Interpreting Joy

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Earlier this fall, I founded a little artist’s group. I knew from previous freelancing experience how isolating (and depressing) it can feel to sit at home all day without access to humans except via email, and I was keen to find a way around that problem this go-round. At the recommendation of a knowledgeable friend, I picked up a book called The Artist’s Way, aimed at nurturing the creative spirit. The author, Julia Cameron, suggests readers form “creative clusters” for support and community.

My creative cluster consists of Kristina, a visual/decorative artist, Kerie, a photographer, Natasha, a graphic designer, and Laura, also a photographer – all women I respect and admire not only for their artistic talents, but also for who they are as people. Although we’re all in different creative fields, when we meet, we discuss the same sorts of things – how to balance art and commerce; what to do about taxes incurred by our small (tiny!) companies and how to bar against them; where to fill our creative wells, etc.

As I was leaving our group this past Monday, Kristina and Kerie began talking about the nature of their work. Kristina’s paintings are full of color, joy and life. She uses pink paint, often. Her work is bold, with a fun flare, and beautiful. Kerie does all sorts of photography (weddings pay the bills), but enjoys her work with children the most. She loves to bring out their liveliness and innocence, captures sly, mischievous smiles and quirky personalities.

Both girls talked about their peers from art school, who were so focused on finding reflective meaning within their paintings and photographs that they seemed to discount the value of something that was simply beautiful, or dear. I remember feeling a similar tension while studying poetry in college. It seemed all “legitimate” poets were writing about fear, death, longing or depression. With varying degrees of success, my peers there followed suit. I sort of tried to walk into the shadows, but always felt I came off as a sham, and there’s nothing worse than insincere poetry.

Still, the “true artist” stereotype sometimes serves as a deterrent to my own work. I imagine that I will not achieve real success with my writing unless I addict myself to an illicit drug (or maybe just some painkillers), go crazy or become madly self-centered. Unfortunately (I mean, fortunately), I’m just not wired that way, and I kind of like my balanced life as it is. I try to remind myself that there are plenty of wonderful, “legitimate” artists out there whose work has tracings of both light and shadow, who are not destitute, and whose lives are not in shambles.

But the question remains, can art be joyful and still be considered art? I think so. If all artists were tortured souls, searching for an outlet for their grief, the world would be in a very sad state, indeed.

FYI: The painting, above, is by my friend Kristina.  It is one of my favorites.

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