“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~ Mary Oliver
The 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time period for deep soul searching and re-grounding, a time to regain balance, and a time to ask questions. Am I the person I want to be in this world? What am I doing to help make the world a better place? How am I helping to “repair the world”?
“Repairing the world” or Tikkun Olam is an inherent part of being Jewish. Hence, I ask myself: What acts of kindness am I, as an artist, performing to perfect or help repair the world?
When I am alone painting in my studio, choosing to be an artist feels selfish. Yet art is my solace. It helps me make sense of the world, whether through writing, painting, music, reading, or theater. Through art, I wrestle with my emotions, my circumstances, my dreams, my joys, my aches, and often, my pain. The drive to create, to express myself visually, is deep. It helps give voice to feelings that are difficult to express verbally. In the most difficult of times, my yearning for self-expression is palpable.
What is my role as an artist and tikkun olam? I often donate to worthy causes. I’m currently preparing to teach a four-week art class for victims of sexual abuse at the Women’s Center of Lansing. Over the past year I have painted a door to be auctioned off for Habitat for Humanity, sculpted an art bra for the Women’s Center, created masks for the Firecracker Foundation (a local organization that aids children of sexual trauma), donated a painting for Art for Charlie (an organization supporting pediatric hospice and parental bereavement), and was a guest artist at Reach Art Studio, a neighborhood art studio.
Yet, I’ve tried to create a life that includes tikkun olam at all levels, not just my volunteer work or “extra time.” When I think about “giving back” as an artist, it’s undoubtedly woven into the fabric of my being. I find myself drawn to organizations and events with a common thread: They believe art, in all its forms, can be a vehicle for awareness, hope, and healing.
Art reminds us of beauty and of pain, of hope and of healing. As much as I am happy to support local causes, helping others be creative and learn about themselves through the process is the most gratifying form of tikkun olam I know. When leading on-line art journaling classes or teaching mixed-media workshops, I work to help students understand themselves better and express it through their art. It is a form of self-expression that can be both disorienting and healing. This has always proven true for me and I find it true for others as well.
I know my Judaism has shaped the way I approach my art, both professionally and personally. I have been taught to reflect, trust my intuition, strive for perfection, and give back. In learning about myself through art, and then helping others create their own systems for healing and growth, I hope to help repair the world, one person at a time, one step at a time, one paintbrush at a time. In that vein, I annually reflect on Mary Oliver’s question in the back of our prayer book: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I just came back from 8 days in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area in northern Minnesota. It is hard to describe the stillness it created in me. Canoeing and backpacking in the Boundary Waters has been on my bucket list for a very long time. My daughter, Sarah, joined me. It was quiet and peaceful, unconnected to the material world, yet so connected to the natural world. It was just what I needed. When I close my eyes now I imagine the early morning fog and the call of the loons. And my coffee and morning journaling. Bliss.
I came home to September. Fall, to me, is about being deeply reflective. It is the start of the new year and perfectly timed with the next round of new classes to be taught and the deep goal setting questions I ask myself. My bulletin board states “Are you reaching your full potential?” and reminds me to “Be Deliberate. With Purpose.” Yet at the same time I have posted messages to myself that remind me to Slow Down, Be Still, Listen. The conflicting messages of life.
I am getting ready to start teaching the next round of my on-line art journaling class. It is one of my favorite classes to teach. It is fun to plan out, fun to watch the growth that happens, fun to help create a community of artists, fun to be part of for myself. And perhaps most importantly, teaching the class forces me to create daily. I am both a student and a teacher.
As much as I needed the Boundary Waters, I also need art. I love how art helps the soul. I love how art journaling is accessible to anyone, no matter your comfort with a paintbrush or pen. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s quote: “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”
Interested in my on-line art journaling class: Good Morning Creativity! More info: www.jessicakovan.com/online-art-journaling.html
My “Shadow Side” show is packed up and taken down from Grove Gallery. Except one. I left “Herr Drumpf” behind.
I painted Herr Drumpf in a whirlwind. He evoked the creative process in me.
The canvas of each of my paintings in my Shadow Side series are filled with words that fit the image being depicted. Herr Drumpf is painted on top of Mr. Trump’s own words. I spent countless hours cutting out Trump’s words from newspaper and magazine articles. The more I read, and cut, and glued, the more his shadow side and image became clearer.
My goal for all of the paintings in this series is to show both the light and dark side of an object or issue being depicted – whether it is the game of soccer or the power of love. That said, I had a hard time finding a bright side to Mr. Trump. Perhaps, instead it was the amusement and satisfaction I felt in using the creative process to communicate my emotions. Other than that, the more I read, the more the shadows emerged. His words are scary.
Every artist has their own little victories when completing a painting. It might be finally figuring out how to paint a chocolate cupcake to look luscious or experimenting with how not to smear the ink from cut out magazine words. For Herr Drumpf, these victories were on a different level. They were decisions I made about the painting.
I refused to buy an expensive canvas for Herr Drumpf. He is painted on a garage sale canvas. Reused. Recycled. During my show, Herr Drumpf was placed in the corner on the ground. He was not allowed to hang on the wall with my other paintings. And then during my reception I turned my back on him.
AND now I have left him behind.
Do feel free, however, to visit him. And read his words. They are filled with hatred. They are racist, sexist, and xenophobic. They scare me. May we all turn our backs on him.
To see Herr Drumpf, visit: Grove Gallery, 325 Grove St, East Lansing, MI 48823
I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning... Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
For those of you that know me, I am an incredibly goal oriented person – to a fault at times. I have shied away from art journaling for years, even though it often includes WORDS. I love WORDS. Why? I don’t know. Put a word on something and I am drawn in. But art journaling? It seems so non-goal oriented, self-focused. naval gazing. And I already journal daily. I have for almost 20 years. So I didn’t need art journaling in my life.
My statement for this blog page, "inhaling life one day at a time," feels extremely accurate. How has it been a year since I've written? Yet I have been posting on Facebook - please check out my Jessica T. Kovan Art page and feel free to "like" it!
I have been fortunate to share my art in two solo shows over the past year: "Daily Gratitudes" at the Janice Charach Gallery in W. Bloomfield, MI and my current show, "Fragmented Realities," which can be seen at the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing Michigan through the end of January. "Fragmented Realities" focuses on themes of love, life, hope, nature, family and community - or basically my life. Check it out!
As often happens to me, I was running and listening to music and heard the phrase "gallery of broken hearts" in an Ingrid Michaelson song (Be O.K.). I love the phrase. And doesn't
"gallery" just make you think "art"? My mind started working. Monoprinting seemed like a perfect way to try to communicate the feelings behind a broken heart. As I thought about how to capture the phrase in a painting, I realized I wanted to try to communicate the growth and eventual beauty that can come from a broken heart.
There were other pieces that played into my decision. I have a hard time pulling weeds. Who gets to decide weeds are less important than veges? And then there are the deer and rabbits and miscellaneous critters, japanese beetles, and did I mention deer? And cucumber virus. Quite honestly, I am not really a very good gardener and I love the farmer's market. So I threw in the towel and started planting flowers. Not any flowers but flowers that can be cut for bouquets. Zinnias, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, daisies, lavender.