Art Imitates Life

Pain and distress is as much as aspect of our experience as love and happiness.  Often we only honor the comfortable aspect of ourselves, while pretending, or avoiding the aspects that give us pain.   Turning our attention to our lesser-loved, and more troubling feelings gives us access to parts of ourselves that need to be heard, held and helped. Sadness can connect us to the truth of our pain, the honour of our experiences, and the ability to move past it to something better.

In the early weeks of 2014, I was completely overtaken by The Artist.  S(he) wanted to see if other people were hiding pain too.

I wanted to know if other people would experiment with their sadness, and see if they could make some progress with their own pain.  They didn’t really understand what I was doing, and luckily they didn’t care.  They were brave, and they trusted that it was worth trying.  The agreement was that no one had to participate, but once they did, the image was mine to keep.  I used one image from each subject, as part of a collective project.

It took about 7 weeks to shoot 19 people.  I had no problem finding volunteers, but a few people backed out at the last minute, understandably.

Some thought it would be difficult to cry for no reason, but once we got down to it, the tears often started on the interview couch.  I was not surprised to find out that everyone had something to cry about.

There were aching, soulful sobs, and tight, angry tears, and sad lonely tears of things long ago left behind.  I shot 19 women, and each story is unique.  The tears are easy to spot, but are hard to look at sometimes.

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The process allowed me to connect personally with things that used to be ideas.  Areas of expertise that no person wants to claim. I can’t explain what happens when you see yourself in a way you didn’t expect.  Or when you find your face looks fierce and proud when you thought it would look weak. What a pleasant and grateful truth to see a warrior in the mirror, and not a mouse.

Around the same time, there was a photographer that got a lot of attention for the images he shot of John Schneider crying on a shoot for a show called ‘The Haves and Have Nots”.  I had not seen these images, although they happened right around the same time that I was absorbed in my self-portrait series.  The parallels were obvious.

JS had just lost his father, and he allowed the photographer to capture images of his pain, after the required images for the show were complete.  I thought they were breathtakingly beautiful.  Some of the people who had seen my project sent me the link to the photographs.

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http://www.jeremycowart.com is the artist (and photographer) that captured these images.

I always loved John Schneider when he was on the Dukes of Hazzard.  I loved him even more after I saw these images.

I understood these images more than most, and I thought it ironic that these sort of feelings are welcomed and congratulated as brave when it’s done by a celebrity.  I don’t know what I had expected from my own set of images.  I imagined they would be experienced as uncomfortable and interesting. I thought people might be interested in exploring the boundaries of experiencing emotional pain, and discussing the feelings the images provoke.  I thought there was some value to looking at the opposite of the feelings I was regularly being paid to produce.  I thought it was art.

I was so wrong.

Someday I believe these images will be seen by the people who will understand them.  Maybe then I will understand why they were so important to me that I destroyed my career, and my comfortable, veneer-covered life to make them.

I hope I will be able to know why I spent all of my waking time thinking of these images, and trying to make more.  Something in me wanted to be certain I knew I was deeply unhappy.  I believe most people are deeply unhappy in many ways, but are so brainwashed by the way we ‘live’ that they can no longer feel their disconnect.

I realize it’s probably only art when a famous person does it.  I think JC’s images are powerful and real.  This is the only kind of work I’m interested in creating any more, and there seems to be little market for it.

How will I ever sell people on the idea that feeling their own real, authentic feelings, is the gateway to a life connected to the real world.  In this place, there are no tv’s or cell phones.  There is nothing to distract you from the job of being human, and reveling in your own experience of life.

The paradox?  You must awaken to your own discomfort, to live the way you are meant to live.

Art Imitates Life

I realized in  early January 2014 that I could easily trigger a PTSD flashbacks. You might wonder why I would do that.  I am an artist at heart, and probably an emotional junkie.  I was attracted to the intensity of the feelings.  I LIKED FEELING THINGS, even if they were sad. I wanted to see for myself what was happening, and decided to set up a self-portrait set at my studio.  I used a piece of music that had consistently, and inexplicably made me cry when I heard it. For nearly an hour after I shot the first episode, I couldn’t look at these photos.  I paced nervously.   I knew whatever I captured was important to me, but I didn’t know why.  The feelings in my body were highly manic, excited, anxious, and agitated.  My heart was pounding. I was  worried that my measurements for the self timer would not be accurate, and the images would be out of focus.  Which they all were.  I was devastated that my first real art experiment was a bust. Failure was feedback.  I could not be both the observer and observed in this situation. I asked a close colleague to shoot my self portrait.  When I viewed the images from the second attempt, I was moved beyond words.  They painted a heartbreaking tale of sadness, betrayal and pain.  Each image showed a different emotion.  They give a face and an expression to a terrible experience.  Seeing her, made her real. cropped-multiplemeheader.jpg I even made a video of the images, and invited my clients and friends (over 2000 Facebook contacts) to ask for the link to view it.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I was afraid.  It was a personal ‘art project’ that was really a cry for help.   No one asked me what the hell I was thinking, why I was crying, and what possessed me to show it to the world.  I was single-minded in my belief that this project was important.  The reality is that it was only important to me.  I vomited my mental health crisis onto the internet, and not surprisingly, no one knew how to react. At first it was really disconcerting, to show a part of myself that was so raw and unpleasant.  Soon, it became liberating.  It was a very unusual vantage point of life, and one that I found I curiously empowering.  I scared people with my pain.  I triggered their own fear.  Gone was the happy, smiling, complacent Jane they had been accustomed to.  In her place was a falling-apart woman who was not doing a good job of tucking in her crazy. There was a part of me that saw how much pain I was experiencing without really causing any real alarm bells to go off.  I was having a spiritual emergency, and the community response was mostly silence. So of course I did it again. I asked a different friend to shoot my 3rd attempt.  The  story was even darker.  The images were frightening, sickening, and painful to look at.  I viewed them with shock and  nausea. Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.20.50 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.19.54 PM I didn’t shoot any more images of myself, and my PTSD flashbacks.  I had seen quite enough. The Artist and The Professor conspired together to allow me a way to see The Scared Child that was hiding in my mind.  She must have been very relieved to finally be surfacing.  She was the driving force behind my need to heal. I am not sure how many people I hurt in this process.  I pursued this project like it was my only job in life.  I blew up my life in public, caused my business to tank, and began the slide into a deep depression that I wouldn’t begin to shake until the end  of May.  On the bright side, I had proof that there was really something wrong, and I needed help. I ended up in my doctors office, crying uncontrollably, and begging for medication to relieve the live-wire stick person that was living inside of my body.   I left with prescriptions for Effexor,  Zopiclone, and a referral to province-funded therapy.