"Artist In His Studio" by Gerrit Dou (1630)

Art and Vulnerability: Why I abandoned them, and how God is leading me back

"Artist In His Studio" by Gerrit Dou (1630)

“Artist In His Studio” by Gerrit Dou (1630)

This morning, I found inspiration in Greg Willits’ new blog post, “Blocked: Why I Gave Up on Artistic Endeavors and What’s Bringing Me Back“.

Well, inspiration and also the urge to make a gutteral “UGH!” out of a deep frustration.

Like Greg, I discovered my artistic talents at a young age: My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jennings, seemed astonished at my poetic mastery (well, for an elementary school kid), and I went on to earn regional awards for my poetry through high school. In middle school, I also became the art teacher’s pet, and went on to achieve recognition in painting, sculpting, etc. In high school, I discovered graphic design. My myriad of talents were quickly recognized, and I became a yearbook editor as only a sophomore, elevated to Editor-In-Chief the next year.

The arts were like breathing for me; they were my way of inhaling and exhaling.

As a college student, I warily became involved with a young man who also had artistic prowess that I greatly admired. But the two years I dated him resulted in memories so traumatic that, to this day, though happily married, I still fight them. Those two years, I’d been more vulnerable than I had ever been (and more vulnerable than I should have been). My emotions were manipulated, I was used, and I ended up very, very broken.

I came away with this lesson: Vulnerability is too dangerous.

Like relationships, art requires a huge amount of vulnerability. The artist is vulnerable with herself and with God, examining the deepest part of herself. She interprets those thoughts, feelings and movements into her artworks.

Years later, in the middle of a therapy session, I suddenly realized: Since that relationship, I hadn’t written any poetry or picked up a paintbrush. I had even cut down dramatically on casual music-listening; now I was all about podcasts and talk radio. That moment was the beginning of a breakthrough; I recognized the invisible, anti-art barriers I’d created, to prevent myself from experiencing any more pain.

Fast-forward to today.

Whereas I used to fill several journals in a single year with poetry, prose and sketches, my current journal’s first entry reads “October 2012″. I long for the freedom I used to feel while writing or creating art, but as soon as the thought enters my mind, my wounded heart screams of its pain.

‘How ridiculous!‘ my brain attempts to reason with itself. ‘You’re safe now.’ But I’ve learned that trauma cannot be reasoned with.

I’ve also learned that even the simplest prayer requires that painful but essential ingredient: vulnerability. Even as I attempt a dry chronicle of my daily activities, the premise, “Dear God,” affixed to the page’s top-left introduces a fear that I must fight to overcome.

I’ve gained so much respect for people who struggle with religion. Pain is a fierce and relentless enemy.

But above and beyond all of this pain, I have experienced an almost-unbelievable reality: the God whom I blamed for the consequences of my decisions, the God who stepped back when I wanted to do things my way, has always waited for me. He waits just close enough to hear the very beginnings of my heart’s whisper, “I need you, God.” He longs for me to let Him in, to intimately call him Abba (Daddy)….and so allow His love in, transforming those wounds that — yes, He allowed — into something so beyond just ‘healed’, beyond what I was before my wounds. This God is not just a deity; this God is the strongest, most personal love I have ever known, and I somehow intuitively understand that I will never know a love like God’s love for me.

Any doubts that I once held of God’s goodness, any emptiness my wounds have created within me, are being removed and filled and healed a thousand times over.

Little by little, I have seen God sprinkle encouragement into my life. Now that my eyes are again open to seeing His love for me, I have discerned God’s desire for me to re-discover art.

But God, that is so difficult.

My remaining struggle against vulnerability is natural; a built-in ‘safety feature’ with which I let someone tamper and abuse. For now, I must learn patience with myself — looking to the Heavenly Father who never loses patience with me. One moment at a time, God reminds me of safe vulnerability — through positive experiences with my husband, my family members, my counselor, my spiritual director, and even complete strangers.

We’ve all heard of ‘art therapy’ or that “art heals”, and until very recently I would have agreed with that phrase. The experiences that I’ve just shared with you, however, have led me to alter the phrase “art heals”:

As artists, we encounter the world and then become vulnerable with ourselves, entering into the deepest part of ourselves where God’s image intimately resides. That thrice-encounter — our encounter with the world, ourselves, and God — is the inspiration for, and experience of, art.

So, does art heal? No, rather, I believe that through art we encounter God, who Himself is healing Love. And when we open ourselves just enough to let Him in, we let in the mystery of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.

This belief has supplied me with hope — enough to continue my struggle.

"The Artist's Studio" by Horace Vernet (1820)

“The Artist’s Studio” by Horace Vernet (1820)

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15 thoughts on “Art and Vulnerability: Why I abandoned them, and how God is leading me back

  1. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece, and especially your insight. We’re all broken in so many different ways but we share that same vulnerability to yearn for God’s healing Love. I appreciate that you’ve given voice to these things we carry around in our hearts. (Says yet another artist just coming back from a creative abyss)

  2. I’m just looking through your blog and finding we have artsy things in common! And that we both walked away from it for a while for similar reasons. Ahh I’m so happy I found your blog!

  3. Thank you so much for writing that. I was just reflecting last week that I used to be such an art junkie and won awards for my art in high school but haven’t done ANY art whatsoever since then. I’m also just realizing that there is some verbal abuse in my marriage, so maybe that has something to do with my abandonment of art. In my blog post about it I described art as “like breathing” as well! Thanks for the food for thought!

    • Thanks for your comment, Rachel. I hope and pray that your marriage will be healed. May I suggest asking Saint Rita to pray for you? She was also in an abusive marriage and can be a heavenly prayer partner.
      Try making the time for a small art project and see what happens. You might be amazed.

  4. “As a college student, I warily became involved with a young man who also had artistic prowess that I greatly admired. But the two years I dated him resulted in memories so traumatic that, to this day, though happily married, I still fight them. Those two years, I’d been more vulnerable than I had ever been (and more vulnerable than I should have been). My emotions were manipulated, I was used, and I ended up very, very broken.”

    Sigh. This is me, a thousand times, except I was in high school and I dated him over three years. So many threads of my life lead back to that relationship for good or ill. If it had not been for that relationship, I doubt I would have met my husband and my children would not exist so I cannot just wish the whole thing away. My life is good and happy now except for the echoing ramifications from an old wound that occasionally bleeds.

    • Amen, sister. When I was working to forgive myself for my mistakes, I had a prayer experience from which I got the message: “You need the dirt to grow the flowers.” That reminds me of a quote I read today: “In heaven, the most beautiful souls are those that have sinned the most and repented. But they made use of their miseries like manure around the base of the tree.” (Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified)

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