Written by: Morgan Blair, founder and creative director of Unpolished Journey
This week I read for my art therapy class an excerpt from the book Art is a Way of Knowing by Pat Allen. The book works to break down how art-making can be a source of insight into our imagination by looking at colors, shapes, sculptural forms, and materials as spokespersons for our internal experiences. In the chapters I read, Allen describes drawing as “energy made visible”, color as “feeling made visible”, and painting as the act of allowing “feelings to become visible through color”. In other words, Allen is saying that elements of art-making become visual translations for how we are interrupting the world around us. Art becomes the script to an internal dialogue of which we may have previously been unaware existed.
Now, this afternoon I went to the Norman Lewis art show at the Chicago Cultural Center. Norman Lewis is a well-known modern painter who spent most of his career in Harlem, New York. Much of his art deals with issues centered around identity of urban black life. As I walked through the paintings, my stomach leapt in excitement. My body is always the first to tell me I connect with a piece. I feel it in my gut, that space I call intuition, that space that my eating disorder severed from my body. But my intuition, after many years fighting to find recovery, has been repaired and now it calls out louder than ever as if to make up for lost time. I find it ironic that the thing I spent so many years hating, my body, would now be the spokesperson for what I most deeply connect with. My body offers insight into things that matter before my mind even registers their significance.
Now, the paintings that struck me most were the one’s that incorporated the human form in nontraditional ways. In some of the paintings, the bodies were transformed through letters and numbers, other paintings left the bodies as mere lines covered in multiple colors so they appeared like streaks of a rainbow. In one painting called American Totem, the figure was comprised of blocks of white paint across a black background.
Put these two concepts together, Pat Allen’s idea that painting allows feelings to become visual through color and Lewis’s abstracted human forms, and there lies an interesting idea. What if the body became the work of art? What if we were able to look in the mirror and see the our arms as the letters “L” just as Lewis painted in his work? What if we were able to call our running legs the visual representation of energy just as Allen described drawing as? What if we could look at our hair as brush strokes and our eyes as dots of paint? What if our words become the rhythmic translation of our heart’s beat? What if our breathing was the visceral response of living?
And guess what? It is. Our body is a work of art. It is carefully crafted with artistic precision. Each hair on our heads is named. Each freckle on our skin is known. Our words matter because they speak of the sensations within our souls. Inside we are a vibrant, energetic painting. Our words, movements, breaths, and laughs all then become the translation of that internal experience. Each day we are recrafted. Each day the painter reaches down and adds a hair or erases a thought or incorporates a wrinkle. We are ever-changing. We are like the paintings in the show; abstract forms with hidden meanings.
When I think about just how precious the human body is, I have the same reaction I had to the artwork of Norman Lewis. My stomach leaps and so I know that my intuition is speaking about something. It feels the same as when I see well crafted art because the body is the ultimate display of creative beauty. Each different. Each its own. Each translating to the world a unique experience. Allen writes that art-making is a way to “know” yourself so if we are art then to “know” ourselves is to simply be. The body is already art therefore there is nothing more we have to do.
We all should have our own art shows to display the inner wonders that our bodies have to offer.
More on Norman Lewis: https://www.pafa.org/normanlewis
All images found on google, but our Norman Lewis’s paintings.