My daughter treated me to a family evening at the Stage Theater in San Jose, CA, to share an experience of the talented acting ensemble presentation of Dicken’s masterpiece, “Great Expectations”. It was a spectacular, innovative staging of the story often aired at Christmas time (why is that, I wonder). Somehow, the story, as acted & staged this time, landed squarely in the middle of my chest. Was it the creative presentation or the advent of yet another birthday around the corner? Or was it what is happening in my life right now (challenges of a family member’s weakening illness). Maybe it was cumulative. Anyway, I got “it”. We all have great expectations as we enter adulthood – dreams of adventure, notions of great success, visions of global possibility, longings for great love. As the actors staged the story, outside of conscious awareness, I felt a heart tug, a sense of loss. A veil of sadness floated over my heart.
My children had gone to great lengths to gift me with the evening in spite of pandemic restrictions, in spite of a family member’s sobering illness, in spite of having to shorten our experience due to caretaker issues. The evening started off with great joy, a momentary release of caretaker responsibility, a reminder of this annual ritual created by my soul-lovely daughter years ago. I felt a niggle of guilt as the sadness veiled my heart, wrapped around my shoulders & weighted my legs. I was so caught up in the play that awareness the story line was echoing my own life escaped me. I just felt sadness & guilt. This was supposed to be a joyful occasion! Not wanting to disappoint my children, I pushed the blue feeling down. But, like dark water, it filled the cracks opened by a breaking heart & floated to the surface. Not to be denied.
My son & I talked on the ride home. An actor, his insights often illuminate. He simply noted the genius of Dickens in telling stories that reflect the human experience throughout the ages. Which is why his stories are timeless. (Ahhh, there it was! Recognition: the setting sun calls out sharp memories of the rising sun.) A lifetime of the rise & fall of disappointments, emotional wounding, rough turns of path & purpose. . . presented themselves as a dark cloak of grief & loss. Nothing to do but sit with the reality of it all.
As I awoke today, feeling the morning sun, other truths emerged. Life is a trickster: many rough turns of path & disappointment, make space for broader perspectives, deeper empathy, and a larger sense of what roles one might assume, what new heights one might reach. The price we pay for wisdom are all the mistakes made, disappointments suffered, emotional wounds inflicted, misunderstandings & loss of valued relationships. I do know that. Yet, it can be ‘disremembered’ as daily tasks call to be resolved. So, there it is: beyond entertaining, a value of great art is that it reflects the broader scope of our lives. If we are listening. And, yes, our ‘feelings’ are often the first voice given to awareness rising. We are called upon to pay attention.
In reviewing many pieces of art I’ve created, I can see the stories revealed. Marks. Strokes. Smudges. Scrapes. Individually, not so remarkable. But altogether, like Great Expectations, a story emerges through the ‘feeling’ of the visual field. When each of us looks at art, what we feel has been visually verbalized, a reflection of our own story. Of course, different artwork captures different ‘stories’ for each of us; it’s personal & particular.
When arrested by a piece of artwork, we are invited to pause, to look more, to ‘feel’. Besides being visually entertaining, the Rorschach effect is triggered. Spending an extra moment, paying attention to feelings aroused, enlivened, awareness is ripped open; we reflect on what is relevant in our own lives. That’s why art is so important, necessary even. It contributes to personal growth. It contributes to a universal awareness & consciousness raising.
As an artist, I am both relieved & challenged. It takes guts to be so open emotionally, to be revealed in my art, rawness visible to all. It is relieving to know what spills out of me onto the canvas will assuredly give voice to awareness & meaning in someone else’s life. It may not be my own exact feelings or awareness; I’m mostly not thinking when I work. What is flowing through me is carried by an unconscious knowing. The finished work serves as a vehicle. There’s a reason we are drawn to certain types of art.
That’s part of what I have learned over the past 20 or so years as I yielded to the urge to create, to give a visual response to what feels purposeful to me. Great Expectations. What a great play; what a great playwright. – p’anne