Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Textbook Opportunity

This image was done in 2001 and is titled "Electricity Makes You Float". It has been selected by an author of a college textbook on psychology to use in her new book. She wanted an image of artwork done by a schizophrenic. I don't know how certain it is that the image will end up in the book, anything could happen. But the photo editor and I have been emailing each other almost every day last week. The publishing date is Oct/Nov and the print run is 50,000 books.

Today I got an email because the author had some questions for me about the source of my creativity. Basically I was asked to explain the image. Happily there is a story attached to this drawing. Here is what I wrote back. I have been informed that my email was forwarded to the author.

I remember where I was on Sept.11th, 2001 when the Taliban attacked New York and Washington D.C. I was coming out of the shower and I turned on the television and there were these images of the world trade center in flames and the Pentagon in flames. The caption under the pictures read "America Under Attack".

I could tell immediately that there was going to be large loss of life. I dropped to my knees in front of the television and started crying from sadness and fear. As the news story developed I learned the story of how airplanes were used as bombs. I must have seen the twin towers collapse.

One of America's response to Sept. 11 was to hang the American flag on your house. I would drive down the street and see on front porches and in windows everywhere the American flag, a symbol of national unity. It felt really good to see all those flags. I wanted to be part of the people. I went to the store to buy an American flag but they were all sold out, so I thought that I could paint one on board and hang it down from the side of my window sill, facing the street.

Problem was that my imagination kept on distorting the American flag. I knew how to paint it straight but I felt compelled to add colors, bend the lines, add or subtract stars. I thought to myself, "if you don't get the flag right people will misinterpret it as disrespect. Better no flag than one that looks psychedelic."

At the same time as my imagination was distorting the American Flag I started having a psychotic fantasy. I thought that I could shoot rays of energy from the palms of my hands and blow up buildings. Somehow I identified with the Taliban murderers, and thought that I was as powerful and destructive as they. Of course the exact opposite was really true, I was feeling small and powerless and scared. People were doing things like buying survival supplies, we all wondered if another attack was eminent.

Since I couldn't draw the flag right, I instead drew a picture of a woman with rays of energy coming out of her hands and feet. She is me. I was a little influenced by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat who sometimes draws the figure showing internal bones. You will notice that coming out of the woman's mouth are drops of blood, she is injured or sick.

Being a schizophrenic who is on medication, I can identify psychotic thought and isolate them and stay sane. I knew the thought was untrue, a fantasy born of trauma, even as I lived with the twilight possibility of it being true. Making this picture helped free me of the obsessiveness of the idea of having superhuman powers. Its like taking a dark, sick thought and putting it out there into the brilliance of daylight, and daylight cleanses you and releases you of the hold it had over you.

Making this image was part of my personal process of healing after the horror of September 11th. It is one of the most personal, and intimate art objects I have ever made.

I am glad the author chose this image.

I added that if the author had any further questions to me I would be happy to reply.

My worst fear is that the textbook makes me into a nameless schizophrenic person. In my very first email to the photo editor I said that if they used my image I wanted my name as artistic credit printed. I stand by my image and I must further stand by any psychotic fantasies I have, even if they are ignoble and seem to be the stuff of comic books. I don't mind that my illness is revealed in detail. Detail is what the hungry open minds of the young college students need. Yes I get crazy, but there is too a very human response to loss and tragedy, I mean, don't you want to know that a schizophrenic wished to display the American flag along with her neighbors? Patriotism and deep Empathy are lovely human traits of this schizophrenic. Craziness is just one dimensional, the symptoms of schizophrenia are just a small slice of the total person.

And isn't it miraculous how a delusion turns into a neat work of art? Not a totally naive work of art either, with the artist giving credit to being inspired by the work of another more famous artist. Yes, I have a several books in my library on Jean-Michel Basquiat. I've studied Basquiat and seen originals in museums. So this schizophrenic is influenced intellectually by other artists.

Nice to know that a schizophrenic can be an intellectual. The college kids need to know that as well.

For instance my current neighbor was very surprised when my husband told him that I was schizophrenic. We had lived next to each other for several years, I am a friendly presence, and yet he was shocked because he said "I thought that all schizophrenics looked like homeless people." Probably thought we were witless as well.

I don't know what version, if any version of my story makes it into the textbook. But I am sincerely happy that I was given the challenge to write it all down and translate what is in my head to words. I'm just happy I wrote that email to explain the work of art.

My husband thinks that all my works of art should have stories attached to them. Some simply don't. Some are just combination of images with multiple themes. My husband always asks, so what is the story going on here? And if I say "There is no story" he frowns and kind of shifts his weight unhappily. My husband feels that if a painting doesn't tell a story it is a failed image. Yes, he is very narrow minded. And while in his own fantasy world he thinks he would make a great art history teacher I think he would be a flop. Great categories of art he would dismiss as "not art". His favorite pieces of art? Late Renoir nude bathing beauties. They are like happy porn candy to him.

But my darling husband (who in all honesty happens to be my greatest artistic fan and usually stanch supporter) is right about one thing. If there is a story going on in my artwork my creativity gets a boost. Even better - if I feel a need to make an artwork, an urgency, a statement to put out into the world, the end result is a little bit better.

Oh, I like to make a pretty picture. Half of every effort I make is just to put into this world a pretty picture. The fly in the ointment is that I don't consider sex and violence as detracting from a pretty picture, while to most people's sensibilities, they do. My mother for instance. Any trace of sex or violence completely turns her off. She likes the things that underpin and support sanity and happiness. On her advice I did once even paint over a decapitated head rolling around on the ground with a purple pansy flower, but having done this, I looked, and felt that the painting was now too boring and to my sensibility, unbalanced. In most of my work, at the least, threat is in the air.

My mother once bought a painting for over a thousand dollars and then said she was going to place it in a safe. It was too upsetting to put on the wall. But it was a good painting, "museum quality" is what she said, and she wished to possess it. Only, she didn't want to look at it or have any of her friends look at it.

The human heart is a funny thing.

If I were to name one of the most joyful forces in this world I would say color. I can paint disturbing things in beautiful contrasts of color. Its a trick to the eye! Can you forget what the images stand for and be seduced and made happy by the color?

I think I like color better than chocolate. And I often crave chocolate.

But color and sex are a dead heat.

And lastly, I would like to add to this list of favorite things, my dog enthusiastically licking my face. She is limited in ways that she can say "I love you". But there is a purity in the love of an animal that has no equal, and injects straight into your veins, a wonderful lift of emotion.

I think that I could survive much sadness simply by the companionship of my faithful dog. She is earth medicine, life medicine, and a road to sanity. By simply being a dog she helps me to be a balanced human being.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Karen,

    Congratulations on having one of your works selected for this textbook! I, too, think that not only your name should be included, but some of your story. Maybe even a link to this blog? I also thought, wow, wouldn't it be cool if Karen created an art and story book in one. Like take excellent photographs of your work and then write a piece about it and how it relates to your illness and your continuing attempts to lead a full and rewarding life through your family and art and writing. I bet you could sell the idea in a book proposal.

    Your illness and your recovery from your illness are so entwined in your art making abilities and your paintings do tell a kind of story and that is fascinating in itself. There just has to be more of us out here spreading the message that it is possible to still live a good life, especially when you stay creative. Mental illness does not necessarily mean that you will spend chunks of your life under lock and key. Freedom, no matter how modest, is possible with some effort and understanding.

    Love, Kate : )


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