The Winter 2018 issue of The Compassion Anthology contains my essay on compassion and the artist. This essay is my answer to the question "Do artists show compassion to themselves when they create works of art?"
Compassion and the Artist
Compassion is defined as a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress and sorrow accompanied by a desire to relieve that suffering. It can refer to both the understanding of another’s pain and the action that stems from that feeling.
Does an artist offer compassion to herself/himself in the process of creating a work of art?
How does an artist’s work begin? We have an idea that appears in our mind, something with a life of its own that wants to be realized in the material world. We may have a feeling of apprehension. Can we fully and worthily realize this idea that wants to come forth? Avoidance brings us to a state of intellectual paralysis, to a sense of being locked inside of ourselves as the idea searches for a material existence. Some artists speak of being “blocked,” of feeling depressed. Other artists experience this as a kind of anxiety.
Movement unlocks our feeling of helplessness. We move from an idea to a finished form by simple actions—picking up a pencil, making a mark, tearing a sheet of paper, executing a brushstroke, joining surfaces together—until what was once only a thought achieves a palpable existence in the material world.
Flannery O’Connor wrote that in art the self, (the artist) becomes “self-forgetful” to facilitate the demands of the ideas that we see in our minds and the things that we actually create from those ideas. In this self-forgetfulness artists act compassionately toward themselves by keeping their ideas in motion, alleviating their own anxieties, and bringing them forward as gifts to the world in lyrical, energetic and beautiful forms.
Ellen Halloran is a visual artist working in several media. She has worked as a metalsmith, jeweler, legal proofreader, art teacher and art therapist. She developed and implemented art programs for child victims of sexual abuse, children who witnessed violence, and children recovering from traumatic events. Her work has been seen in galleries and is in many private collections.