Drawing Connections: Art as a Response to Personal Experience

“Stories allow us to see something familiar through new eyes”
– Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

Illustration by Inna Komarovsky

 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


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One thought on “Drawing Connections: Art as a Response to Personal Experience

  1. dwrz says:

    Good morning, Inna. I so appreciate your comments about creating narrative art. Not only is this a way of expressing and ordering the ideas; it is also a way of affirming both past and future, while immersing in the present–living in the moment. This feeling of the wholeness and abundance of time can happen when one is up to one’s elbows in clay or singing a beloved hymn or simply pulling weeds in the garden or reading a story to a child. Sometimes when I’ve been away from one of my sculptures for a length of time and encounter it again, I am surprised that I made it. That is perhaps part of the creative process that dredges up images and nuances that are deeper than the conscious self. When I strike into the clay–sometimes resolutely, sometimes pensively, I never know how it will end; nevertheless, the process itself is an affirmation and sometimes the resulting piece finds its own voice.

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