Artists Stay Well Balanced

“How are things going creatively?”

“Very well, thank you”

And how about your creative energy?”

“Actually…really well, surprisingly”.

THE PANDEMIC AND ARTISTS

I have discussed the effects of the pandemic with many of my artist friends. I was wondering whether they loathed or embraced various lockdowns? I found out that long weeks or months at home brought them deep focus and a relief from the continuous time crunches they often experience combining art-making and family life.

However, I observed more. A pandemic causes many people to lose their equilibrium. Anxiety sets in and various lockdowns cause mass stir craziness and cabin-fever. People have become so aggressive! The Netherlands saw a huge increase of domestic or family violence towards women and children. There is such road rage on highways too. It is like people have become mad.

To the other end of the spectrum of mental health, people have also grown depressed. There is a radicalization of feelings due to a lack of social contact. It is not good for people to feel trapped because that easily leads to restlessness, anxiety or being agitated. Not that we should all pollute the air with kerosene again, but being cooked up at home is a hardship for most of us.

WELL BALANCED

But interestingly artists, avid readers, and musicians seem to suffer less problems (disclaimer, so it seems in my social circles) because they do a lot of mind traveling. They transport themselves to artistic, literary or musical realms and go on about their days making music, painting canvases, and reading books. In fact, for many artist friends the numerous lockdowns have been productive and inspirational, (though less profitable because of closed concert halls, galleries and shops).

ARISTOTLE’S GOLDEN MEAN

How can we explain this? Let us turn to Aristotle’s Golden Mean. The golden mean, or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes. If aggression is an excess of energy, depression is a deficiency of energy. Let us go back to those who lost their equilibrium and became aggressive. Aggression is a deficiency of despondency; there is too much stirring up bad energies. It is extreme to be aggressive. It shows an excess of boiled up energy.  Depression is a shortage of aggression, of combativeness; it is a lack of energy. It is extreme too. One should neither be aggressive nor depressed. One should have healthy, harmonious energy. So, if aggression and depression are two extremes, what or which is the golden mean state of being? What is the middle between aggression and depression? That is initiative, or resourcefulness, or name it creativity.

Take a difficult meeting in which compromises must be made. Those with too much aggressive energy walk out. Those who give up, look hollow-eyed. But those who have healthy energy show creativity, offering creative ways out of a deadlock.

#Artheals #Nevernotmaking

This creativity, imagination, this resourcefulness and initiative, did we just describe Aristotle’s’ golden mean or did we focus on personal characteristics of artists by naming inventiveness, creativity, resourcefulness and imagination? We did both. I think that the personal traits of an artist keep an artist well balanced and resilient during lockdown. Artists will resort to their habits of creating, taking initiative, keeping their creative juices flowing. #nevernotmaking is a trending hashtag on Instagram. So is #artheals. I see it with all my creative friends: they fare well through lockdowns. Of course, there are boring days, but depression? No. Aggression? No. Creativity? Yes, plenty of it.

Open museums and concert halls

Now that is established how important art making and art is, why not open up our (Dutch) cultural sector? Why are shops now open but museums and podiums closed? Apparently, it is because our government aims to keep us local (not spreading the virus). People are discouraged to travel beyond their region to visit museums or concerts. But in the light of this hyper contagious Omicron, this is a lost fight. Omicron will come as a tsunami and nobody will be spared. Open up our creative and cultural sector because it is hugely important to collectively feel well balanced. Art should not be an afterthought; it lies at the heart of our well being.

So how are you keeping?”

Very well, really

“How come?”

“Because I have more time for drawing!”

I hope artists inspire others becoming creative too. Prevent depression and aggression by engaging in artistic, musical, and literary activities.

Love,

Paula

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Instagram

Paula at Linktree

Living Dying Battling

Ever since the pandemic I have been reading and reading. Of course, when there is plenty of natural light, I prioritize drawing. But since consecutive lockdowns came into effect and meeting friends, running errands, and going for a walk were pushed to the background, literature took its rightful place. I kept a list of books in my diary and every time I finished a book, I proudly ticked off a book title. I like to share the moment with you that within the time-span of two days I came across a book title and a harrowing painting. Let me first give you the book title. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

‘Generaals Sterven in Bed’, a Dutch book on WWII. Generals die lying in beds.

Generals die lying on beds

I thought the title was brilliant (disclaimer: I did not read the book). It rang so true to me. I have seen it again and again, those who have struggled in life have died an untimely, painful or medicine induced death whilst those who have ruled, manipulated, or were in charge, Machiavellians, lived a long, happy life and died a peaceful, luxuriously death neatly tugged between crisp white bed linen. But foot-soldiers die on battlefields, in the dirt, at a too young age. ‘Comes with the job, an occasional ‘habit’, collateral damage, kind of thing‘. But generals die at a high age on luxurious beds.

Dead Soldier, unknown (Italian) painter. Notice the skull and bones that symbolize death in case you overlooked the bloodless colour of the soldier’s face.

Next, the painting of a dead soldier. It made me wonder whether it is a detail of a larger painting because of its unusual angle that is a bit uncomfortable for a viewer. But perhaps, this uncomfortable perspective was something the painter precisely sought? I imagine the soldier has most likely fought for someone else’s cause, principles, or power games and now dies an anonymous, early death. Maybe he ends up in a mass grave, unlike the general.

The book title and the painting made me wonder what battles we fight and for who? Who are foot soldiers and who are generals? Do you know them in your life, amongst your friends, at your work? Who is dying for who? I thought of Machiavelli’s philosophy. But also of a very old flyer of a political party that I vaguely remembered. It showed a sweet, little girl, standing all alone in a desert whilst you are asked the question: What if there is a war and nobody is willing to participate? Nobody shows up on the battlefield?

Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Next blogpost will focus on Aristotle’s Golden Mean in relation to lockdown/quarantine and living the artist life.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s shop is at Etsy

Paula’s art portfolio is at Instagram

But above all, @ her workstation drawing, drawing and drawing.

Parting is Part of a Pandemic & Art Heals

How do the seemingly unrelated quotes above interconnect? They conjure up memories of my annus horriblis (Latin phrase, meaning “horrible year”). Misery sometimes comes down like torrential rain. However, I can now look back and see how literature and art brought me valuable insights.

Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826) Les adieux de Psyché à sa famille; Psyche Bidding Farewell to her Family

ACCEPTANCE

Acceptance is a powerful emotion. Acceptance causes less suffering than trying to change the unchangeable. But how does one reach this stage? That question -of course- requires a highly personal response. Some take to sporting, others to long nature walks. But art has been my method. This year, I worked harder than ever, and, luckily, inspiration kept coming and coming. I felt so blessed to be at my desk with its workstation and Arches sketchbook. No matter what happened, I always returned to my drawing pad. I would pour a cup of tea and work on various projects. The more hours I worked, the easier my deep focus would became and blissful moments would follow in which I forgot about all and sundry. Only my art would exist; more exactly, only art-making would exist (and my loving and supportive husband and wonderful daughter, of course). The world around me and myself would simply disappear. These moments of non-existing were nourishing and healing, offering me a transformation from sadness to acceptance.

Recently, I read Wintering by Katherine May. May defines winter not only as a season, but also as the process of going through an emotional winter. Author May resorts to walking. She pulls herself through a yearlong suffering by long distance walking, and unsurprisingly, she guides herself to a better (mental) place. Even though I have always liked Aristotle’s peripatētikos (‘philosophizing is best done whilst walking’) as to prevent stagnation of emotions and thoughts, for me art-making has been more crucial than my daily walks. For me, it has always been art-making, drawing and painting, that has pulled me through any hardship home or abroad, and through any winter, be it a seasonal winter, or a year full of farewells. One better accepts farewells; there is no use in fighting. Because winter, seasonally and emotionally, is a part of life, one can better sooner than later wrap one’s head around it.

Winter Holly by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Wintering, May describes, is also about preparing, stocking up stuff, or finding coping methods that help one endure the cold. And so, I did, and whilst I found great pleasure in stocking up crafts-tools, sketchbooks, graphite pencils, I came to experience my annus horriblis as a coming to terms with (a sudden and accelerated) ageing of beloved ones, ‘friends’ turning into foes, and family members falling ill to cancer.

I rigorously de-cluttered my house of memories, of stuff that till recently were reminders of pleasant ties, but now seemed to trigger vexatious feelings or sad memories of estranged ones. Letting go of all of that didn’t hold up eventually became a rewarding and deliberating exercise. And not only that, I have friends describing beneficial effects of the Corona pandemic and its various lock-downs as an exploration of what actually and really matters and of letting go of unnecessary frills of life. Apparently, vintage shops are more stocked than ever and employees have walked away from underpaid jobs in the thousands, giving new directions to their lives.

Not everything withstands the test of time

The Pandemic’s Battle for Life

The year 2021, the corona pandemic, obviously has been a battle for life. Literally, metaphorically, and personally. Worldwide, there has been a collective fight to prevent mortality numbers from accelerating. On an individual level, people battled with corona, with stress, with people falling ill or ageing beyond recognition, with their bosses, with siblings, or their landlords, and so on. In these fights, much was lost but those who took lock-downs as spiritual retreats reported gaining much wisdom. And isn’t a pandemic a ‘winter’, with being advised to stay indoors, scaling down social contacts, hibernating and living a postponed life?

Bookplate by Paula Kuitenbrouwer with a tree representing wisdom having its roots in literature.

I highly recommend literature and art at such wintry times. Literature offers a whole spectrum of pleasant effects from enchanting escapism to tapping into sources of wisdom. Art offers nourishment for the soul and healing from the pain that life sometimes throws at us.

Is my ‘winter’ over? Am I enjoying the merry months of May? Winter is about hibernating, withdrawing, decaying, dying. It is part of life. Is it possible to feel spring whilst there still are subzero temperatures? Yes. One can arrive at spring amidst a cold winter. For me, making art has been instrumental for working through a challenging time. I highly recommend seeking refuge in the realms of literature and arts where you will find much wisdom and inspiration.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Commission artist living in the Netherlands (see contact form below).

Commissions are welcome.

At Etsy

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