An Artists’ Table

At a recent United Kingdom Leaders’ Workshop, I led a table for artists. Ten of us participated. The following is taken from my notes and the notes of Tyra Till, who was a great assistant.

We started with a round of sharing the art forms we practice. These included writing in many forms—stories, plays, a novel, a musical, an autobiography, poetry; spoken-word performance; storytelling; improvisation; drawing; painting; acting; making music; and designing.

Artists are allowed some (but very limited) leeway to be eccentric or “different.” But when we are “different,” we risk being marginalised and not taken seriously (except where our art can be made into a commodity and used for profit).

Our fears about “going crazy,” or looking like we are going to “go crazy” (“mental health” oppression), can make it difficult to access our early distresses.

Our early distresses will influence which art we choose to make. The more aware we are of the links between our early distresses and our art, the more we can be in control of the process. (I gave an example of an RC artist who decided to change the kind of art she made to fit with her ideas of re-emergence and liberation.)

We all have early “unbearable” hurts—so artwork that contradicts them will be of value to others and also support our own discharge.

For the second round I asked people, “How does working on early ‘unbearable’ feelings affect your creative work? What connections have you noticed?” People shared the following:

  • I write poems inspired by early memories I’ve worked on in Co-Counselling sessions. The poems seem like re-evaluations.
  • When writing my poetry, I can find a “hard place” without needing to have a “story.”
  • Commonality is where I’m trying to go with my art—to art that reaches everyone.
  • For my poems to have meaning and be profound, I first need to let myself go to the early “unbearable” place.
  • It’s the re-evaluation that I’m reaching for. (Unfortunately session material [distress] can command a lot of money in this society.)
  • I worked on my Black Re-emergence article for years so it would not be a “session.” It’s my early story, a liberation story. [Black Re-emergence is the RC journal about Black liberation.]
  • Doing my work (as an artist) is itself an “unbearable” place.
  • As a young Catholic Irish girl, I didn’t get to make many decisions. For me, making art is about decision-making.
  • My personal poetry cards make people cry.
  • Celebrating the land is my art.
  • Heavy discharge opens up my singing voice.
  • In a performance, I used a light touch in telling about the Holocaust and left space afterward for listeners to tell their stories.
  • I’ve recently been focussing on making things as beautiful as possible. I’m resisting doing overtly “activist” art whilst finding out more of who I am. I’m also focussing on the link between humans and the planet and other life forms.
  • Lines from the John Keats’ poem “Ode to a Nightingale” helped me discharge on being a suicide survivor. Discharge is not easy for me as a man, and the words of songs or poems have often been key to opening the door to it. They help me know that someone else has “been there.” I want to write like that! I’d like to be a torch for other people. I’ve been using poetry and song as campaign tools for twenty years; now I want to create something of beauty.
  • Reading about underwater destruction was “unbearable,” so I drew creatures that were near extinction.
  • Improvisation gives me wobbly legs. It makes me tremble, which is a good reason to do it. I also get to have fast thoughts and be silly and unlimited.
  • Drawing has lots of possibilities. Anything can be created on a piece of paper.

Terry Simpson

Leeds, Yorkshire, England

Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of artists


Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00