceived idea of an image or photo reference material. A subject, usually with certain representational elements was then added working with the tensions created by the reconciling of abstract and representational elements. Because I have spent many years painting the forest as a subject, this subject has often continued to surface. I was at Emma Lake Kenderdine Art Campus in the summer of 2011 within days after a big storm had gone through the campus leaving vast devastation in its wake. In response to the many up-rooted and broken trees the concept of UP-ROOTED was planted in my repertoire of forest images. The juxtaposition of up-rootedness as an image with those of re-growth, rallying, building, is an intriguing creative inquiry and is my current muse.

From: Marcie Maynard — May 09, 2012

Hi Robert, Writing this with a smile on my face. I read your last line about Minnie Mouse. You are not only wise and sometimes profound, but hysterical. Ha! Best to you, and thanks.

From: Judith Whitemarsh — May 09, 2012

Congratulations Robert on a fab newsletter today — I am very impressed with your knowledge of human nature never mind art.

From: Nancy Grigsby, Birch Bay, WA — May 09, 2012

Your Letter struck a chord with me. I lost my husband of 30 years this past February 21 after a devastating 13-month battle with esophageal cancer. He had never been sick; he even died with his tonsils intact, a rarity for those of us born in the mid-’50’s. During the time of his treatment and eventual final days in hospice, my art was and remains set aside. I am taking a brief trip soon, traveling solo with some portable sketching and watercolor supplies, and hope to find both myself and my “muse” again. Thank you for this inspiring piece. I am printing off a copy and putting it in my suitcase. I was at the South Surrey/White Rock Art Society meeting last month at which you spoke. I appreciate your “24 Points” and found them to be of great merit. Perhaps our paths will cross someday. In the meantime, Thank you

From: Rebecca Stewart — May 09, 2012

Seven years ago my daughter was born, it took about 6 months for the ‘medical’ community to acknowledge that something was not ‘right’ with our wee girl. We have struggled through this primarily on our own and through our own initiative have improved the quality of her and our lives. After 6 years of major sleep deprivation I finally decided to go on antidepressants to re-balance my brain chemistry (as a result of sleep deprivation) and to help myself cope with daily life. The positive side of all this is (besides a beautiful daughter) that we have changed our whole lives for the better, we have stepped away from the consumer world and are creating our own piece of paradise here in Morere, New Zealand where our whole family can flourish in a healthy rural environment. We have accomplished this for our family and that makes us superheroes!

From: Bonnie Roberts, Arlington Heights, Illinois — May 09, 2012

I retired from teaching in 2004 and had a retirement goal of learning how to oil paint. I started taking classes in Sept. of that year. Then, in November, the day after our Thanksgiving, my only son was killed in a car accident. It put me in a tailspin!! And still does, but, my painting was my salvation–after several weeks away I continued on with my lessons and I have been somewhat successful with my painting avocation! I love it and am always up for a challenge!–But, too late for a career!

From: Pam Haddock — May 09, 2012

Our son died July 2, 2011. He was 29 years old and working on is dissertation. The day he died I was painting. I have included a silhouette figure in many of my landscapes and always, always it was my son. That day as I painted, alone at my house – he out with a friend at a climbing site here in the mountains – I again put him in my painting. Beside him, on a whim I included another figure. I thought of it as myself. I even painted the shirt the color of one I wear hiking. By noon we were on our way to the hospital. He had fallen while rappelling from the climb. Twenty five percent of all climbing deaths occur while rappelling. I have been painting. It has been so hard. I have been writing more. I started a blog at word press called “ofmenandmountains”. I have always written and this has become a form of therapy for me. Painting seems empty. Yet I do it anyway. I do it partially because my son was a great one to encourage me in my process. I fight depression. He was an organ donor. Six people are living very well now because of his donor status. I am looking for meaning. It is difficult to find. I hope to push through. The paintings I have done since he died seem lifeless. I have no idea what super-hero I could choose. I used to tell my students. Life is short, paint fast. Little did I know.

From: Susan Easton Burns — May 09, 2012

Dear Robert, I had surgery and felt terrific afterward so told the doctor “no thanks” when he asked if I wanted pain medication for my home recuperation. A few hours after I got home the pain was so great, I was hallucinating. Here is my best recollection of my epiphany: I promised God I would no longer cook, clean or do laundry. I would just paint. I saw a very bright light. I felt that I became that light. The pain subsided. When I awoke from this vision I felt light happy and so excited to start painting again. The two people that were not elated about my experience were my mother and husband, but that didn’t deter me. I was free. I hired help cleaning and shared cooking details. Everything was different. My career as a painter really began here. Thanks, Robert, for keeping us connected in our one true language.

From: Diane Voyentzie — May 09, 2012

I actually think Minnie Mouse is a very friendly and powerful person. Case in point..I bought my two year old granddaughter a Minnie Mouse red and white polka dot wallet for 4 dollars two years ago… Last weekend she brought it to me with much pride and pleasure..”look, grandma, I still have my Powerful purse you gave me!”. Minnie mouse somehow translated to ” powerful Purse “. To her …red and white is very powerful.

From: Nonny Kordelia Kudel — May 09, 2012

…..”as usual, I have a few comments….” I love that, Robert… I do too, but don’t have the audience, of course… “dress for success”, “dress for the job you want”… wear a superhero costume… all the same to me…….. I’m in the 15th week of having “that” cough/congestion thing that went around this winter… it whoooped me.. .. I missed winter completely… when they finally purged me with MANLY strong stuff, it took nearly a week to get the meds outta my system… and then pollen season started… which is still going strong here in NC……. in the meantime, I bought a pair of slax at a resale shop on a rare NEED TO GET OUT day… the resale shop is 10X closer than Jerry’s Artarama, but I wasn’t up to that trip. Anyway, the pants are soft and silky and clingy and I suddenly feel like the old me, before I felt bowed and trampled on by this coff… (you name your horse that tramples you, I’ll name mine)… I have a couple of blue/green tops I’ve been gravitating towards because they bring out my STARTLING blue green eyes… I think I’ve found my costume… I feel GOOD, well, (well-ER), younger (you & I share the year), more capable, clearer-headed… on the road to “Better”…. I tried a small pastel (my heart!) that I tore up… not taking to the dust well yet……. but I’m empowered, emboldened…. and still have a good turn of butt in silky slax, if I do say so myself!!! … surviving, ego intact……………. yep, costumes is a great idea…………………..

From: Anonymous — May 09, 2012

Those of you that have posted of deeply traumatic events … I want to hug all of you.

From: An admirer — May 10, 2012

Dear Minnie, You are very sweet and powerful in your way. You are agreeable with others, cute and funny, and a bit submissive. You are easy to get along with but sometimes you won’t let Mickey kiss you. An admirer.

From: Kate Lehman Landishaw — May 10, 2012
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 10, 2012

I was 8 years old the first time I was gay-bashed, for being not quite masculine enough, 50 years ago. So Robert, even your comments about pre-puberty joy are absurd. Some of us had that bashed out BB, BG, before everything. The Art came out anyway. However, I’d been fully on my art path for several years, struggling to survive, when I lost many hundreds of friends to AIDS. That situation then required that I evolve or die, now more than 20 years ago. But I re-committed myself to my art path post that self-healing phase. My opinion is that all people who are just ‘happy’ have no concept of what some of us have been through, and I find them utterly boring. There is a profound truth to being both. Good and bad. Positive and negative. Powerful and vulnerable. Masculine and feminine. Light and Dark. Not either/or. Not neither, but both, even All, and ending duality as we know it. Try growing up into that. In fact, standing before everyone naked yet invulnerable is what is gained, and it requires no costume.

From: Mickey — May 10, 2012

Dear Minnie, You are stealing my popularity. Mickey

From: Jacqueline Kinsey — May 11, 2012

My hero has been Christ for many years. Dwell on that one! I was infatuated with super heros as a child, watching the cartoons every Saturday morning. When I grew up (kinda), I became both an artist and a Police Officer! When I could no longer be the Police, I became the artist full time. I still want to help save people…but now its through my artwork and being me. At least that is what I am trying to do. Strangely enough, a scripture just came to mind, in Ephisians I think it it, where they talk about putting on the armour of God; shield, sword, belt, helmet. Is this like putting on a costume? Food for thought.

From: Rich Mason — May 12, 2012

Speaking for myself, having been involved with several forms of trauma for the past 5-6 years I’ve felt very happy to have art to go to when things are tough going. I have improved somewhat over the recent years but I won’t give life’s adversities credit for this. I prefer to think it is simply the act of sticking to it in spite of what is being handed out at the time. What better way to take your mind off problems than to look at a piece of art you created and learned something new at the same time. I have my superheroes but most of them have uniforms that are paint smeared and a bit ragged.

From: Karen Anderson — May 12, 2012

I disagree – we don’t have to don the garb and philosophy of pretend comic superheroes to overcome traumatic disease and events – we need to find the superheroes that exist in ourselves – we are all superheroes, all miracles, actually. As a cancer survivor, I can tell you from experience that each of us has an inner strength to deal with the seemingly overwhelming problems thrown at us and to become stronger by dealing with our misfortunes. Overcoming a disease, a calamity or something other serious event, we make a decision to either sit and suffer – or to take a deep breath, give it our best shot and fight back. Dealing with negative events enables us to appreciate life more and to love deeper and to live life “like nobody’s watching”. Art becomes sweeter; love becomes deeper; time becomes a commodity that you do actually spend and budget. Beauty is everywhere you look and capturing that beauty on canvas is a joy that you savor and value even more than before.

From: Gene Martin — May 13, 2012

From a poem I read many years ago, Dryden, I remember: Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own, he who so secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived to day

From: Clint — Dec 18, 2012
     Featured Workshop: Sharon Lynn Williams
051112_robert-genn Sharon Lynn Williams workshops   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 
Lahinch - acrylic painting by Phillip Morrison, Ireland

The Voice of the Turtle is Heard 4

oil painting 18 x 24 inches
by Mark Kuhne, MN, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Dorothy Walter of Goldendale, WA, USA, who wrote, “Art is good for a person who needs healing. You can’t feel the pain when you’re having fun with art.”

“Green Man”
by Arthur Brill

And also Arthur Brill of Beaverdam, VA, USA, who wrote, “I wanted to share with you one of my favorite costumes I’ve created…”The Green Man.” It was done on a fluke for a Halloween party, but I have invoked The Green Man as a source of strength and renewal many times.” And also Zehava Power who wrote, “I’ve been trying hard and not succeeding in finding an older article you had written about using opposites in every painting. Placing darks against lights, color against neutrals, line against form etc. It was so well said (like all your articles) and I would love to read it again.” (RG Note) Thanks, Zehava. You might be remembering an earlier letter, The artistic alternative, where I mention the interplay of opposites.    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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