The Importance of Vulnerability in our Creative Practice.


Hi everyone! I apologise that it's been so long since my last blog post!

I've really struggled with my mental health this year, as I'm sure a lot of us have. Covid has really done a number on us hasn't it?!


So I've spent a lot of this year resting and de-stressing.

It's given me plenty of time to ponder on my life and where I'm going which is a scary prospect but something that's important to do from time to time.


I've listened to tons of podcasts and the one topic that keeps popping up is the importance of vulnerability in our lives.

Both the Brene Brown podcast 'Unlocking Us' and YogaGirls 'Conversations From the Heart' have dealt with this subject extensively and have given me much to think about.


Vulnerability really ties in with authenticity. The ability to show our real selves to the world is something I personally find quite difficult to do. Ensuring that I put on the perfect face to make everyone else comfortable has become second nature and a really hard habit to break.


Whether it's the fact that people don't understand the whole 'anxiety/depression' thing or the fact that I know that there is a lot of negativity around us in regards to mental health in general but it means that I don't open up much about myself for fear of rejection and disappointment.


Which is the total opposite of what I'm trying to help my students with - why is it that we can give such good advice to others but just can't manage to apply the same kindness and self care to ourselves??


As I've now entered my 50's and having done a lot of hard inner work on myself over the past 20 years, I realise that at times I can be quite lonely and struggle to let people in to my inner circle.

I am lucky to have a strong circle of family and friends around me who I don't have to justify myself to but moving forward I so wish I could be more open to any opportunities in life that I come across.

Don't get me wrong, I have achieved so much over the last 20 years and have grown a lot stronger than I ever thought I could be but in terms of opening myself up to things that I might not find comfortable, it's a real struggle for me.

So goal number 1 moving forward is to try and let people in more, to accept opportunities that come my way rather than withdrawing back in to my shell, whilst maintaining healthy boundaries and avoiding negative situations of course.


So I guess this post is the first step in doing this! How am I doing so far??


We creative types can tend to be very sensitive souls, we feel things very deeply but finding ways to channel that sensitivity in a positive way isn't always so easy.

So what ways can we find to counteract this habit? I started looking for exercises, crafts etc that could help me work on achieving this.


It struck me that a large percentage of artists have for centuries dealt with subjects and feelings that open them up to being completely vulnerable. It's a fascinating subject and one that I thought we could briefly look at in this blog post.


 

In order to become a great artist there is a need to dig deep into lots of uncomfortable feelings. When you look at some of the most iconic works of art the self portrait has been a way of artists really digging deep and facing themselves head on. Unlike many of the portraits we see out there which were commissioned to show someone looking their best, self portraits tend to be a more honest, personal interpretation.


Rembrandt is a prime example of someone who was obsessed with documenting his own face! He painted many self portaits, often confronting his own aging face in thick impasto strokes. I think they are the most fascinating of all his artworks.

When we compare this self portrait on the left, dated 1629 when he was in his early 20s with this one from 1640, this one from 1659 and this one from 1669, we see how in the earlier paintings the paint is applied smoothly but as we progress through time the paint becomes thicker and is clearly applied with a knife to convey the craggy skin & age lines.

There is no trying to make himself look more youthful, just blunt honesty.

How many of us would be so brutally honest?






Frida Kahlo was another artist who painted herself as she was rather than how society perhaps would have painted her. She had to spend a considerable amount of time in bed due to health issues so she was limited in subject matter. Confronting the disability and pain she had to deal with clearly had an affect on her art and is why I find it so poignant and compelling. She painted over 50 self portraits.

No subject was off limits for her - from the miscarriage she depicts in her 1932 painting 'Henry Ford Hospital (The Flying Bed)' to her 1944 work 'The Broken Column' where she details the obvious pain she had been dealing with for so many years. She also documented her tempestous relationship with her husband & fellow artist Diego Rivera in works such as 'Diego & I', 'Diego and Frida', 'Frieda and Diego Rivera',


Vincent van Gogh spent a considerable amount of time studying his face with a level of self scrutiny that bordered on the obsessive.

Painting over 40 self portraits over a period of 4 years, it really gives us an insight into his state of mind during the last few years of his life.

Despite his mental health being very unstable, he was extremely productive throughout the last period of his life.



Artemisia Gentileschi - was a painter at a time when painting - like a lot of things! - was seen as men's work. Despite this she was able to have a successful career and in some paintings she uses herself as a model, usually depicting herself as a character rather than as herself.


Her 1638 work 'The Allegory of Painting' is different where she shows herself just as she was - a painter busy working on a canvas.



So there are plenty of examples throughout the history of painting that show us ways to be vulnerable. Whether that be regarding our physical appearance, our personality or the situations we find ourselves in, there is much to be learned from the artists that have come before us.

 

I've been struggling to find a theme for my artwork - everyone says the subject matter should be something personal to you. The idea of going with what you know with regards to the theme of your work is a good one, I just didn't think my life would be a particularly interesting theme!!! Which meant I was struggling to get any ideas formulating.


Although mental health is something that has been a big part of my life it is not my WHOLE life & I had shied away from using it in my art practice.


Then listening to a Brene Brown podcast recently, she mentioned that a lot of things were on her mind, swirling around & becoming difficult to switch off from. Which is definitely something that I could relate to and the idea just clicked.

I started thinking about all the subjects that go racing round my mind & drive me crazy on a daily basis and this became the starting point for my artwork idea.


Then I thought about the things I use to combat these overwhelming feelings which leads in to my love of being out in nature.


This seemed like a more positive way of approaching this subject matter so I now have a jumping off point and loads of ideas overloading my brain.

Here's the preparatory drawing (apologies for the crumpled photo!) I've done so far which I hope to turn into a painting soon using the theme of my well-being, the issues that concern me, whether they be personal or societal and the things that calm me and give me peace.


Vanitas paintings are another form of self portrait that I find fascinating. Using objects to represent your personality along with the theme of life being fleeting is a subject that intruiges me. Or it may just be that I find bones fascinating and love drawing skulls!


Looking at this example on the left, what can we deduce about the person this painting was created for? The books and map indicate an interest in learning and travel whilst the pearls may symbolism wisdom, purity or integrity.


I'd be interested to know what objects you would add to your vanitas painting that represent you as a person?


Mine would have to have objects from nature, maybe some tree branches or flowers to show my love of the outdoors. Perhaps I'd add some of my art materials to represent my obsession with art. I would also add something that showed my love of food, family & friends.

There are so many objects that we could choose so this might be an interesting subject to sketch. Why not try arranging some objects together and see what speaks to you!

 

So I hope this brief look at vulnerability and ways we can imitate the great artists in their pursuit of truth and authenticity has given you food for thought?


I've saved some additional information and examples of vulnerability to my Pinterest folder which you might find of interest.

And it would be great to learn more about the ways you show yourself to the world, so please feel free to comment on the blog.

Have a great week and I hope to get another blog post out to you all soon.