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The Task of Meaning-Making

by
Dianne Albin

[From the book: The Van Gogh Blues]

As a woman and an artist, and also having reached my 50th year, I find I have many questions about the life I have chosen.

Having searched the literature on what it means to be an artist, on what it means to be creative, I am no less puzzled. As with art, there is no all-embracing answer or point of view.

And perhaps that is the crux of this paradoxical life. We embrace a life of solitude in order to embrace our creativity. We live outside the mainstream of life and struggle endlessly to survive both emotionally and financially.

And we wonder why do we do this thing that causes so much pain and also joy.

In seeking therapy for a bout of depression, I began to search for answers and then better questions.

Both the depression and the deep creative block I was experiencing prodded me ruthlessly to find some meaning in my dilemma, some way to survive the ordeal and heal the wounds if possible.

Most self-help books were too shallow and offered merely a Band-Aid remedy to deeper issues, while current psychology was a theoretical nightmare.

From the many bits and pieces, I did garner a pair of essential questions. Why have I chosen this life and to what end?

Obviously, it wasn’t for financial gain or success, as measured by contemporary values.

Nor can I say the endless solitude or financial dependence is something one would actually choose if given a more practical, thoughtful moment. What then is the answer? Whom can I ask?

In the end, I think it is the search for the real, but also the search for the self, the search for what it means to be human.

Perhaps this will sound trite to many, but it ?really is that simple, I’m afraid. With the dawning of human consciousness, the search for meaning entered the equation of survival.

It was not enough to have food and shelter; the questions of who am I and what is it that brings meaningfulness to life also became significant.

It is our ability to think and feel, I believe, to see beyond the immediate concerns of the given moment that plunges us into an eternal search that seems to defy our finite existence.

We are limited by our frailties, our fears, and yet we pursue the endless question to find some meaning.

Writer/Artist Linda ArmstrongFor an artist, it is a driven pursuit, whether we acknowledge this or not, that endless search for meaning.

Each work we attempt poses the same questions. Perhaps this time I will see more clearly, understand something more.

That is why I think that the attempt always feels so important, for the answers we encounter are only partial and not always clear.

Yet at its very best, one work of art, whether produced by oneself or another, offers a sense of possibility that flames the mind and the spirit, and in that moment we know this is a life worth pursuing, a struggle that offers the possibility of answers as well as meaning.

Perhaps in the end, that which we seek lies within the quest itself, for there is no final knowing, only a continual unfolding and bringing together of what has been discovered.

For years I have struggled with discovering my own voice as an artist, a way of seeing that came from deep within myself, that belonged to no other.

Why this deep and abiding need to have one’s own voice, one’s own vision?

This struggle in itself has proven more difficult than I could ever have imagined.

Why this need to separate and distinguish my deepest self, my own true thoughts, feelings, and beliefs from the accepted norm of society?

That, I think, has been both the gift and burden of human consciousness. As much as we cling to one another and desire to be part of our human group, we know that we are truly separate. For all the many devices we utilize, we can never quite overcome our separateness.

We find some solace in our groups of shared belief, thinking this will mollify the sense of isolation, and to some extent it does.

But as we grow older the question “Is that all there is?” becomes more paramount, more insistent. For those called to the life of an artist, this question of meaning, of singular identity, comes sooner rather than later.

My own experience came at the somewhat early age of six when I encountered the artwork of another.

What was it that I experienced at an age when I lacked the words or understanding to process this encounter?

In time I have come to understand more clearly that what I felt was quite simply that I was not alone—separate perhaps, but not alone.

That there were those who had the capacity and ability to invest paint, canvas, stone with our deepest feelings, thoughts, and experiences and make an art that both embraced and explored our humanity.

To create, to express the depth and experience of our consciousness of being alive, all the while knowing that death hovers nearby, that is what we do.

If all this sounds a bit esoteric, I can only suggest that after we fill our bellies and find shelter from the raging elements, we occasionally pause—and in that pause we desire more than anything to understand and feel our humanness and perhaps see more clearly, if only for a moment, the wonder that surrounds us.

I can only shudder when I think of life without our handiwork. The sheer paucity of living only for the sake of survival and empty diversion would be that of an empty vessel.

My own life as an artist helps me to fill that vessel, and on occasion I am able to share that with another.

Is there meaning in my struggle, my endless solitude? Yes, I believe there is, for at the very least I have found greater meaning for myself in that search.

And as those artists who have come before me have perhaps more clearly expressed, our ability to ponder the questions that denote our humanness are worthy of a life of solitude.

That is where I find my solace and my courage.

In the final analysis, it is the art that I make that allows me to pause and briefly see. Only now do I begin to understand and accept both the burden and joy of my life.

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Excerpted from The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression, by Eric Maisel, Ph.D., the author of more than thirty books - some titles at right >

Also see articles by Eric Maisel on the inner life of creators.

[Photo: Writer/Artist Linda Armstrong, from the page: Painting.]



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