The Redemptive Quality of Art

The Redemptive Quality of Art

by Jeannine Hunter Lazzaro

Writing about the redemptive aspect of art amounts to a slippery slope for me in many ways. Though my artwork is more than simply art therapy, my own life would have been very different without art. As a recovering alcoholic, a survivor of both childhood abuse and an on-going battle with depression, art has provided me with an escape and a tool for understanding myself. The spirituality of the creative moment forces me to let go of the materialistic and brings me closer to whatever is God, and to my inner self. As a child hiding from the dysfunctional cacophony that surrounded me, I did not fully understand the protective shield I found in my drawing and painting. I knew that I needed it in my life as much as air and water.

As a retired art teacher, I feel that art (and the arts) should be valued more in our education system. It’s foolish to launch into a discussion of the philosophy of aesthetics with high school students (probably even with college level students). I know this because I tried, and in my lack of humility, I would watch their eyes glaze over. My students wanted to learn how to draw, not to hear a lot of art-world babble. This factor has always brought me down to earth a bit. My goal as an art-teacher, in addition to providing them with technical skills, was also to provide them with a pathway to that resilience that I had found in art. The strength and self-knowledge that comes from being immersed in the creative moment builds a resilience that is needed by many, perhaps all students. Yet, creativity is so devalued in our education system.

Drugs and alcohol figure very closely in the creative world; substance abuse is a sort of occupational hazard. I’ve given this a lot of thought (for obvious reasons) and I have come to the conclusion that the element or force that calls us to be creative awakens a kind of rumbling that needs more creativity to calm it or we will do so with whatever other drug of choice we find. It need not be so. Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is not as necessary as we think. Many artists or creatives that have gone ‘on the wagon’ find ways to cope with life and continue to be as creative as ever. Finding a way to present the energy of an object, the light it reflected and the space around it helped me to see more clearly and express the being-ness of the object I beheld. The intensity that comes to me when I am engulfed in the creative moment is similar to the feeling of standing at the end of a diving board. I jump in, and for a moment my mind is empty. The emptiness disappears and is replaced by decisions about color, shape, placement, the picture plane, negative and positive space and so forth.

I define success in art as something separate from the commodity-making artists in today’s art world. A lot of artists get lost in marketing their art and forget why they first came here to this place. I often think of Heather C. Williams’ quote from Drawing as a Sacred Activity - “Society’s fads and fashions come and go. Styles in art become popular, then fade away. What remains are the marks drawn by people who love deeply and follow their hearts.” Feeling deeply and following my heart helps me to see into another dimension, one in which creativity reigns. It takes courage to go there—it takes mindfulness. Mindfulness is a common term in today’s world. Common and so necessary, because people everywhere want to find ways to calm the stress and toxicity of day-to-day life. My work can get pretty intense when I talk about this and I feel that people are often just interested in the visual. Many of the tools I reached for in recovery I found in my art. The 12 -Step Program that I have embraced talks about devoting time to ‘prayer and meditation.’ Many people, myself included, have difficulty with this process. The selflessness and self-forgetting that overwhelms me during the creative process is my meditation. I often describe that feeling when you are totally in the creative moment as touching the face of God (corny perhaps); or going to the place of your original self. My art practice has helped me understand the many processes that bring me closer to ‘mindfulness’ and a substance-free life.

See more of Jeannine's work here jhunterlazzaro.com