I spent five days this past April at the Art Is…You Mixed Media Art Retreat in Santa Rosa, California, and I floated away from the experience a changed man. I knew nothing about mixed media art going in, and had no idea these retreats even existed. The event organizers, Sallianne McClelland and Ellen Legare, fans of my Facebook page, invited me to be the morning motivator for the week. From 8:15 to 9:00am, it was my job to motivate, to start each day with some inspiration. I had no idea I’d be the one inspired, again and again, every single day throughout the week.
The transcendent power of art and creativity is nothing new to me. I find few things as cathartic as emptying my emotions onto the page through writing, and few things as inspiring as witnessing an artist commit to their art with rawness and truth. Wild creativity lives within us all. Whether or not we play with it, whether or not we use our creative gifts to make art, only requires choosing to do so.
Art Is…You, which boasts a stunning roster of teachers, not only invites attendees to play with their creativity, but offers a fun, supportive and loving environment in which to do it. I painted, embossed, built a treasure book, played with resin, and generally had a blast. The retreat connected me to parts of my own creativity I’ve let lay dormant, and reminded me that life is better lived with and through the creation and experience of art.
I returned home with a reinvigorated respect for what making art offers our lives, beyond just beauty. Here’s a taste of what I believe art can be, of what art is.
The retreat attendees – mostly women – came ready to have a good time, with their art and with each other. Though the event took place in a Hyatt, this was not your typical hotel conference; not even close. Think colorful tutus and crazy hats, morning dance parties and endless laughs. Inside and outside of the workshop classrooms, the spirit of creativity sparked childlike, unpredictable, do-it-your-own-way fun. Rules gave way to impulses, boundaries erased by freedom. The creation of art invites play and possibility and simple joy in its expression. Making art makes for a really good time.
With all of the fun and laughter, the workshops also rang of grumbles and sighs, moments of frustration and annoyance. Like creating a life, creating art can be a rollercoaster of emotions. You love your work in progress until you hate it, until you like it again, until it’s stupid, until it’s not that bad, until you can’t believe you were capable of creating something so hideous, until you’re cool with it, until it’s done. A provocative cycle, to be sure, and only when we’re finished can we see more clearly the point of all the bumps in the road to get there. Or, we can scrap it and start over, a choice that has its place at times, in art and in life. Creation is rarely an easy trip, but nothing as important and worthwhile reveals itself without effort. Just strap in and go for the ride.
One artist I befriended makes art to process the pain of her infertility. She communicates through painting what she can’t in speech. Another survived the death of his son by losing himself in his art until he felt strong enough to surface beyond it. Still another turns to her art for peace. Only when she creates does she feel relaxed, stronger than her mental illness would have her believe. One artist after the next shared with me the ways in which art has played and continues to play a healing role in their lives. Their art has saved them, and saves them all the time. I understand. Writing has so often helped me heal.
Many of the attendees go to Art Is…You every year, knowing they’ll connect with friends they hadn’t seen since the year before. They go for the connection as much as the art. Maybe even more. First-timers like me are welcomed with love, and I wasn’t alone in having left with many new friends and a wonderful new family. As I sat in on the workshops, my eyes shone at the sight of community. As I listened to the conversations at lunch, my ears tingled with the sounds of community. As we circled up for the morning motivators, my heart melted into the warmth of that beautiful community. Friendship. Kindness. Compassion. Laughter. Art brings people together. Our creativity unites us when we let it, a clear reminder that beyond all the fear that threatens to separate us, we are indeed one big, creative family.
More than anything else during my week at Art Is…You, I was overcome by the love present there. Love in the kindness with which everyone engaged. Love in the gift they had given themselves to be there at all. Love in the teachers’ patience and generosity with their enormous talents. Love in the thoughtful choices the students made in their work. Love in the appreciation and support for each other’s process. Love in the dedication and hard work of the organizers and their team in creating such a unique and extraordinary event. I already can’t wait to return.
Art Is…Whatever You Want It To Be.
What about you? How does art impact your life? What IS art to you? Please share in the comments, because I’d love to know.
If you want to learn more about the Art Is…You Mixed Media Art Retreats, held several times a year in the U.S. and Australia, visit www.eatcakecreate.com. You’ll be happy you did.