As part of the human experience, we can be hurt in many ways…by the words of others, through physical or emotional illness or loss. There are many empowering approaches we can draw on so we can also heal. The arts holds a treasure chest of gifts to help us express the pain and sorrow to allow us to move toward finding joy again. My interview with Clarity continues from yesterday’s Part 1…
With the women you’ve done portraits of who have undergone treatment for breast cancer, what do you find is the biggest transformation generated by going through this healing artistic process with you?
I think the act of getting a portrait done is a way of taking in this new body as their own. Often it’s a really sad, hard thing to confront – that this is the “new normal.” If the experience of going through treatment for cancer is more recent, often there is a lot of trauma around that – the stress of it, the suffering, in many cases.
But, a painted portrait is a magical thing. It’s spiritual. It’s a loving thing. It’s what portraiture has been for centuries, before the camera was invented. I think there is a humanizing facet to this experience (of participating in an art process) that is an antidote to the often clinical, impersonal medical environment that women have experienced while undergoing treatment. So it’s healing in that way as well.
Of course, we all go through changes – our bodies change, even if only through aging. The body is not static. Each portrait is really only a record of a moment in time.
I find the body beautiful, and find it engaging as a subject – especially those aspects that many people are uncomfortable with. Fat is beautiful to me; so are scars, stretch marks and even cellulite, which is really just dimples. It’s beautiful in an abstract way, beautiful because it is human.
When drawing wrinkles, I’ve seen them as tender and sweeping, lyrical lines of expression, like the lines of a willow tree. This is what I mean when I talk about “before” pictures. It pains me to see photographs of a perfectly healthy, normal face with wrinkles on it in an ad for plastic surgery, as something to be “corrected.”
When we first connected by email, you wrote, “I think of my portraits as a cultural intervention – “before” pictures lovingly drawn and painted, meditative descriptions of specific bodies that need no correction.” I am wondering if you had any experience with this being different for breast cancer survivors whose “before” breast may appear to be perfect yet is actually harboring a potentially life threatening disease versus the after ~ a scarred or missing breast that is actually a pathway to healing and life?”
This is interesting – I hadn’t thought of it quite this way before, but I believe unconsciously I had. For women to get treatment, they have to put vanity aside. Their life becomes more important than the way they look. This can be transformative in itself.
Often women have said that they have undergone a shift in the way they feel about themselves as women. They discover their femininity is something other than their breasts. They have been able to access more of a sense of connection to and understanding of what their femininity actually is.
One woman said she felt more in touch with being a woman – and more connected to her body – as a survivor of breast cancer (and having had breast surgery) than she did before.
The ritual of doing a breast portrait has deepened over time. Sitting down with a model is like a little home I return to and share with each new person.
What do you feel your greatest gift has been through doing this project…the thing you are most proud of?
I guess the biggest gift has been the ways in which I’ve grown as an artist as a result of having something to say. I’ve been inspired to learn new techniques not for their own sake, but to try to capture the beauty, vulnerability and dignity of the body. I want the portraits to feel tactile, to invoke that sense of being able to touch and embody flesh.
There is also the gift I’ve had over time of having an audience beyond my professors in art school, beyond what I think collectors want or what the trends are in galleries are or what’s “hot” in the art world at any given time. To me, this exists outside of all that.
And there is also the gift of being a part of a community with my work. Finally, there is the human and artistic growth that comes from making work about something so personal, emotional and, in a way, risky.
How can people learn more about your work and “The Breast Project”?
They can visit my website. If someone is interested in finding out how to arrange to sit for a portrait, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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To Clarity, my deepest thanks for sharing your work and for all you do to contribute to the healing of the feminine.
To my readers, at times we may need to reach out for help for professional support. Like the arts, there are many powerful modalities including psychotherapy, coaching, support groups, group coaching and workshops.
You have a right and a responsibility to experiment and uncover tools to help you heal. Contact me at email@example.com for more information or referrals to resources.
Clarity Haynes holds a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and has lectured and taught at many prestigious institutions including The New York Academy of Art, Brooklyn College, Adelphi University and Rutgers University. Her work has been exhibited at the Tabla Rasa Gallery in Brooklyn, the Femina Potens Gallery in San Francisco, the Hopkins House Gallery of Contemporary Art, The Abrazo Interno Gallery, The Art Institute of Philadelphia, The Allentown Art Museum to name a few. For more information on her work go to clarityhaynes.com. Click here for more information on The Breast Project.
All art and photos provided by and with permission of the artist.