Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Self Portraits, Food, and Spirituality

I had an artist friend who, as she faced her death from cancer, vowed to document her journey toward her unknown destination armed with creativity. She resolved to create a self-portrait each day as her treatments began and the disease ground away at her life. To my amazement, she actually followed through on her resolve. We had a show when she'd finished 30 portraits, some done under the added burden of chemotherapy.

Most were little sketches or watercolors in which her likeness, despite hair loss, bloated face, and yellowed complexion, showed forth plainly. Those were on the good days. One day, it was so bad, the portrait consisted of just a few penstrokes. It was the most poignant of the whole collection, and truly reflected who she was and what her life was like at that particular moment in time.

There are two things for which I am most grateful as I remember this friend, now that she has been gone for some time. One was, of course, the self-portraits that had such an impact on me and the other artists in the show. The other was that, just a few weeks before her death, she attended a show of my work to offer her encouragement and support. Despite her journey she squeezed every moment of creativity out of her hours, days, and weeks.

Something I have realized, lately, is that I seem to be channeling my creativity into some rather bizarre channels as I have not made time to paint or draw over the past several weeks. Since I have lost my job, moved, started planning a wedding, and prepare to start a temporary job, I have not painted a stroke and have put pencil to paper but once. I have not even kept up my journal or my blog.

Instead, one of the really bizarre things I noticed is that the other day I was juicing oranges for breakfast and realized that I was stacking the empty half-shells in the compost pail in a beautiful spiral pattern of shiny orange half-domes. Now, all creativity is fleeting, and many artists intentionally make art that is meant to be transitory. But this was just silly.

Later I realized that my recent obsession with presenting food beautifully seems to be the default outlet for my own need to make art. Unfortunately, it has also gotten enmeshed with an untimely misguided preoccupation with creating luscious, calorie-laden (thanks a lot, 'Julie and Julia')dinners that we probably shouldn't be eating every night of the week. I shudder when I look at the scale.

I am going to try an experiment to change my habits. Since I need to make beautiful, appealing food that is also healthy and delicious, I am going to combine it with the exercise which I learned from my artist friend. I realized that creating the self-portraits was not only an outlet for her creativity, the work gave her some control over her cancer; maybe even over her death. At least it put it on her own terms.

I propose to create a portrait of my dinner every night during April and May, using various media, and making each portrait no larger than 4"x6".

By practicing this discipline, I hope to achieve three goals:
1.) I will force myself to critically examine my main meal for health and design, concentrating on colorful vegetables and fruits
2.) I will provide myself with a framework in which to make art daily
3.) I will discover more about the connection between food artistry, nutrition, self-care, and creativity

I promise myself I will post regularly and put my pictures up on the blog if for no other reason than to be accountable and to derive a sense of accomplishment during this desert time. Here's to creativity! Thanks, Artemis, for being such a courageous role-model! What an artist you were!

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