It is probably no big secret that I struggle greatly with various aspects of my being - especially with the notion that I, as a human being on this planet, have value simply because I exist. Throughout my entire life I’ve found myself relentlessly questioning my worth- which ultimately keeps me from moving forward and growing as a person.
Sometimes I am surprised that I am able to accomplish anything at all. Yes, really.
We are who we are because of our life experiences. Early childhood development plays the most crucial role and for many years I would place blame on my parents and early caregivers for all of my adult inadequacies. And then there were my (very outdated) religious beliefs constantly reminding me to forgive and forget.
Bullshit because my version of forgiveness doesn’t mean the unhelpful beliefs are automatically replaced with healthy ones. When as an adult you discover that you have the ability to actually change what you’ve been taught, it doesn’t happen overnight which makes that whole forgiveness thing an extremely bitter pill to swallow.
Sometimes the best we can do is simply knowing that there is another way to be - and that’s a great place to begin. I made the decision about 8 years ago to take real control of my life and since that time have been busting my ass to move past many of the unhelpful messages I’ve received over the years.
One of the most helpful things I’ve found was to begin reading and working through the exercises in a book called “Healing your Emotional Self.” It’s always been easy for me to see which aspects were in need of revision, but without the right kind of role models, I never really knew what I wanted - only what I didn’t want. And as like attracts like, when focusing on what you don’t want, you’ll only get more of it. This book finally brought to light an understanding of new healthy behaviors- ones that made sense to me and that I could work with to make my own.
IN THE MEANTIME….
I’ve been working on this painting and my first inclination was to fill the background with helpful messages, things I believe in. Then it hits me that I needed to go deeper- that there was more “work” to do. I decide to fill the left side with all of the unhelpful messages and beliefs I’d collected throughout my life, and the right side would be filled with the helpful messages I’ve been working so hard to call my own.
It took me several tries, but I finally managed to fill the page of a large sketchbook with all the various messages. It was, unfortunately all too easy to come up with the unhelpful ones - which made me very sad. Each day I’d look at this list hanging in my studio and try to figure out how to incorporate it into the background of this piece but nothing was coming to me.
I then I went away on a 5 day retreat and something in me shifted. I came back and realized that while the process of my writing out the helpful/unhelpful messages was necessary at this time, putting it on public display was not. My original intentions for putting it on display had been to give a voice to anyone who has felt frustration by what society had taught them to believe about themselves, but then I realized that I was going about this all wrong. My feelings of inadequacy were as real in my head as the earth is round, but the key was in finally discovering that it wasn’t helpful to continue allowing these experiences to DEFINE ME.
I can honestly say that I’ve restricted a tremendous amount of growth by allowing my past to define me. Even now I often struggle with being “the artist without the formal background” instead being proud for being “the artist who figured things out on her own.” I guess to a degree I fear not being who people expect or want me to be- that my real story isn’t good enough and so I have to be apologetic for it. And as you can probably guess, this kind of thinking loops back around to the kinds of messages we’ve received and internalized to become our own worst inner critic.
Our stories are obviously important to our growth and can be very helpful in helping to empower others, but if we allow them to constantly define who we are in the present day, we are kept forever in the past.
Once I abandoned the idea of the helpful vs. unhelpful, I used an iPad app called Procreate to doodle over the most recent image to help choose a new direction for the piece. Black over white or white over black....
Having created thousands of mandalas as a way to raise my consciousness, it only seemed fitting to once again have them surrounding me. (By now you must have realized that these women are idealized self-portraits, right?)
White over black paint has always somewhat felt like healing old scars. Coming home from the retreat, I didn't feel like looking at all that black space any more. Adding the white feels in some strange way, healing.
It is feeling very good at this point.
I start filling the background with mandalas -
And then more.
It feels to be a little much so I start working white over the background mandalas so they aren't as prominent. I finish the details on her body and clean up some of the black area in the center of the mandala.
It is now time to cut 5 inches from the sides so the piece is adhering to the 48" maximum width requirement. I carefully measure 2 inches in from the left, 3 inches from the right, ask one of the other artists to double check my measuring and then snip!
Background has been toned down and I've also finished the white outline around both her and the mandala. She has now been cut down to 48"which wasn't as painful as I'd expected - though it feels incomplete. (I saved the two long strips I cut off from each side - which may be used in a future project)
I add a black border and it feels perfect. She is finished!
Do you see the hidden message?
43" wide by 63" tall. Acrylic on canvas. Available for purchase - Price available upon request.
She is currently on display in the Crayola Galley at The Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA as part of: "Perspectives: The Banana Factory Resident Artist Annual Exhibition" The show officially opens Friday September 7th and there will be a 2nd reception on Friday October 5th. It will remain on display until October 14th.
My official artist statement for the piece is as follows:
per·spec·tive: the state of one's ideas, the facts known to one.
Our core beliefs are the things we know to be true about ourselves and of the world around us. We learn these things through our parents, teachers, employers, religion, culture, family, friends and peers. In childhood or any time we lack a strong sense of self, it can be all too easy to assimilate beliefs that are damaging, unhelpful, or in some way restrictive to our personal growth.
As adults, we can choose to identify the origins of each belief and make conscious decisions to keep those which serve our highest good, to abandon the ones which exist out of guilt or fear, and to search for new beliefs which resonate with the person we wish to be.
Do your beliefs lovingly support each and every aspect of your existence?
Read Part 1: Formation of Belief: The Beginning
Read Part 2: Formation of Belief: Visualization and Acceptance
Read Part 3: Formation of Belief: Completion Through Release