“Stories allow us to see something familiar through new eyes”
– Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom
Rachel Naomi Remen, a specialist in behavioral medicine, writes about the healing process of telling each other stories from our lives because it helps us find connections and understand the significance of our experiences. Among the wide variety of work at Woman Made Gallery, a number of artworks appear to be an artist’s reflection on her own life. Some of the artists’ statements describe a process of looking back and finding pattern and beauty in the interesting stories the past has created. It is almost a process of nurturing one’s sense of present experience and giving important moments or connections their proper degree of honor.
It seems most art is a response to experience. Some examples in the gallery are more explicitly stories of personal experience. Mary O’Shaughnessy’s series of altered photographs in the group exhibition, Her Way With Print, is about creating new ways of seeing familiar objects from her past and altering her memories of those belongings. Debra Fisher’s Nocturnal Noise takes the form of an altarpiece illustrating a dream, and the structure seems to pay homage to the feelings she had and the strange imagery that she explored in her dream. Aunt Lori, by Christina Yesenofski, is a portrait that focuses on the artist’s interpretation of the subject’s personality, taking the subject outside of ordinary context to influence a viewer’s experience of an otherwise ordinary scene. These are all ways of reworking personal experience or portraying a unique form of perception.
During the recent poetry reading on August 1st, titled Women in Print, many of the poems were responses to difficult events in the writers’ lives. When a writer thinks through her story to find the rich plays of imagery and situations, her memory of the idea is restructured, and people who hear the poem can enjoy the writer’s unique response and experience the beauty that is present in every kind of situation.
Sitting down to draw or write a personal response requires the artist to rethink and reorder the idea, see it as a whole, and ask questions. Then there’s the process of making the image look good enough to honor the experience or arranging the poem so that its rhythm tells a story as well as the words. This is also the process of taking a personal response from functioning as a diary to functioning as art — something that others can respond to or something that can make people perceive their own lives in a new way. Some of the printmaking techniques on display in the gallery require repetition and physical involvement in the image. They prove the artist’s devotion and rethinking of the topic through its presentation.
In a story retold by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, four rabbinim respond differently to seeing a sacred vision together. One loses his mind, one grows cynical, one becomes overly obsessed, but “the fourth Rabbi, who was a poet, took a paper in hand and a reed and sat near the window writing song after song praising the evening dove, his daughter and her cradle and all the stars in the sky.” Maybe these artists are treating their lives in a similar way, responding to personal stories in a productive way by honoring them and letting go of them at the same time.
– Inna Komarovsky, Artist and Gallery Intern