Do No Harm
16" x 16" collage on board
It's been a few minutes, as they say, since I have written a post talking about my work. I stopped writing because it seemed futile since really no one seemed to be reading and commenting. Isn't that one of the purposes of blogging? People read your thoughts and then write in to tell you something about those thoughts, good or bad. Even without that back and forth, I know that the writing is part of the art making for me, somehow, and I should really keep that up in order to help stay connected to the work. Even if no one reads that writing I am still reading it myself.
For this latest piece, I drew on my recent experience with reading two separate works. The first work is by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It's called The Yellow Wallpaper and it chronicles the rather quick descent into madness of a young and well-to-do wife and new mother, possibly called Jane. The second work is a play by Henrik Ibsen called A Doll's House. The play tells the story of Nora and her husband and Nora's rather rude awakening to the reality of her marriage and relationship. I read the works back to back and they became entwined in my mind. Both characters are women living in a time when women's rights weren't terribly robust. Choices weren't abundant and men tended to be in control. When both women could really use some help, their husbands make bad decisions which end up having negative consequences for the women. Of the two, the character of Nora in the Ibsen play does better. She at least is able to leave the marriage but even so, at what cost? The other, Jane, cannot physically leave. Because she is confined by her husband to bedrest and cannot thrive, she has a nervous breakdown. She mentally checks out, in a sense.
Not exactly cheerful subject matter I know but still. It made me think. I also remembered (and this brought it all together for me) a Wallace Stevens poem called The Emperor of Ice Cream. One of the final sentences of the poem is "Let the lamp affix its beam..." I just love this. Using a modern term, that is a call to bring it on! Do your worst! Shine a light on everything, the line seems to say, and I will still surpass the trouble and embarrassment of whatever you choose to uncover. The truth cannot hurt me. There is just a finality about things I guess. That may not be how Stevens exactly meant it but it's how I imagined it. And, circling back to the two works I read, I think those ideas apply to both women. Both women escape their situation in a fashion but at what cost? Ultimately, they can't escape their fate.
I know that it's impossible to take all of what I read and what I thought about the two works and the poem and reflect that back in my collage. I can't possibly represent those ideas (I don't have the skills for that). But, I chose images that I thought would be supportive (which is different than strict representation). The woman in the dress to the right is the main character, sort of rolling her eyes heavenward in a "now what?" kind of way. I feel that she looks polite and is possibly the master of forbearance. The Ouija board image reflects back to The Yellow Wall Paper story. Jane's husband doesn't believe in the supernatural (Jane does). It's one more way that he dismisses her. (Nora is dismissed by her husband in numerous ways as well, through his use of a pet name for her as well as telling her how simple and child like she is.) Jane also locks herself in her room and tosses the key into the garden (hence the key imagery). Moreover, both women eventually arrive at the "key" or solution to their particular dilemmas. Both women are in a "cage" of sorts so I included that imagery as well. There is the image of the three blindfolded men (self explanatory I think. Just because a man tells you what to do doesn't mean that is the correct thing. Even men can't know everything.) I chose the butterflies because I see them as a symbol of transformation and freedom. I also took some effort to select a good printed background. The flowered designs are from a William Morris book of papers. I thought that would be appropriate for the time period of both works. Plus, Morris's patterns are so detailed and intense- a person could get bogged down or lost, mentally, by them. The colors are a kind of yellowish gold. And lastly, there is the structure of the piece itself. I meant the whole image to look like Lucy at her help booth in a Charlie Brown episode. The top and sides of the piece (dark flowered paper) are the top and sides of the booth while the bottom of the booth is the lighter colored gold paper. Lucy always charges 5 cents a session for psychiatric help so I used the number 5 and the cents symbol in the background paper.
I originally intended that this piece be a commentary of my views on the availability of mental health help and medical help in general (hence the title of the piece). I know from news stories that the need for healthcare has skyrocketed. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are in dire need here in the US. It's much worse in other countries. I also know that many people simply don't have health care or what they have is inadequate. My own experience in the medical system has been very mixed. For a few life threatening things, I got the care I needed to save my life. For the other more mundane and chronic problems, help has been very poor. I should say that getting my problems resolved (which they haven't been) and being churned up by the system in the process has taken a real toll on my mental health. One result is that my view of medical care has changed completely particularly as it relates to the management of chronic medical conditions. Not only is our system set up poorly to handle chronic ailments but the cures are often worse than the ailment itself. I can't tell you the number of times the side effects were more objectionable than the original problem. It's clear to me now why the supplement business is so lucrative.
In any case, these were my initial thoughts as I started the piece. Things morphed, obviously, as I read a few books and a poem. I think that is how my art works though. It's very in-the-moment and reflects what I am currently thinking but it also takes in my past experiences and ideas. . It isn't a straight forward linear thing. It's very circular and almost like an Apollonian circle, with many ideas intersecting around a central point.
I am very pleased with the results of this piece. I know however that not everyone will see things my way. Interpretations will be varied and maybe not what I had intended. That's just fine with me. I have medication and meditation for that!
Thanks to anyone who has read the post. Send me an email if you like.