"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to care and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts."
from "Walden," by Henry David Thoreau
My oldest son was recently at St. Mary’s hospital in Duluth for a few days…which required me (quite willingly) to be at his bedside supporting him and generally being an ambassador from the outside world, which of course was still going on despite everything. Anyone who has spent any time at all in a hospital, either themselves or tending to a loved one, can appreciate how it feels. The places that are meant to be centers of healing often tend to be very cut off from the sources of healing that we most need…in our case fresh air, sunshine, and Lake Superior. We arrived in Duluth under the cover of darkness, so we were pleasantly surprised the next morning to see a familiar sight: the sun rising over the water, and the same horizon where the lake meets the sky, from the seventh floor hospital window.
This view became a source of comfort as we watched the clouds form, the birds fly from tree to tree below, and even the occasional eagle circling, as the sun made its way across the sky… just as it always has and always will. These constants grounded us in a reality bigger than ourselves. I knew my son was firmly on the road to recovery when at sunrise, I received a wakeup call to tell me, “Mom, get over here. You’re missing a beautiful sunrise.”
As the days wore on however, the conversations wore thin as we went though all our usual material, and then some. Time passes excruciatingly slowly in a hospital. To pass the time, I finally went over to the UMD bookstore and purchased a sketchbook, a few pencils, more than a few watercolor pencils…and for him, a set of brush markers and sketchbook. I planted myself at the window, spread out the art supplies on the wide windowsill, and drew, while he churned out a series of funny original cartoon characters (his specialty) from his bed. From my bird’s eye view, I honed in on a few large pine trees below and drew them growing near the lakeshore, imagining how it would be without all the pavement, buildings and cars below.
The energy of the room transformed after this, and continued through the next couple of days. We began a visual conversation, as we showed each other our work…but it was particularly interesting to see the reaction of hospital staff that came into the room. Everyone asked what we were doing, then looked at our drawings, which usually led to conversations on a much deeper level than usual. People talked about their own relationship with art and drawing, people they knew who were artists, beautiful things they had seen in nature, and most importantly…dreams and aspirations of what they really felt in their hearts they were meant to do. I believe everyone, deep down, is passionate about something. It seemed that by simply doing something we were passionate about that connected us to our inner creative selves, it shone a light onto this part of others as well. We created an opening in the clouds for that light to peek through.
As they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and this experience brought a new level of understanding to me of the power and purpose of art. … an enlarged sense of what art is, and is not.
Focusing on the beauty around us, and connecting to our deepest creative selves is healing. Making art is a vehicle for that…it is not so much about the finished product, or whether someone else thinks it is good. It is truly about engaging with the creative process. It does not matter whether that creativity expresses itself through you in the form of drawing, painting, playing music, writing a poem, growing a garden, baking a loaf of fantastic bread...or healing people in their time of need. We all have gifts, a unique light that shines forth to enrich the quality of our days for ourselves and those around us. Find your light and shine brightly….there is no higher purpose than this.