Abstract Art and Awakening

Whenever I have referred back to the time in my life when I stopped doing abstract art, I always have said, “after I first became medicated.” But I am now getting more of a glimpse of truth related to that time that helps me sort of put some other truths about myself, and about my experiences, together. I’m seeing my loss of creative life in different ways. I’m also seeing my continuance of written creativity in a different light as well.

Before I became conscious that I had a mental illness, that is, before I labeled myself, before I started feeling the full weight of what was for me a social and psychological stigma of what it means to have a mental illness, I painted with water colors, I experimented in abstract art in a very intense and consistent way. My art of choice was abstract expressionism, and for a while, I enjoyed action painting. I had a very limited amount, but, for me, a treasure trove, of huge, room sized pieces of roughly hand cut watercolor paper, that I had bought from an art supply store, on a great bargain (the only way I could afford it, by then). I had no idea what I was doing, no clue of the self therapy I was undergoing. I just knew it was absolutely, undoubtedly, right, for me, then and there.

When I did those action paintings, I was fully myself, raw, emotional, just pouring out on the page, everything that was inside of me, and, yet, to another person, perhaps, I was creating nothing. What I know now, is that creating nothing was, exactly, the point. I hadn’t realized what else I was doing. I was creating a world for myself in which suffering did not matter, truth was not punished, shame did not exist. It was my fantasy world, and yet, it was not any of these worlds. For as I escaped, I also became vulnerable. I felt my feelings in a way I had not felt them in a very long time, and I accepted them, for those few, lovely moments, at least.

It has taken me twenty years of trial and error, to discover, sadly, only intellectually, at this point, what I was doing, back then. What I had achieved, was nothing, compared to what it had done for me. In these big, messy creations, I had driven a cheap, rented vehicle into the sublime. Medicated or not, this was possible, but these acts were acts of desperation, acts of loneliness, acts of a thoroughly broken heart. When I stopped doing these acts of pure kindness for myself, forgiving myself, forgiving the world, even, dare I say, forgiving the God whom I blamed for all my agonizing troubles, I committed many selfish, blind acts, that were so much more desperate, because they took me out of the living world, God’s beautiful, hopeful, miraculous creation. Then, came the worst. I had become so miserable, and was so afraid of losing control, that I admitted myself to an institution. I was afraid of the intensity of my emotions, and all my dark thoughts, and I did not trust myself to carry on. The result was that I was put on an extremely strong combination of medications. It killed me, but not all of me. On the outside was a barely functioning corpse, a psychotropic, but also artistic, zombie.

Of course, they told me how brave I was, to reach out, to take this step, to ask for help. And, perhaps, in some pitiful way, I was brave. And I did gain stability, in the long run, but at what price? This experience served as an extension of my frail ego for shame, guilt and any other negativity I could apply to myself. From then on, I would be so self conscious, so judgmental towards my self, including my thoughts, feelings and urges, even in my art and writing, that I could barely paint, and it was very difficult to write much poetry. I believe now, that this is the true reason for my loss of creativity, not the medication. Twenty years later now, I have started to see an art therapist, who helped me come to a point of understanding about all this. It is wonderful to finally see what has been going on, and to start to finally let go of all the judgments, the condemnation, the shame and the guilt about my art. It is a new beginning for me. The dreadful feelings are all still there, but I can see a way out.

The last time I spoke to my art therapist, we talked a little bit about my written works, published in my book, one straight ahead poem, and, in general, the poems that I call Unpoetry. According to my art therapist, there was one particular straight ahead poem that I wrote, called “Balance”, that had a little bit of what I have learned to be called, “wise mind” mentality. Although I was having a difficult time, I was also able to recognize the life choices and habits that helped me to keep myself stable, at least to a certain degree. Routine and rest were two elements that I remember were mentioned.

The discussion about the Unpoetry was mostly centered around the struggle to break through into the abstract with words, the certain compromising level of attachment, and especially my obsession with meaning, even while trying to escape from it. One of my wise friends would call it my conflicted presence in a paradox. Many wise people I’ve talked to have mentioned my habit of over analyzing everything I do, and over thinking everything. That, too, is a sort of paradox. None of these habits get me anywhere, at least anywhere helpful. My art therapist mentioned that my goal of attaining the abstract in the written word may not even be attainable, as the written word in itself seems to have meaning as a central characteristic. My past thoughts about my Unpoetry did not concern the abstract element of it, although I did see a relationship to many types of visual art that have a perception of randomness and a presentation of collage as a characteristic. My thought was about absurdity. I think the classification of absurdity is correct, but I also think I have always had a hard time accepting that, because of my attachment to meaning. My existentialist attempt to create meaning out of nothing is in a war with my personal intuition that meaning is not attainable. In the past, I could accept this, at least while my personal life was in complete chaos. After experiencing what I perceived as order in my life, even if an illusion, I have been intoxicated by that illusion, and I am addicted to it. Like any type of addict, I constantly want the high of my object of intoxication, which is possibly the illusion of order. But, I wonder, have I always sensed the truth that there is no order, even if I could not accept it?

Perhaps, this is one of the essential predicaments of human beings. We want order. If we can’t find it, then we want to create it. And even if we can’t create it, we don’t accept it, to the limits of infinity. We are trapped in this illusion to the end of our days. It is a tragic situation. And the only solution is the acceptance of our situation, which leads to a “oneness” with the chaos of, what a scientific friend of mine calls, the “multiverse.” Perhaps, the only predictable characteristic of the multiverse is that it is unpredictable. That is the paradox that most of us are taught to deny. We are taught an illusion. We are taught to be addicts. And the excuse is that there must be goodness, somewhere. There must be meaning, in something. There must be a supreme being, that created it all. We are caught in that paradox.


Author: Gordon S. Bowman III

Writer, Visual Artist, Blogger

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