build creative confidence

Day 17 – Make Art Not War

Make art, not war. I wrote those four little words in a note on my iPhone while I was on vacation in Colorado. I don’t remember what sparked the comment but knew that this phrase, along with the notes that followed were something I wanted to write about. I am a pacifist. I am a writer and an artist. I am a student of philosophy and psychology. I have a healthy fear of guns, violence and yelling matches between people.

Human nature fascinates me. I drive my husband nuts, I have a tendency to stare at people when we are in public, especially in restaurants. I am drawn like a moth to flame by the interactions among individuals when they sit at a table together. Little wars are happening everywhere, all the time. Yes, they happen in my family too: kids fighting over who’s turn it is to do the dishes; my husband and I disagreeing about how much money to spend or not spend on home improvements; me snapping at my mom for telling me how to parent or to drink more water. “I am 48 years old,” I think grudgingly, “I know how to raise my kids and how much water I need.” These little wars rarely escalate into full scale battles but they do leave little scars just beneath the surface.

Is that what happens between people and nations? Little wars escalating into battles and the build-up of too many scars, too many wounds before someone explodes, incapable of holding onto their anger any longer? I don’t have the answer, only what I have witnessed in the world around.

Create a safe place to express emotions

As children and adults, we are rarely offered a sacred space for the safe and honest expression of our inner battles. Many people I know, including me, spend years at war with ourselves – judging, degrading, belittling, or pacifying our longings with an infinite list of addictions. Unless we are ambassadors, therapists or specialists in conflict resolution, we are rarely taught to safely and lovingly share our outer battles either. We either pack the fury deep within our cells or allow it to flow brutally out in explosions of anger, violence and rage that causes extreme damage to ourselves and others.

I propose that making art can lead to a more peaceful co-existence with our inner self as well as well as with others. As a coach and relationship expert, I would also propose that communications training and conflict resolutions skills should be taught to kids and adults as part of their continuing education throughout life. I am not arguing that art is a panacea for war. I am, however, willing to assert that art can become a safe haven for the expression and release of the feelings that lead to those little daily battles so that they don’t escalate into full-scale wars.

Making art is universal

Making art is a universal pastime – throughout the ages art has provided a way to capture history, share stories and beautify the world around us. Art has taken the form of everything from cave paintings, to dance, music, theater, and the written word. I won’t make this post a lesson in art history or the power of the written word. But I do want you to consider your own definition of making art. Why do you make art? Why don’t you make art? What inner or outer battles in your life keep you from an honest expression of what you see and feel?

In yesterday’s post I shared a guided visualization and exercise that asked you to color out your stress and your relaxation. That simple exercise was a step towards making art not war. For today’s lesson, we are going to take it a step further. All of us have people or incidents in our life that make us angry or sad. If you are lucky, you have a friend or spouse who will listen while you discuss what happened. Yet, often, with the best of intentions, that person tries to “fix” our feelings rather than allow us a safe place to explore them.

build creative confidence

Lesson 17 – Make art not war

At this point you might be wondering what this post on make art not war has to do with building creative confidence. It’s starting to sound more like art therapy? The two are intimately connected. Most of us stop making art, even though we long for creative expression, because at some point on our journey someone told us, “You can’t draw” or “You can’t sing, stop that noise!” I think I have heard both of these at some point in my lifetime. It took me a long time to push through the resentment, anger and the personal belief that not being able to draw well means I can’t be an artist. I have to admit, singing would be a poor career choice, but it doesn’t diminish my joy in singing along  with the radio.

Our goal today is to push through the anger to a place of joy and creative freedom. I have two options for you: one visual and one written. Do one or combine them both into one project.

1. Writing through anger, hurt and resentment

For this activity, I want you to think about an incident or individual in your life who led you to believe that you are not creative. You can write a letter or create a story about what happened. Just start writing and allow all of the anger, hurt, sadness or whatever feelings come up to pour onto the page. Notice what happens. Does your hand feel heavy? Are you pressing harder on the paper? Are you being tentative and trying to be polite? This is your chance to allow all of the negative feelings to drain out of you and onto the paper. Write until you feel complete and empty of the anger. It doesn’t matter if the incident is ancient or recent, you are not going to send this letter or share this story (unless you want to.) What happens when we shed some of these buried feelings is that we feel lighter and freer. We can see how we allowed someone else to stomp on our creative spirit.

Now that you have written through your anger, write a letter to yourself,  make a mindmap or list of bullet points describing all the many ways you express your creativity. Toss in a few that you would like to learn, too. Create a clear image of yourself as a creative being.

2. Painting through anger, hurt and resentment

If words are daunting or writing feels outside of your comfort zone, do the same activity describe above with crayons, markers or paint. Take a moment to think about what colors best capture your feelings and put them on paper or canvas. The tools don’t matter but they can make the process more fun. Like with the writing, notice how you feel. Are you allowing the feelings to pour onto the canvas? What colors are you using? Are they heavy, dark? Are the images scary? The lines thick and jagged??

Once you feel complete with the anger, paint your creative self onto the page. Include your love of color, your joy in self-expression. Have fun with this one!

Tying this activity back to our theme of “Make Art, Not War” – can you see how writing through your anger or painting out your fury helps you express the  powerful emotions, dump the negative energy and return to a more peaceful center? Making art is like meditation, it creates peace. It is from this place of peace that we can initiate difficult conversation and talk through problems or challenges without feeling overwhelmed by our emotions. It’s a small step towards peace, but if each of us begins to make art before entering battle, I hope the ripples will spread beyond ourselves to touch others around us.

Are you willing to make more art and engage in fewer battles?