Artists are lonely. We are stereotyped as loners, but are we? We appreciate and see a beautiful sunrise unlike others, we notice everything, or we focus in on one specific thing. Our brains are wired to connect things in a different way. But are we “loners”?
It is quiet when the sun rises, birds chirping, water rippling, wind rustling, cool air touching your face. Quiet. Peaceful and beautiful, another new day filled with hope. A new day.
It is quiet. But like TOO much quiet. A type of hellish quietness that just continues day after day. An epidemic within a pandemic affecting every age. A type of hellish quietness, also known as loneliness. Maybe you are watching a parent sit alone in a care facility with little to no interaction with the world outside the staff. Maybe you have a young person who should be chasing others at recess, having big birthday parties, attending rite of passages like first dates, Prom, or other cultural events that mark significant points in life. We are missing that connection in the wiring.
It does not take much searching online to find studies and research on the rise in loneliness, or how the past year has affected not only physical health, but mental health. Harvard, the CDC, and others have scary rates of the rise of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicide. I could link all the articles for you, however, that would take up pages.
I admit it, I am lonely. It is TO DAMN QUIET. I am an artist, self-proclaimed “loner”, we spend hours upon hours in our own little worlds creating without any disturbances and we get all flubery-busted when someone interrupts for something trivial, like food, water, or sleep.
The quietness of being socially distanced is, well a deafening silence. Humans were made for connections and thrive from that connection and intimacy of a relationship. Keep us isolated and things happen, like thoughts that repeat over and over, chewing nails, cutting, over-eating, sleeping too much, binge watching movies, addictions to substances or screens, and the list goes on, but it looks a lot like anxiety, depression, and yep, you guessed it, loneliness. We are un-wired, with connections missing.
Not only are adults feeling it, but young people who are developing social skills needed to become productive adults that shape out future are suffering with it. Because of the obvious risks during the pandemic of needing to social distance, and depending on technology to connect, learn, shop, and interact it has become un-normally normal to be apart. Being physically distanced and separated from other people puts one in a state of physiological stress, and when it continues day after day it can become a chronic condition damaging to your physical and emotional health, according to former (and recently confirmed again) U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
“I found that people who struggle with loneliness, that that’s associated with an increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and even premature death,” Dr. Vivek Murthy told NPR.
Now, knowing how art has trained me to be a “loner” and I practiced this loneliness thing in my studio for hours upon hours, I also know how art has helped my mental health. Connecting your thoughts and feelings in your head to paper, canvas, or another media can help one maneuver through the mess of crossed wires in our brains and bodies.
Art helps heal and can bring connections and community together through creating and sharing. I have created a way to help move my dark, deep thoughts from my body to art and create a safe space to share. Art heals. Art re-wires. Art creates connection.
January 2019, we do not know what the calendar days will offer. We do not know what stories you will add to our life by the end of December 2019. But what I do know is that 2017 & 2018 added stories that impacted my whole outlook on life of late. (Yes, it’s 2021, just keep reading.)
In December 2017, I broke 3 bones in my foot and the x-rays showed the severity of the breaks. I was scolded by my doc and had to be non-weight bearing on the foot and it was the end of May before I could gingerly walk on it. In that time, I had to learn new ways to do my daily routines; I had to ask for help (& I really do not like doing that); I had to be extra cautious, because being on crutches in a South Dakota winter is hazardous, and in turn, I tended not to leave the house much or get to my art studio. I isolated and protected myself.
For me 2018 was all about hurting my foot, asking for help, maneuvering crutches, and trusting my feet to walk on again. Or was it?
Not only had I hurt my foot in 2017-2018, but I had also gotten hurt in a way that is not physically seen, and it can easily be masked. I had gotten an emotional sledgehammer bashed into my head and heart. It was an awakening that shook me to my core, my values, my ethics, and everything in my world that I THOUGHT I knew to be true turned upside down.
And because of that sledgehammer whack, I lost my trust in people. All people; not just a few. All, except a select group of two or three that I have always held the closest in my life. It has always been hard for me to trust since I was young after some traumatic events and I had worked hard over the years to trust, and I had the illusion that I was “peopling” well. (Insert the sledgehammer whack sound here).
With my foot healed in July 2018, and the inner bruising of the sledgehammer whack, I just wanted to run away, who wouldn’t? So I took my teenage daughter on that 3 week long summer road-trip of over 1500 miles. I had to get a new point of view, I had to see the goodness in people from somewhere besides the recliner I sat in as my foot healed. I had to show her that it is a big, beautiful world and remind myself of that also. I had to learn to trust my instincts again; find and trust my story; and trust what I saw through my artistic lens.
Fast forward to 1/18/2020. Add another sledgehammer whack, this time from a one day summer stalker who instilled fear back into the budding trust I was regaining. And those crutches, they may not be physically by my side but they are still invisibly holding me up as I learn the walk of trust again. My feet still gingerly walk, being cautious about stepping forward into anything. My healing is mine that only I can maneuver my crutches through. But at least I have my crutches sitting by my side. My instincts tell me to keep the faith, it’s holding me like my crutches have been. I am in a story, I am a sentence without an ending at the moment. This chapter WILL eventually get written and move to the next.
I snapped a selfie to see what this masked untrusting one looks like. It’s filtered, it’s not to be trusted because it’s not the “real me”. It was me I saw in the phone photo, but I did not like it, so I filtered it, like one filters thoughts. The reason I took a selfie was to show a jewelry line I started to carry and grabbed a necklace that said: “TRUST DREAMS, TRUST YOUR HEART, AND TRUST YOUR STORY”. How fitting that I grabbed THAT necklace, right? But what I reflected on after seeing my photo was: when stuck in your mind, thoughts can often give you a skewed and fearful view. What you see and what is felt, can easily be “filtered”.
The fears take away the trust in how you see yourself, that you may not be good enough, look, or act the right way. The fears make you not trust your instincts, and sadly the intentions or actions of others. My goal in 2019 is that I will take unfiltered selfies…and I need to trust my story is going right where it is supposed to go.
This is my first step, without crutches in 2019, to trust you with this post.
Wait a hot minute. 2019. What? 2019 you say? Yes, I wrote this blog post in January 2019, but I don’t know if it ever was shared. Here I am reading it going, “Hmmmm, this story sounds familiar for…oh I dunno, 2020?” If you know me, you would know I broke the same foot again in October 2020, have been on those crutches ever since.
And just this past week, slowly I am trusting my walking on my own again. Crutches and faith sit in the corner carefully watching over me.
Also, Covid arrived in March 2020, JUST as I was ready to start reconnecting and gently, slowly trusting again. Globally, many of us got connections and trust taken away. Covid instilled a different type of fear and trust factor that each of us has experienced in our own unique (and isolating) way. And now you may be learning to walk without crutches again, slowly trusting, and reconnecting.
I have learned in the past three years a way to use my art to help me get all the dark, grimy, fearful thoughts out of my head and soul onto paper to find that healing path.
Maybe you will walk with me a bit and I can show you how I have been working on a more positive mental health journey.
Now there is a big, in your face question you never want to even consider.
Ask any of my three kids about their mom and technology, they will tell you “she’s cursed” or “anything she touches, goes bad” or “she always screws it up”. This is one area that I will completely agree with them. (How’s this related to suicide? Just keep reading.) In fact, as I went to sit down to type this quick blog, my screen split in two and there are coding symbols on my screen with things that say, “chrome 68 update”, “event listeners”, “DOM” or “eager evaluation”. And things with color codes, font size numbers, padding. I have never even heard of PADDING in computer terms until recently. I just HOPE when I get this typed that it will publish, and my computer will continue to work.
This website thing is not new to me, but it is a struggle at times. I have found a wonderful lady helping me to rebranded and rebuild it all. I need to update and work on this site if I want people to see and sell my art. I slowly, but surely am adding new content, then I remove it, then add it again so that is not soo large it doesn’t fit the screen, and so on. Today I was stuck, absolutely stumped, and needed a brain break so I went to the office “thinking chair”.
My office has a 1950’s extra comfy, sink down to the bottom chair, and my vintage bookshelf, which holds all my art books, full sketchbooks, and multiple books on multiple subjects. Stuck in between all the books I spy a spiral notebook and pull it out. I have not seen it for years, it has words written in white script on a soft green cover saying: “take a chance”, “take your time”, and “relive a memory”.
This small, hard-covered notebook is the one that sat out at all my previous art exhibitions and served as a guest book where folks could leave comments. I did several exhibitions and entered many shows shortly after I graduated in 2004 from the University of South Dakota with my Fine Arts degree. (Yes, I got a late start, I did it backwards: had the career, the hubby, had the babies and THEN went to college.) But I finally found my calling by making art, exhibiting, and living my dream.
Enter life. Kids growing. Jobs change. Moves. Illnesses. Death. I waivered between being a mom, an artist, and finally back to “part-time jobs” here and there. Life won and my art sat quietly in its place waiting for me to give it a voice again.
So back to this notebook I spied on the shelf, I plop down in the office chair today and on the inside cover I had penned, “Guests, please share!”. This is where there are pages filled with people who had taken time from their lives to view my artwork and share what they saw in my pieces. That is where they left me testimony about my art, and today, they brought it all back and challenged me to reflect about my art, and their words have been in my head the rest of day. I know my sculptures have a powerful impact on people and reading the words on the pages, their testimonies, reminded me of faces I had seen passing through my solo exhibits with my figurative sculpture pieces.
I read the words on one of the pages. I flash immediately to the moment. A man about 50 years old, he was tall, thin, and looked completely exhausted and lost. Before anyone looks at my pieces, I always ask them to please read my artist statement, to grasp what these random body parts lying around mean to me. This man, stood at the wall, staring at a white piece of paper with black ink, slowly reading and taking in every single word of my artist statement.
Then he dropped his head, shoulders sank, and he began weeping. He had not even looked up to see at my art yet; I was thinking “what on earth did I just do to this guy!?” I was worried, scared, concerned, and searching for a box of tissues. This was not the reaction I was expecting at all. I remember it like yesterday, it impacted me profoundly as the message in my art was validated. I will never forget that moment.
He regained his stance, I watched. He looked around slowly at my sculptures, randomly touching one or two, taking in the textures; all while his eyes were searching. Searching for the artist. He walked up to me, his strong hands took mine and he pulled me in for a bear hug that was like no other I have ever received. He then squares up with me, put his large hands on my shoulders and with tears in his eyes and a shaky voice trying to say the words a parent never wants to hear out of their mouth, he said to me: “NEVER, EVER stop doing what you are doing. You are making a difference. My 19-year-old son committed suicide last week” and then he broke off, unable to continue. I was…speechless.
You see, my professors at USD challenged me to address a problem in my art. I addressed mental illness and what is it to “be normal?” and “Why try to act normal when nothing is normal?” I am far from normal and so are every one of you, especially after the past year or more. So, from the frustration of technology today and to the lady who is helping me rebrand my website and talking about needing an actual testimony to add a “testimonies section” on my website, and here I am thinking I had nothing to put there….
I just happened to glance at that notebook a few minutes ago and thought, “I do have testimonies of how my art touches people” and I will add those testimonies on the website. I sure did not plan on writing a blog entry about this subject tonight. But I did, and I have realized in these last few paragraphs, as I am randomly writing what comes through my thoughts, my experience, and my hands, that I need to HONOR that father. Today more than ever, because too many people are acting “normal” and we are far, far from it. And too many parents are speaking his words.
Technology and testimonies. Wow, that was not where I planned on going with this blog entry. Now, please go read my Artist Statement below, and forgive me as I have yet to figure out how to make the “Sculpture” page on my website look all pretty and “normal“. That will get worked on next week and we will see how technology works for me then.
Have an un-normal week-end everyone.
(Please God, let my computer work after I close out these weird screens. And may you grace my hands with works I am to put forth.)
Artist Statement: Dayle Sundberg
The song “I Hope You Dance” is an inspiring factor in my work. Working through my own bouts of depression, grief, trauma, and stressful events I found hope again through determination, hard work, friends and art. By talking and sharing with others my experiences of depression and grief, I have had many people approach me and express their feelings of despair and fear. Some asking where they can go for help to get better. Through my experiences I have gained many close friends and an excellent support system. If I would have covered it all up and appeared normal through it all, would I be as strong as I am today? Would I be here today, would I have hope today? My art is my therapy and my way of expressing to others that they too can go through challenging events, and still have hope.
The goal of my art is to create a dialog among the viewers and to encourage them to talk about their personal losses, their illnesses, anger, family issues and stressors. Do you cover up your feelings to appear normal or do you face the feelings and uncover them? What is normal? Do you cover up a subject to cover it or should you uncover it and reveal it to others?
The artists that inspire me are all sculptors, Auguste Rodin, Alexander Calder, Manuel Neri and George Segal. Neri and Segal are the main influence for the plaster pieces in the exhibit, after seeing the expressive qualities Neri used with his life-size female figures by using texture and bright slashes of color. I was inspired to find my own voice by using the female form. I create my works by using the same technique of body casting as Segal and the heavy texture of Neri, however, my colors come from burning each sculpture with fabric. In each piece I burned, it became a ritual type of event, symbolic of releasing the hurt into the flames, a healing process of sorts. If you are to touch the pieces, you will feel the harsh textures and beaten areas. Hidden through the flame-colored marks are soft, subtle areas that are sensuous, smooth and indicate hope and peace that is within us all.
What does it take to hope? Can you have hope without faith, humility, and wonder? Can you reveal your hope?
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