art appreciation 2: can art make a difference?

Mixed Messages by Gwyn Michael
Two weeks ago we pondered whether it could help art sales to educate the customer about our art. There was a mixed bag of responses and I concluded that if the answer were yes, it would mean educating people about the why and how of my art, or the story behind it rather than any formal ideas about what makes good art.

I have to admit I have an agenda behind these questions. I am once again reinventing my online presence and intentions for my art. As I dig deep into what motivates me and what I have to offer beyond making and selling images, I think more and more about what is the purpose of art. Two iterations ago when I was focused solely on fine art prints and calling myself PHOTO.WORKS, I used the tagline because art can make a difference. I liked it, but sources told me that it was too vague, so I lost it. Still, I believe art can make a difference, and that is one element I plan to bring to my new website and blog in content.

Once upon a time I wanted to be an art therapist. Not the kind that gets a psychology degree and interprets the art of disturbed patients, but a new kind that helps people heal through art making. This was an idea that was just taking hold in some communities and not a “real” profession, per se, so I let it go, but the interest never left me. At that time I was helping my mother get through cancer treatments and I became interested in how art was being used in cancer centers to help patients process their feeling about illness. Mom succumbed to the illness later that year and I did the next logical thing and got creativity coach training when it was in its infancy. Never used that either.

The point is, I have always felt there is a great connection between arts and healing, and arts as creative inspiration.

We are not just talking about nice things to look at or listen to, but things that enrich our lives and help us grow.

I have been doing digital illustration and art for the past two years and spent little time with traditional arts materials. Then last week I had an emotional breakthrough that helped me see I am still holding shame and lack of self worth that is tied to my relationship with my mother (10 years past her death) and a cycle of starving artists in my female lineage. I had been going through some of her things, working on getting my house cleared of excess, and came across four pages of what must have been an epic letter she wrote me when I was 17.

The letter, what little was left, was loaded with shame and I felt suddenly empowered by that. Rather than my usual reaction, holding that shame, I was determined to be done with it and claim my worth.

I was ready to stop letting go of my passions, to stop letting go of playing small, and to start letting go of shame.

What you see above is part of the result. Below, the rest.

No Shame by Gwyn Michael

I really had no specific intentions when I went about this, other than to take those pages and make something that defied them and empowered me. The Phoenix came to mind and the exacto knife and some matches came out to play. Then markers and glue and matte medium. Finally, into the computer and some photoshop magic. Cutting and crumpling. Burning and glazing. All very satisfying regardless of the outcome. I felt like Wonder Woman!

That art made a difference, I can tell you, but what about this art?

Hope by Gwyn Michael

The previous was really just for me; I share it only to illustrate the story. But the latter is the start of a new series, a series of healing art because I do think art can make a difference in the hurried and uncertain lives we lead.

Art has the ability to inspire, comfort, and engage new ways of seeing and thinking. Art can inspire conversations and conjure stories. Art has a language beyond words and deeper than words that speaks to the spirit of life. My home is filled with art and I find something of value in each piece. So my question to you is this:

How does art make a difference in your life, and how does your art make a difference?

18 thoughts on “art appreciation 2: can art make a difference?

  1. This is so powerful Gwyn. Thanks for sharing. I absolutely agree with you that there is a huge connection between art and healing. My experience around it is that even when I doodle, it brings up so many questions and helps me process things and I move forward in ways that I could never imagine–even if its just some small thing. My challenge is that I tend to not create much art because of a myriad of reasons–I don’t know how to use materials that I want to use, I don’t know how to make prints, I don’t have much training, I don’t make the time, etc. Thanks for the inspiration today.

  2. This is my by far one of my favorite emails I have read by you. Art helped me work through some feelings I kept deep inside myself about my brother’s murder. I lost a great respect for humanity at that point in my life and I knew I needed to do SOMETHING to help my mental state. I went to the library and found a book about spiritual retreats – this has nothing to do with religion- it is all about doing creative things to revive your spirit. There is a section devoted to art and exercises on drawing your feelings.This was pretty difficult at first, but after each session, it became a bit easier. I am by no means a “good” artist but it doesn’t matter. Doing these pieces helped me get to a deeper level with myself.
    It’s been a few years since I’ve done any, but I think it’s time to do another one, just for Jeremie.

    Thank you for writing this.

  3. Thank you both! This is the beginning of something big for me I think.

    I work intuitively whether doing the healing work as with the letter or in making work for sale like the bird. My formal education informs my sense of balance and color etc, but the process is what matters most.

    Go play with the supplies. They are very forgiving!

  4. Both pieces of art here are gorgeous. And I’m curious why one has to be ‘for yourself’ and the other is part of ‘a new series’ (which I assume is implying that it’s ‘for others’). Many artists today work with different mediums, styles and themes – and successfully market and sell the different work, just through different venues. It’s a bit of old school thinking that artists must have a readily identifiable style in order to be marketable – that was perpetuated by the gallery system. And yet even in the past artists like Pablo Picasso often transitioned through different mediums depending on mood – drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, ceramics.
    Your post talks about how you’re once again re-inventing yourself. Why can’t each incarnation just exist without having to be wiped out, forgotten, cast aside?
    I’ve had such a strong reaction I suppose because this is one of the things I’ve struggled with. In art school I was encouraged to specialize in one area. It’s all a bunch of hooey. I like to draw animals, and I like to sew, and I like to make collages, and I’ve managed to find ways to sell some of the results of each. The people who like the drawings generally aren’t the ones who like the collages…and they don’t have to be.

    1. You make some good points Tracy, but I think I may have been unclear. When I say the one is for myself I only mean it is not something I’d want to sell, while the other is in the area of work I am trying to market. I have no problem with working in multiple mediums and styles which is part of what I am doing with the changes underway.

      Concerning the changes and reinventing myself I do hold onto what works in all phases of development. I just change the delivery and words sometimes. What I speak of letting go of is the self limitation and playing small due to damaging messages from my past. Some from art school.

      I am happy to share my more personal work and stories on a blog, but I will likely not put that work in my shops. That could of course change.

      Stay tuned an art school post is coming up soon.

  5. Wow, this is a really powerful, moving, and intimate post. Thank you for putting yourself out there; I think you’re going to affect a lot of people with this.

    As a card maker, my art is about tiny moments and tiny gestures. I don’t want to change the world but I do want to leave it just a teensy bit kinder and more thoughtful than it was before I got here. There’s always so much bad news out there, but there’s plenty of goodness too. It’s more and more important every day, I think, to access that goodness and try to spread it.

    1. Thanks Katy. I agree about spreading the goodness. That is what I hope to do with my art and through art challenges on my website. I am really excited to be expanding my work and services and yes, perhaps to leave the world a wee bit nicer for my being here.

  6. Gwyn,
    This touches so many familiar places. Art has been part of every breakthrough for me, it’s a way to see new possibilities.

    I am less and less interested in the products I can create, and more interested in the process offered to others to unlock whatever it is they wish to explore.

    1. Hey Christine thanks for visiting!

      Art has been my best teacher too. After two years of halfheartedly trying to build an art business I am realizing I’m as interested in making my own art as offering the process to others. I’m not exactly sure how this will flesh out for me, but you have been a huge inspiration.

  7. Wow, this is some amazing stuff. I reluctantly took a Renaissance art history class in college – but my instructor totally rocked my world and taught me an appreciation for art beyond the 16th century.

    I’m finding with my business (wardrobe consulting) that, even with a universally appealing subject like fashion, educating the customer is still required.

    Telling the the story of your company is probably the best way to connect and relate with customers.

    1. Thanks Nicole. Art History has really opened my eyes and allowed me to appreciate so much more in the art world.

      As for stories it seems we want stories with what we buy these days. Perhaps always but more so in an age where we’ve been for so long bombarded with slick and meaningless advertising that makes us want what we don’t need. As people are becoming more careful about what they purchase I think identifying with the maker is a huge selling point.

  8. Your Hope took my breath away !
    I am an artist and also an intuitive drawing therapist – “the new kind that helps people heal through art”. Even today it is not considered a real profession 😉 and even describing myself as an artist receives more positive feedback. I received my qualification as an independant adult- I have not looked back since – as an artist I am enriched by my students every day .

  9. I agree there is a connection between art and healing. I began an art degree a good few years back and it was such a spiritual journey for me. It totally changed my life and changed the way I saw myself by helping improve my self esteem, but most of all when I look back to where my life was before I embarked on this journey, I feel so far removed from that place and time because art has enabled me to engage with society.

  10. I agree there is a connection between art and healing. I began an art degree a good few years back and it was such a spiritual journey for me. It totally changed my life and changed the way I saw myself by helping improve my self esteem, but most of all when I look back to where my life was before I embarked on this journey, I feel so far removed from that place and time because art has enabled me to engage with society.

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