Updated: Jan 31, 2022
I am a seer
Some people are doers; adventurers, makers, creators. Some people are students; thirsting for knowledge, wanting to understand the answers to why, where, and how, absorbing knowledge. Some people are scientists, probing, experimenting, in search of expanding what we know. Some people are leaders, visionaries, magnetic in their capacity to engage people's trust and willingness to follow.
I am a seer. From a very early age, I watched what was going on around me. At times I am a bystander as the parade of life passes by; often I am an observer, attending, noticing patterns, connections and disconnections; and then there are times when I am a witness to something that feels important. I don't have any credentials, just years of seeing.
For decades, my own internal journey, my experience of depression and neurosis, losses, and broken relationships, has led me to become interested in the effects of trauma; the impact of experiences that jolt us, shake our sense of self, our safety, and our expectations of the world around us. I have wanted to understand myself, my dear friends and family members, and people I have come to know through my work.
Over the last forty years I have watched the language of trauma spread throughout our western culture as the baby boomer generation has aged, and psychology, and understanding ourselves and our relationships with those we love, has become more mainstream.
I have noticed that one widespread notion of trauma is related to experiences that trigger primal survival reactions -- fight, flight, freeze -- ways of being when faced with threatening circumstances. I don't understand the hows and why's of the unconscious decision making that leads to any particular reaction. But often it seems we get in a groove, and repeat the same reaction when faced with perceived threats in the future. If we do anything over and over, we become practiced, and this response becomes 'second nature', recognizable as "our way" of being.
Fight, flight, and freeze, can resonate and make sense to many of us seeking to understand why we repeatedly do what we do, especially when it does not seem to serve us any more.
But as an observer, I want to pose an additional element in the fight-flight-freeze traumatic response repertoire -- 'create'. There are some people, it seems to me, for whom jolting life experiences and circumstances, ignites their imaginations, activating an impulse to create and make something of what they see and feel, externalizing their inner experience. For these people, imagination and creation, become their go to practice when faced with intense, and at times threatening, life experience.
I cannot say that I know what defines someone as an artist. I am not a student of art and art history. I am an observer. What I notice about artists is that they invest large amounts of time, in practice, experimenting, and repeatedly risking failure, in the process of creating and making something.
From my view artists are people who practice making and creating in response to their inner and outer experience of the world.
The personal experience of art
This morning, my friend Sue Raposo, forwarded the video below from the PeaceLove Foundation in Rhode Island. It resonated with me in how making/creating can become a practice in response to our life experiences, and can lead to our health and healing.
As someone who was born at the end of the baby boomer "me generation", I have long been aware of the attention to trauma in personal experiences. But what I have been watching in recent years, is a recognition and validation of collective trauma experiences, and its impacts on individual sense of self AND the social fabric of our societal whole. The cultural history of slavery and dehumanization of black people in America; the decimation of indigenous cultures around the world; the 'glass ceiling', and male violence against women; the branding of LGBTQ people and their experience as "illness" or "other", and the rationale to violent emotional, sexual, and physical violence that ensues; the invalidation and segregation of people with disabilities; and more.
In recent times, there is growing awareness of more inclusive experiences of collective trauma -- our current immersion in the pandemic; and the ominous cloud of climate change, reigning our present and future.
The dynamics created by these social and environmental conditions become the air we breathe, and the toxicity affects us all.
Artists of social change
What I have observed is that in the same way that there are people, for whom art and creation are responses to personal life circumstance, there are also people who are very much aware of our collective experiences. Some of their devotion to the practice of art is in response to the recognition of our traumatic collective fragmentation.
The materials and the vision of these artists of social change includes us, people, and our personal and collective relationships. These artists seek to engage us in the making, and in the artifacts that remain. They seek to make the invisible visible. They bring possibilities that we might see the forest, not just the trees. They imagine us as whole, and their work invites us to as well.