Lessons from the Wall: The Cracks
Blog by: Sue Wallingford
“Beauty is an intangible thing; can not be fixed on the surface, and the wear and tear of old age on the body cannot defeat it. Nor will a “pretty” face make it, for “pretty” faces are often dull and empty, and beauty is never dull and it fills all spaces.”
One thing I love about being an art therapist is the opportunity I am given whenever I slow down and engage in the creative process. It is in these moments that I see things in a different way, a deeper way. Not that art therapists or artists are the only people with this skill but for me it wasn’t before learning the combination of art, therapy and meditation practice that I become more skillful in seeing this way. Today I had one of these deep seeing experiences when I was priming the wall across the street from our studio in effort to prepare it for our mural design.
After a few minutes of painting the primer coat on the wall today, in silence, my perspective changed – especially when I came upon the first patch of brittle cement that fell apart when I rolled over it with the roller. Not only did the cement flake and crumble into pieces, but it also left chunks of rock and dried mortar in my roller! First my reaction was to curse (which incidentally I did), and blame someone for the terrible nature this wall was in! Next, I wanted to fix it – scrape it, clean it, and then paint over it. Exasperated I stopped to contemplate what to do, and that was when I saw the beautiful crack in it that was right in front of me, and I was drawn in. So much was there! Age-old dirt and debris, rust stains from the metal rods inside, a spider’s web filled with dried up dead bugs, and beautiful blue green moss hardly able to be seen.
Sitting back on my heels, I felt a big sigh, and my heart instantly softened. What I had interpreted as a nuisance, and a block to my painting progress became this beautiful expression of nature’s art, so intensely sweet and precious that I couldn’t paint over it. I felt protective and wanted to preserve this image. And then it occurred to me.
Why not leave it? The cracks and the pitted crumbly parts of the wall are beautiful! In some ways more interesting than the smoothness of the concrete in other parts. The cracks and broken places have become a part of this wall due to it’s years of constant pressure and abuse. Of course it is cracked and crumbled in spots! There is a story in this wall and I can’t try to cover it up. I can just notice it, and appreciate the hard work it does day in and day out holding up piles of rock, peat and soil dumped on it by heavily loaded trucks.
Robert Henri, is one of my most beloved artists. Not so much because I love his art but because I love the way he sees, the way he lives his life, and the way he taught his students. I remember it was shortly after I graduated that I read his book, The Art Spirit. I was blown away by his perspective in painting portraits. The three years I had learned about Transpersonal Counseling Psychology was cumulated in this one small book. He so poignantly and articulately describes a contemplative, compassionate way of seeing that I discovered a place of resonance in his words that have not yet been surpassed. This man, born in 1865, before art therapy or transpersonal counseling psychology were even in existence, described Transpersonal Art Therapy better than anyone else has even come close.
I go back to his words often, and I was especially reminded of them today. In closing I would like to share a a few of his words:
“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual- become clairvoyant. We reach then into reality. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. It is in the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experience and find expression for it.”
Today for me, I was able to see beyond the usual and it made me feel extremely happy. Thank you Robert Henri and thank you wall across from my studio for giving me this moment.
Stay tuned for more Lessons from the Wall, and if you want to get your own, come paint with us.