Updated: Nov 26
I was thinking about a documentary I watched last night with my mother, I had wanted her to see it as I remembered, it had had quite an effect on me when I first saw it. It was called, Kusama-Infinity, on Amazon, about a Japanese artist called Yayoi Kusama The feelings I experienced last night, were so powerful and the connection to art and emotion, I felt a powerful awakening around how I had shut down some of my feelings around art and beauty and looking to really see, since Covid days began. I realized the way art connects us is so important and is in some ways subtle but also powerful.
During Covid months Grayson Perry and his wife Pipa Perry did a wonderful show on BBC. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8oSFgK4zCI
Mum and I had a couple of weeks where we both decided to do a piece of artwork to send into Grayson Perry's Art Club competition. We really felt the creative bug around this time and the feelings we had been experiencing, mine was about working from home during Covid and living with mum so we both had company during this odd time. Mine was photos I took , cut up collaged, and some painting, drawing and decoupage.
Mums was a watercolour painting about a trip we had booked to Japan for the 14th of April 2020, her flying on a herons back!
This trip was paid for and all booked into Airbnb, all had to be cancelled, (we got our money back from Japanese airlines and most of our money back from the accommodation).
A dream of a lifetime trip, paid for by crowdfund with family and friends, my daughter set this up for her grandmother's 80th birthday! One day we will get there, the money is saved and waiting!
Even though our pictures were not chosen we really felt a buzz and enjoyed the process of the artistic expression of how we were feeling,
at that strange and often disappointing and painful time.
My father was an artist and this has left a legacy of interest and emotion around art, something I share with my mother, I am not what I would call an artist, I am a creative I believe, mum I would say is an artist, mum can paint beautifully and does, I'm not sure if she would call herself an artist though.
What constitutes an artist? I remember dad saying " An artist puts them self out there to be critiqued, anything you do, that might move someone in any way or that allows people to think or see differently, anyone can say they will do something or they could do better, have they though? An artist does it! they place themselves in a vulnerable place by doing this, art comes from feeling and thought".
I wanted to find a good description of what art is, so I found this online...
"What is Art?
Art is a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts— artworks—that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill, and are intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.
The oldest documented forms of art are visual arts, which include images or objects in fields like painting, sculpture, printmaking , photography, and other visual media . Architecture is often included as one of the visual arts; however, like the decorative arts, it involves the creation of objects where the practical considerations of use are essential, in a way that they usually are not in another visual art, like a painting.
Art may be characterized in terms of mimesis (its representation of reality), expression, communication of emotion, or other qualities. Though the definition of what constitutes art is disputed and has changed over time, general descriptions center on the idea of imaginative or technical skill stemming from human agency and creation. When it comes to visually identifying a work of art, there is no single set of values or aesthetic traits. A Baroque painting will not necessarily share much with a contemporary performance piece, but they are both considered art". (https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/what-is-art/)
This is from the same description and I think it is important in this context;
"Art can function therapeutically as well, an idea that is explored in art therapy. While definitions and practices vary, art therapy is generally understood as a form of therapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication. It is a relatively young discipline, first introduced around the mid-20th century".(https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-arthistory/chapter/what-is-art/)
More than anything, I think of art as a way of communicating feelings and thoughts and also of connecting.
Yayoi Kusama, as an artist began under difficult circumstances, he mother in particular but both parents it seems were not encouraging of her artistic abilities in art, she was born in 1929, so she was ten when the war broke out.
Japan was not an easy place to be, she would have been vulnerable and young and this was a time she said she realised she wanted to do art. Her struggle to be able to express herself , due to her parents not allowing it but also emotionally at that time in the world, must have been such a hard thing for a child to deal with. It seems from the documentary that art for her was a way to express and allow her to regulate her feelings. She is an interesting person and artist.
It is nothing new that many artists struggle with their emotional and mental health, creatives tend to be sensitive too but this is often what drives them to create but this woman was so strong even though she was also so vulnerable, this combination is fascinating to me, but also not new, my father was like this. I, wonder if this is why she had such a big affect on me.
She travelled to New York in the 60s at the age of 27, to engage with a very lively art scene. I would say she had very little, monetary wise, as her parents appeared to be dealing with their own issues including her father's regular infidelities and her mother apparently instructing her to spy on her father's infidelities which, it seems had a big effect on her emotionally, she did a whole series of furniture with cloth penis on one famous piece was the 'Penis Chair', apparently people loved to sit on it!there was also a penis sofa which she was photographed laying on naked.
I always find it interesting how people who carry trauma around sex and sexuality, they often expose this in some overt way either harmful towards themselves, becoming involved in prostitution at the top end,or other risky promiscuous behaviours, self harming type sexual escapades or exposing themselves in a very vulnerable way as Yayoi Kusama did, her confusion and pain around her early experiences, (which we really know very little about,other than what she speaks of around her father) One could argue it was the sixties and this was a time of sexual expression, and I agree with that but a young woman in a male dominated world expressing her self so overtly sexualy, no doubt attracted predatory behaviour from some of the less healthy men at that time.
In the film she speaks of feeling taken advantage of in different ways in less Woke times it might be said; "She asked for it , throwing herself around, naked and doing phalic work" I would say as a therapist , this is a woman screaming out to be heard and seen, to have her pain suffering and confusion acknowledged in some way, and yet she was taken advantage of in many ways,as is always the case with sensitive vulnerable people. its as if they are a beacon of light for less healthy damaged types, who deal with their own trauma by harming others and on it goes!
At 13 she had to work in a Japanese defence factory sewing parachutes with thousands of other young girls for the war.
It appears this might be where she learnt to sew and added to the emotional manic and prolific work she did later in her art.
In the 50s she had developed her own style and did a lot of work with polka dots and this went on to become quite excessive in her work.
She attracted some famous art critics and galleries, and became immersed into the Pop art scene, but it seems she found it hard to make a good profit from her work and was regularly hospitalised because of pushing herself so hard and working so hard whilst dealing with mental health problems, she was said to have suffered with hallucinations regularly.
She was exhibiting at this time with famous male artists like Andy Warhole and Claes Oldenburg, in New york, Amsterdam and Paris, it seems she did not feel valued like the men as an artist.
Infinity, became something she seemed to obsess about she did an exhibition in 1965 at the 'Richard Castellane Gallery' called ' Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli's Field' with mirrors and light for illusion of never ending space, this became very popular and gained her a lot of recognition, but still not as much as many of her male counterparts. she also did a huge section of work called 'Infinity Nets' which are beautiful but also hauntingly lonely feeling. As I watched her doing some work on one, on the documentary I felt I could see that sad lost girl as she worked, it was really moving! almost as if she was stuck in time as a wounded child.
She began a lot of protests in support of gay men and other subjects she felt passionate about, she would organise nude gatherings in public and paint people and cover them in dots, watching the documentary you realise its very much of the time in the 60s and yet she did it in a way that was beautiful and often kind, there's something about her, well she is a true artist.
She trained at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, despite her parents opposition.
It seemed like she was also often looking for as much attention as she could get, I can't help but feel this was not just the artist reaching out to connect and communicate but the wounded child screaming for attention and as often appears to happen. People acting on childhood wounding and their trauma response don't get the attention they truly need but often attract more wounding, physically, emotionally and even spiritually. This is due to not having the necessary boundaries or early attachment. This can lead into the person not understanding, what their basic needs might be, this can play out in very extreme ways.
One thing about Yayoi, is that she is prolific with her work and she seems to use her art to work her way through her anxieties, hallucinations and pain, she says " art has become her way of expressing her mental problems.
Yayoi Kusama stated " I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day,and the only method I have found that relieved my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live" ( en.m.wikipedia.org) .
She produces ever changing work full of feeling and amazing insight, her ability to see is exceptional. Her need for repetition, incredible, she gives us an amazing look into the mind of someone who is so troubled but also a genius and can't stop that tidal wave of creativity and emotion, its as if it all becomes one and you can feel it in her art!
She is 92 and still leaving the asylum she lives at and goes daily to her studio and work.
I found myself saying to mum, 'Id kill for one of her pictures!' I'm not a violent person, so this shocked her, I felt a really intense need to have some of her art though! What it was, was a reminder to me to feel! I realised in this time of Covid mayhem and confusion, I ( like many others) had cut back my feelings, a lack of art, experience and connection is not good for us, to be disappointed again and again, is also really bad for us, we need to be pushed, cared about, felt needed, challenged and surprised, if this is not happening I realised we begin to zone out, life is empty without beauty,hope, art and connection, of all types.
At this time in the sixties when men dominated the art scene, straight after she did something, someone like Warhole would copy it!
This appeared to happened quite a lot to her and it depressed and seemed to violate her feelings of safety and autonomy, to be unique seems very important to her.
She spoke of feeling violated and this makes sense to someone whose boundaries are so porous due to trauma and her lack of ability to regulate, becoming burnt out, highly dependant on being seen and her terrible anxiety she lived with.
Having her art copied, it seems was almost like her safe place was violated! her uniqueness, trying to tell us who she was, what she felt and how she connected with the world, was so real and self absorbing to her it seems to me, that to have others blatantly copy her might have been like they were stealing her energy, her life force, her identity! Yet it was done in such a casual and calculated, in a sense masculin, or left brain way, with no thought of her feelings or of her emotional ,spiritual and artistic investment that had gone into the work. True art I believe comes from a deep emotional, spiritual place, people often talk about having an experience of being taken away, such as musicians, some look like they are in a trance when they are deeply absorbed into their art. I know my father was far away sometimes, certainly, not to be disturbed!
My Dad; Keith Tomlin with apiece of his art in the background.
Being a child of an artist can be lonely and if the artist carries trauma or is struggling with emotional demons (mental health) the art takes president in their existence. As if Art is their coping mechanism, sometimes with other substances or behaviours, but the art seems to be the true driving force to self regulate and hopefully find some equilibrium within themselves, even just for a while.
A break from the mayhem that might be their mind...
I realised watching this documentary, some things about my father, who passed away in 2005.
As a therapist I'm always looking for ways to grow.
I have done lots of study, including, many personal growth groups and individual therapy, I have done hours of silent meditation to grow, to understand the nature of my mind and the human mind.
I have had a lot of therapy of many types, I was working out the other day over the last 25 years I've spent thousands on therapy. I have therapy partly to grow as a human, to know myself better, through reflection and also as it is a part of the journey to work as a therapist.
It is compulsory for a registered therapist to have supervision.
I chose to invest in my mental, physical and in fact spiritual growth, to become a therapist who can immerse them self into being a kind authentic, congruent and wise human being as I can, this is an ongoing journey, because I am human and we have the capacity to grow and be better, lucky us!
Congruence is a deep necessity in my work and although this woman was so unwell there was something so authentic and real about her, she stayed passionately connected to what she felt, she showed it in a real and passionate way, she did not seem to throw her anger, sadness, confusion or envy at anyone, just into her art but also, towards herself, which was detrimental, but the only way she knew how.
An artist, it seems sometimes can't stop, the drive can be so strong, their partner can become a slave to their needs at times, if they have children they can be forgotten or dismissed, some artists experience mania (often due to past trauma, which in fact is a big part of being human) they may be driven to keep going even when they are exhausted, or they know others might need them, leading to shame and self flagellation.
My dad was the housekeeper in our family, he cleaned the house and cooked beautifully, then we would have to leave him alone, to do his art.
I know as I look back he did the best he could as a dad and although at times that was not great, I think like all parents, this is how it is because we are humans, very imperfect, but we always have room for improvements and growth, saying that artists are exceptional within this and I feel we need to understand this better, to know they are special when they have an exceptional talent, in the 60s my dad was known as one of the better up and coming artists in Hong Kong. He although was a difficult person, he was very, very funny and kind and very clever in many ways, he did not always have time to engage in self improvement, creating was the driving force to self regulate.
Art has to come first, as kids, that is hard, there is little room for you as a child, and I think my mother was like his muse, this meant we also lost her to a certain extent, again not her fault, a necessity.
Art calls from far and deep!
I now see my mum in a new way through this film and through other personal growth experiences, such as a deep and immersive experience with Homeopathics for the last 21 years, peeling back the layers of my emotional , physical and spiritual mind and body, like layers of an onion, I realise more how she gave up a lot as a mother to support him emotionally, physically and spiritually, I also see now this took a lot out of her, I do know she would say she gained a lot too and i'm beginning to understand that. (it's interesting where these messages that we can learn and gain deep understanding come from sometimes! Saying that I have been exploring these notions for years too.)
The losses and confusions of that time and trauma associated with my fathers need to make art a priority no matter what, are something we are now healing together as we begin to understand and to allow ourselves to feel and grow together.
Obviously this is not the case for all artists, some have had lives fully supported and grow up with good attachment and grow up feeling safe, secure and highly functioning as a person and artist.
This film reminds us about so much; Trauma is kept in the body, 'The Body Keeps the Score' (Bessel van der Kolk) .
Art can be a way to self regulate, to cope.
Artists who are exceptional need support and to be seen for many reasons, not just for their art but for who they are.
I would argue that sometimes art is a desperate way or attempt to connect with other humans and with the self.
Inequality as experienced by Yayoi Kusama such as sexism, affects our psyche on a deep and painful level, humans are vulnerable as well as incredibly strong and resilient. Resilience can be learnt again or sometimes for the first time and this is hopeful, it would seem Yayoi gained some later, when she lived in at the psychiatric hospital and was still able and still is, it appears going out daily to continue to work prolifically!
Art therapy is something that is relatively new, it is progressive and complex, it allows the person to express in a way they need to , leading sometimes to a deeper understanding of self.
I have used it at times in my work with amazing outcomes, particularly with trauma.
Art makes us feel, sometimes we can't get in touch with as much as we might want to but any feeling is good, just something different to this loss and pain Covid has brought into our lives, in different and complex ways, I believe we have not seen the level of suffering and loss yet.
I hope art plays a part in people's lives to help heal and to come back to connection and communication.
Such diversity comes from an incredible mind! we need to see and understand in our own ways and through this, feel! Never stop feeling!
Here is a link to the documentary i hope you enjoy it as much as we did!