Large photograph of a red flower hanging in agray room . a golden table in front of it with a vase with flowers and a chair

Lost In Translation

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For some of us, the English language really isn’t very good for describing the complexities of life. We are bound by our vocabulary and words whose meanings are finite. When we create a piece of artwork, we are doing so in order to communicate something on a far deeper level, something that cannot be described by words alone. For many artist’s that is what it means to create. Whether it’s on a conscious level or not, we are all simply trying to exorcise thoughts or feelings from deep inside that we are incapable of doing with language alone. By staring at the void of a blank canvas, an empty studio, or mound of clay we are attempting to untether our subconscious and let it float freely in order to communicate our thoughts or feelings on a visceral level.

As SCI/SCD survivors this form of communication can be even more complex. Like dreams themselves we don’t always understand the language that is before us. The imagery that we’ve created may be demure, raw and primitive, bold or even angry. Like disability itself, there are no words for what you and I may feel. There is no lexicon that can ever describe the unique and complex issues we deal with daily that your average person could never begin to fathom. As disabled our lives are amplified and our artwork reflects that.  

But for those of us that do create it’s not just about disability. It is something we must do because for those of us with that mindset it’s what feeds our soul’s. There is no grand catharsis or deeper meaning, sometimes it’s just paint on canvas or in my case, opening a shutter and exposing a sensor to light. It is also not just about visual arts, I know writers, woodworkers, actors, and even some entrepreneurs who are much the same. It doesn’t really matter what you create, if you are creating something from nothing it fits the bill.

For those of us who decide to make our passion for creating a profession, we are faced with even greater challenges. Unlike medicine or business or any number of other professions there is no right answer. We can’t just go to school and learn specific formulas, practices, or steps. Our work is subjective and in most cases our successes are dependent upon satisfying the whims of the unknown viewer. By choosing our passions as a profession we take the proverbial leap into the abyss and trust we will be caught. As a profession the arts are the very definition of manic. We can go from desperation to elation and then back again in a heartbeat. There will be hunger, depression, self-doubt, and even hatred of our work as we are forced to question our passion for creating if it can’t pay the bills. That is what it means to be an artist, but for those of us that are, we have no other choice.

As a board member for Backbones, working artist, successful in both commercial and fine art, as well as a former adjunct professor at a private art university, I’ve learned a trick or two and would like to use this forum to start a dialog. Over the coming months I’d like to investigate some of the steps we can take to not only make our work better but to get it in front of people who can affect our lives on a most profound level. If you are interested in following along with this journey let us know in the comments below and what topics you’d be interested in exploring. The more people and more experiences we share, both successes and failures, the stronger this community will be and the greater support we as a group can offer each other.

If you are so inclined, send us a pict of your latest piece. Whether it’s a painting, photograph, sculpture, woodworking or any other creative pursuit. I’d like to have images to feature on the blog and it would be a great first step or even a small part in a multi-pronged campaign to get your work in front of people.

Written by Eric Stampfli (California)