How Art Keeps Me Centered

art by pamela sue johnson

I had just finished a cleaning job of a maze of offices. It was a hot summer day here in the Northwest. I was grimy and tired, ready to get home and get out of my grubby cleaning clothes. As I exited the building onto a busy boulevard of shops and eateries, a group of young teenagers came around the corner. I nearly ran into a tall lanky boy with shaggy hair that covered half his face. “Sorry,” I mumbled as I moved around them lugging my workhorse of a vacuum as well as my bucket which was full of cleaning tools. As I walked my way and they walked theirs, I heard the tween group erupt into a fit of giggles amidst a cloud of whispers. Then clear as a bell at midnight, I heard the lanky boy say, “Ewww, she’s so gross.”

My rational mind said, Never mind, just keep going. Get home. Forget about these punk-ass rude kids.

But my Taurus nature kicked in who like a bull can come charging when provoked. I stopped, turned around and yelled, “Hey! Asshole! That’s not cool to talk that way about somebody!”

They stopped, turned to face me and as I gave them my tongue lashing, they added insult to injury by just laughing their heads off and going their merry way.

It triggered something inside of me. By the time I got home I felt like I was that 15-year old awkward girl again, the one with bad skin and messed-up teeth and dateless for every school dance. I could barely speak up or look anyone in the eye. An avalanche of trapped teenage angst came barreling at me out of nowhere.

I was meant to attend an event that evening, but feeling utterly defeated and as ugly as an old pair of shoes, I decided to skip it. That’s when I decided to sit down and collage, a new hobby I had taken up and was learning to enjoy.

I pulled out my pile of magazines and a piece of cardboard I had saved for art making. With Mod Podge and brushes on the kitchen table, I began arting it up, cutting and tearing images out of the various magazines I had. As I leaned into my creative zone, something remarkable began to happen : the feelings of body shame and unresolved teenage wounds began to dissipate. I felt a release of that vapor of negative energy as I let my creative intuition lead me in layering images one over the over on my big cardboard canvas.

My collage art has evolved quite a bit since that night over twelve years ago. I no longer collage on cardboard. I have long since upgraded to canvas panels and wood cradle boards. I use paint now, too, my art today much more vibrant than those early works. But one thing that has stayed the same is the power of art making to help get me centered and keep me centered.

Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.

Julia Cameron writes,
“Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.” To this I say a great, big Amen.

Not too long ago two different artists I know revealed to me that art making is what keeps them from falling into the black hole of depression. “If I don’t make art everyday, I will get down in the dumps,” said one artist friend.

Creativity is self-expression, bringing what is invisible from our imagination into the visible realm of creation. There is ample evidence that art has a therapeutic impact on our complex human souls.

Picasso famously said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

I need a good dusting about every five minutes!

One of the new joys of my life is leading students on a creative path to making art that is meaningful to them. It is a joyful wonder for me to witness over and over again the art emerge from each person in one of my workshops.

I have a piece of art in my home that is not meant to be viewed. Though it sits out in the open I do not showcase it as anything special. I have shared with only a few people that this piece of art is My Therapy Art… it’s where I allow my wounded inner child and angsty teenager (as well as my grown-ass woman self!) to express whatever she (I) needs to on the canvas. There are several layers on this particular canvas for when I need to work something out, I just go over it with new layers of collage and paint. For a season, I was going over it just about every couple of weeks. It’s been a while now, though, since I felt a need to go to it. Just like the blank pages of a journal that offer a non-judgmental safe space for one to write down whatever needs to be revealed, so it is with my canvas.

Creativity is intelligence having fun, said Einstein. Tapping into our imagination and allowing it to express itself through the magic of art making can indeed circumvent our trek into the shadowlands.

Art making and creativity of any kind helps me nurture a state of joy which is a state of being I like to remain in as much as possible… Life is meant to be EnJoyed, right? Art keeps me centered on what matters most to me in how to live and enjoy my life. It is not just about bits of paper, canvas and paint. It is for me a centering power and means of expressing my inner world no matter my state. It is my intelligence having fun while I air out the attic and closet.

Creativity is Intelligence having Fun.

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