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03/06/2011


My ART SAVES Story • by Jennifer Swift


Jennifer SwiftI’ve written this story several times over the last few days. How much to share, how much to reveal has always been a problem for me. I want to tell you how dark and dreary my life gets when I feel depressed. How everything bright dims and how I withdraw from everyone around me. It’s something personal that I feel reluctant to tell you about, but as I read some of the other ART SAVES stories, I realized that I’m not the only one. In fact, I’d venture that depression, anxiety, and personal difficulties are one of the most common parts of most of these stories and would be there in yours as well. If my story and all the others just stopped there, then I fear hopelessness and despair would overcome us — but the dark parts are not the end. Not for me. Not for you. I believe art saves, because art is the result of creation, and it is the act of creating that keeps us going, that helps us process and deal with our emotions. For many of us creating art is the action that reveals us to ourselves.

Life Without Creating
I recognize now how important, and even integral, creating is to me, but I didn’t always. How I finally realized this was after I went through a period without art. Art always came easy for me, so I grew up using it as a way to feel better about myself. I used it to reward myself too. If I had something hard to do, I’d let myself make art after I’d finished it. I did weekly reports in high school, and drawing on the cover was my self-reward for finishing the reports. If I had a super hard schedule in college, I’d throw an art class in to help me get through the rest. When I was depressed, I’d draw or paint. Think about it — it’s hard to feel bad when you’re creating something unique or beautiful. The very act of creating actually became my high. The harder life got, the more I needed that outlet. Then life changed.

I was a florist, so I was still designing daily, but had no energy for art too. My son was born and I had to give up my floral company and the creative outlet it gave me. So without art in my life, I began feeling increasingly frustrated and depressed. My husband told me to get a hobby. My mom told me I needed to do some art; they both saw I needed creativity in my life, but I just didn’t get it. I didn’t see it as necessary. I did try drawing, but was frustrated with how I felt my skills had slipped. I didn’t know what to draw either. I didn’t feel inspired. My depression just continued to spiral, until I connected with my Creator and recognized the value He gave beauty and the act of creation. I saw that I too was created to create. It was then that I realized how much I needed art in my life. I needed to create like I needed to eat or sleep or breathe. It was a part of me that I’d taken for granted until it was gone.

The One Thing We Can Do
That year when my seasonal depression hit I felt desperate. As busy and tired as I was, I decided to give myself one night a week to make art. If I ended up using that time to just sit at the table for an hour staring at a blank piece of paper, then that was what I’d do. I made the commitment. I started making things without expectations. I had finally figured out that it isn’t what I made, but just that I spent time creating. I started to do little exercises to get myself working. I committed to keeping a sketchbook. I started gathering pictures of things I liked and reading mixed-media magazines. I also prayed about it. I gave that time over to God and the inspiration began to come.

I started getting ideas again. I started to make things I really liked. I picked up my wire, which I remember liking in college, and I decided to try using fabric. That’s when my big inspiration came. The day I first tried stitching fabric to wire started me on a whole new path. It excited me with its possibilities. It kept me up at night, my mind racing with ideas. I started sculpting wire birds, wire hearts, and wire flowers and adding color and pattern through the fabric I stitched on. When I create a wire sculpture of a bird, or a flower, I’m connecting my act of creating with the creation God gave us.

Why do so many of us claim that art saves us? Because when we feel completely immobile, the one thing we can do is create. Just a small act of creation can help us turn the tide. When we’re creative we’re doing what we were meant to do. We are connecting with who we were meant to be. We begin to feel better, just because we participated in the act of creation. I really feel hard-pressed, even in my darkest depression, to feel bad about myself, when I’m creating something new and beautiful. Through that act, I gain perspective about myself. I recognize that my fears, my insecurities, and my self-criticism are all false. Looking at my art, I see that who I am is the person who created this art. It came from my soul and is a direct reflection of it. If that art is beautiful, then it shows me that my soul, from which it came, is beautiful too. That is how art saves me.

Jennifer Swift is a mixed-media artist living in Plymouth, Minnesota, with her husband and 5-year-old son. Four years ago, Jen decided to make art daily and began playing with wire and fabric. She combined the two by hand stitching fabric to her wire sculptures. Excited by the combination’s possibilities, Jen began sculpting everything from flowers to trees, creating photo holders, jewelry displays, and unique home decor items. Since then Jen’s work has been featured in multiple issues of both Somerset Home and Sew Somerset. She sells her original art online at birdfromawire.etsy.com. Look for more of Jen’s work in her recently released book, Creative Bloom: Projects and Inspiration with Fabric and Wire (North Light, 2010), or visit her blog at blog.birdfromawire.com.

Comments

Beautifully written, Jen. Thanks again for sharing.

Beautifully written.

I can relate to your post. I too live and breathe art and without it I become depressed and lost. Thank you for sharing your insight with us. It's been a wonderful read.

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