I created this piece in 2004 as part of a heuristic research project in my second year of grad school at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM. The objective was to perform this qualitative research study to gain understanding about a topic of our choosing. My research topic was love. I specifically wanted to know what it was like to be in love. Looking back, my time in grad school was a period of falling in love with myself.
Each class I painted while considering the question, “What is it like to be in love?” Through the act of creating and witnessing the mirror image of my implicit beliefs I understood the experience of loving. I don’t remember any of my exact thoughts that arose while I painted. However, I do recall joy while working on this painting, peace upon its completion.
Looking at this piece nine years later, there are a few things that strike me. One is the lushness of the piece and the similarities in the palette, lightness, and flow, with much of my current work. I also notice the curious bag hanging from the sapling. Honestly, I find it curious even though I’m the one who painted it in. I remember being compelled to do so after it was stolen out of my car while I was hiking the semester this piece was created. I was more upset about the simple cloth bag and a favorite red lipstick that was inside than my wallet and passport, which also were in the bag when it was stolen.
What has my attention more then anything is the journey this work has been on. After I create a piece of art, I have a tendency to keep it for a while and process it. I may not have conscious thoughts, but I have an experience with it once it’s completed. I take the work in and let it move, settle, concretize, or evolve a feeling, thought, or belief. It’s a way I witness myself.
I never took this particular painting home to sit with it and absorb the image. I sold it for a rather meager price. I sold a painting about loving myself at a bargain-basement price? Yes, I did so without ever taking the time to sit with the piece and understand what it was reflecting back to me. Not only that, but upon writing this article I realized I had had no record of the work in my possession.
A few years after grad school I began to struggle intensely with life. Everything was out of order. I hated my job and was definitely not feeling much self-love. I wasn’t living my life in a way that felt authentic any longer. All the things I thought would make it better seemingly made no difference at all and I was stuck. I didn’t know how I was going to find my way out of the darkness but I knew I had to have the painting back in my possession. I needed it to help find my way back to loving again.
I had never asked for a purchased piece back. In this instance I had the audacity to request the piece be returned. Thankfully, the owner was gracious enough to do so.
For some time I thought of the painting as a good luck charm. I left a job that no longer served me, took a well-earned and needed sabbatical, began what’s been the most fulfilling work of my life, fell in (and out of) love with someone. I wanted to return the painting for some time, feeling I had gotten what I needed out of the piece, but I kept procrastinating. I finally sat down to write about it with the art piece sitting in front me and my current work around me. In the process I internalized and understood so deeply what this piece, in its entirety, was reflecting. Not only physically, but the reflection of the work’s journey.
I experienced joy and love in a new way during the creation of this piece. Selling it for a small amount and never spending time with it echoed the difficulty to tolerate and live in the lushness of love and the trials of the following years. Receiving it back came at the beginning of a period of relearning how to love myself and knowing when to give forth and when to hold back.
The work reflects whimsy, flowing energy, and the spaciousness love provides us to weave in and out of our daily lives, and each other’s. “What Is It Like to Be in Love?” is en route back to its patron as I write. I feel a sense of completeness to have had the opportunity to consciously absorb its message. I see the fruit of my self-love in current artistic endeavors, good health, and my work as a therapist.