Over time, words have become a close friend. I used to detest and loathe writing when younger. Now, it’s a comfort and guide moving forward. In fact, written expression has become part of my ritual and art practice. It creates meaning and adds depth to life. Without words, I would feel lost. Writing aides in the discovery of quality by being the first mark in my art.
However, are words just words?
Famous writers, actors, musicians, and artists such as Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, George Orwell, Charlize Theron, Adele, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Jackson Pollock were confronted with addictions in their families or individually. My childhood was plagued with alcoholism’s ugly face. By no means was it the worst but it was a challenge. I learned early that words could be manipulated by physical, mental, or environmental circumstances that are uncontrollable. However, language has a deep meaning to me. When that trust is broken, it can be forgiven but not forgotten.
A few years back went to a Squeak Carnwarth artist talk. She discussed how her alcoholic family structure framed her art practice. Laura Casey of the Contra Costa Times interviewed Carnwarth for her Oakland Museum exhibit in 2009: “Carnwath settled here in part because her husband was from the Bay Area, but she also because wanted to ‘get as far away from my family as possible,’ she says bluntly. Carnwath’s childhood was, in short, difficult and dysfunctional. The oldest of six children, she says the boys were always favored over the girls. Her father was an alcoholic and the family moved frequently for her father’s work, leaving her relatively rootless. Her mother was driven by fear and played a victim, Carnwath says. Family battles with mental illness are woven casually through the stories of her life, in conversation with the artist and through the show catalog. It’s important to know that she had such a difficult childhood because she thinks about and reflects upon themes in her childhood frequently in her work. She’s not brooding; rather, she’s studying herself as a subject.”
I relate to Squeak Carnwath and understand complicated family dynamics. Honesty, this history (good or bad) influences my art practice. How could it not? “Serious” and committed artists have an insane laser focus that drives them. I often wonder what motivates other creatives. Could it be money or fame? Whatever the inspiration, words decode, define, and help us cope. Filtering through the clutter is key to clear words. Buddha: “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace.”