2024: Leaning into the challenges and joys of abstraction

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that my first career was as a therapist and so I really appreciate the therapeutic value of art-making and I can see how I’m exploring my personal challenges, delights, and questions through my art-making. It’s fascinating and wonderful that the process of making art is so full of opportunities to know myself better and to heal and grow. I’m so grateful that I get to do this with my time and energy.

And it can also be so hard when you’re selling your art and you want to produce art that your collectors will love… and then (as I experienced with my most recent commission) your art-making is asking you to look at and embrace some of the themes you struggle with most in life in order to be able to make the kind of art you want to make!

These days I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to making more abstract art. Perhaps this is because abstract art-making pulls me even deeper into this kind of therapeutic work than figurative art-making does. And (most of the time! Ha!) I want to do this healing and growing. (Honestly, sometimes it feels like I’m drawn to abstract art in spite of the inner work it asks me to do, rather than because of it! Ha!).

What abstract art calls me to

Abstract art – at least the kind of intuitive and layered abstract art I want to make – asks me to get out of my head and be more in my body, noticing what I’m feeling. With abstract art-making I have to feel my way forward instead of thinking, researching, analysing, planning, and controlling my way forward like I have to do in so many other areas of life juggling entrepreneurship, parenting, family scheduling, researching and advocating for the care I need for my illnesses and disabilities, and all the other adulting things.

Abstract art-making asks me to choose the next colour and make the next mark with commitment, even though I don’t know what end result I’m working towards, so I can’t know whether this one is the “right” colour or mark.

It tells me to observe and appreciate and respond without making judgments – both about the art I’m making and about the feelings I’m feeling. And that I’m allowed to like and dislike things and make choices for myself without knowing why I like or dislike it, or needing to justify my choices (to myself or anyone else).

It teaches me that I don’t have to know what something is to know (and enjoy) what it evokes for me, that I don’t have to understand or be understood, that trying to understand and control everything will squash the vitality and joy out of it, and that ambiguities, uncertainties, mistakes, and “messes” can all be so very beautiful.

And that mess-ups, failures, and losses will happen. And that’s okay. Because those experiences can take me to new places, show me new things, make me new friends, and give me an even richer experience of life – if I choose to stay open-hearted and keep showing up to respond and make my creative bids.

Ultimately, abstract art-making requires me to practice trust that, in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, and all of my fears of loss and failure, I am safe and I can go forward with confidence and an open heart. Because I have resourcefulness, creativity, integrity, and unique wisdoms that I can rely on to help me to find, experience, and share the beauty and meaning in life, whatever happens.

It’s about more than just the art

This year I’m going to be exploring with a lot more abstract art-making because all of these ways that abstract art asks me to heal and grow are exactly what I need and want. And not just so that I can make the kind of vital and evocative art I want to be making.

We’re privileged in so many ways, including that we get to live in such a safe and supportive country. And also, an immigrant, there’s so much I don’t know about life here. I’m a beginner who’s making lots of mistakes as I try to learn and adapt and integrate. And many other areas of my life that matter a lot to me are full of uncertainty, ambiguity, and risks of mistakes and losses too… navigating social life with poor vision and hearing (and poor Dutch!), the uncertain future of my vision and hearing (at least I can improve my Dutch!), the lifelong vulnerability of being immuno-suppressed, the lifelong risk of silent transplant rejection, all the health risks of the side effects of the transplant medications I have to take for the rest of my life, my rare mast cell disorder that has (gratefully!) been pretty stable of late but still unexpectedly rears it’s head sometimes, navigating perimenopause and all the new health challenges and uncertainties that brings, being a transracial family in a racist world, and sustaining connection and a sense of belonging (for myself and for our son) as an immigrant family.

I can see that growing in my ability to embrace ambiguity, uncertainty and risks of mistakes, messes, and losses in my art-making is already helping me to live more wholeheartedly with all of these realities. In both my art-making and my daily life, I’m feeling more rested, more playful, more confident, and more adventurous. I’m loving it, and I hope that this new energy will be evident in the art I make this year. It’s scary pushing myself out of my comfort zone with my art (and in all these ways of being as I go about life), but it’s absolutely worth it.