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