Making art is more than intention: It’s about communicating with the self

Shiloh Sophia McCloud – WNN GlobalARTS

Artist Shiloh Sophia McCloud
In 2013 artist and teacher Shiloh Sophia McCloud paints on the floor of her studio near Santa Rosa, California, U.S. Image: Jonathan Lewis

(WNN) Santa Rosa, California, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: In the global upsurge of world creatives finding their way to the camera, the canvas, the clay pots as a means of not only creating art but of healing themselves and the world, women are creating art as a tool for personal and collective transformation. Women, regardless of income, heritage, or geography are intentionally seeking an experience with art-making as a way to recover from a history of violence, trauma and broken lives.

The impact of hardship for women worldwide often causes both men and women to silence ourselves as we no longer speak of what has happened to us or how it feels. Over time this impact continues to harm us and our choices unless we can find a way to express ourselves, to transform and release the damaging images we hold inside us. Often, the most damaged image for women is the one too many women hold of themselves.

In the launch for a new GlobalARTS section for WNN – Women News Network, I want to share a big part of my life and share with you the lives of women who are now using painting and writing as a medium to communicate and document their own healing stories through something called the Red Thread Chronicles, a world community that is tied together by one very long global red thread that holds us together.

In a step toward creating a better life as we ‘dream our world’, we must first make use of intentional creativity. This means we have to literally create around our intention. Making art in this way is not about being talented, gifted or artistic. It’s not predicated on someone identifying themselves as an artist, or even feeling creative. This way of working comes from the therapeutic art realm and is all about establishing communication with ourselves.

Knowing how to articulate what we think and feel is a journey toward recovery for ourselves and everyone else in our world.

Let’s look at humanity

To create a context for how art has shaped and informed humanity, let’s look at the significance of how art objects, artifacts, throughout history document the culture of a people, their textiles, agriculture, geography, family life and spiritual traditions. Art is a record of knowledge, culture and meaning sent down through the ages through image, symbol, song, dance, poetry, recipes and stories.

If artists do not create, how will we know who we were 100, 1000, 10,000 years from now? What would we know of Egypt’s advanced spirituality and geometry without the Sphinx or Pyramids? Or the Maya without their great codices? Or early Christianity culture without icons? Buddhism without the Buddhas? The art of humanity is the very thing which helps us to understand the history of who we are and who we have been.

Egyptian antiquary shows image of the wife of Pharoah Akhenaten
The ancient face of an Egyptian woman could be the face of any woman in Egypt today. It was part of the August 2012 Egyptian art show, “The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs,” which was on display at the Pacific Science Center in U.S. city of Seattle, Washington. This incredible sculpted image was on the lid of a funerary jar. It depicts the form of Kiya, the favored secondary wife of the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Image: Sea Turtle/Flickr

Studying our creations from the past gives us the opportunity to explore the global mistakes we’ve made together as part of humanity. With a new chance to mourn the loss of disappearing cultures as we ‘hopefully’ choose to become co-creators of a new sustainable future.

We must be free to express ourselves because it is from that place of authenticity inside of each of us that we will build a future worth living. We think of freedom of expression as an essential human right from which all the other rights are drawn.

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic rights and freedoms,” says the Human Rights Education Association, which provides an online resource to promote understanding, attitudes and actions to protect human rights, and to foster the development of peaceable, free and just communities.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 59(I) stating, “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and…the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated,” in its very first session in 1946, before any human rights declarations or treaties had been adopted.

The right to self expression through freedom of information is what we usually talk about, yet few of us really think about our human rights. The right to understand and know how to access self expression is a human right.

So, what do we truly think and feel? Art-making can be a direct path to knowing one’s self as we express the knowledge of who we are – instead of just accepting, or resisting, the ideas of our dominant ‘over-culture’. Experts agree governments and the powers-that-be have often found it too dangerous for us to think for ourselves.

Feeling Free to Express

With the rise of today’s technology our freedom to express ourselves is changing drastically. It’s now happening to all of us in ways that are both beneficial and devastating.

In a thousand years will an I-Phone indicate the truth of an ancient people? Can we finally get how Venus of Willendorf describes her own people from 24,000-22,000 BCE? Or why PBS felt a need to say, “The question is why were prehistoric humans stimulated by an exaggerated image such as this?” When specific artifacts are found by archeologists can they provide the ’emperical evidence’ we deeply need?

Haiti children in Plas Timoun paint after the devatating earthquake of 2010
Following the devastating earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti in January 2010, children who had witnessed family members who were injured and dying became part of joint art project sponsored by The Smithsonian Institute and the government of the Republic of Haiti. What was called the children’s “Plas Timoun” (safe place) was set up as a makeshift bus that was converted into an art studio. Here the children painted during part of their day following the earthquake in a program designed to help them forget about their troubles through the program called ‘The Healing Power of Art’. Image: TSI

According to UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, between 15 and 76 percent of women throughout the world will be targeted today under physical and sexual violence during their lifetime. It’s no surprise that many global women are trying to work through personal and ancestral experiences by actively seeking channels to improve their lives. When a woman gains the language of her own story through art she has a new ability to transform how the story affects her life and her choices.

Paintings are stories captured in image. They reflect emotional, physical and spiritual experience – especially for those who aren’t trained in the arts. Trained artists can manipulate image to their desires. While those just beginning have access to images that are often serve as vehicles of transformation, because they are untrained, the images are raw, truthful and revealing. The artist themselves becomes the hero of their own story.

Art has the capacity to give us the tools to reinvent our own images. It also helps us build a framework to see our stories differently as we put them to use in our lives. Past pain becomes future strength. Even the most challenging experiences can be put into the service of reinventing ourselves, and working with others who have had similar experiences.

For close to 20 years in the creative arts I have witnessed thousands of women use art as a tool for transformation.

Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti the Smithsonian Institute worked with the government of Haiti to reach the children of Plas Timoun asking them if they wanted to paint to heal the images of the earthquake that had entered their hearts. Unanimously the children of Plas Tmoun in Port-au-Prince said yes and the painting began as a project called The Healing Power of Art.

Connecting to Red Thread Chronicles

The name ‘The Red Thread Chronicles’ is inspired by an ancient Chinese legend that says that those who are destined to meet are connected before birth by an invisible red thread.  There are many more legends of the red thread that we will continue to explore in this series but this one speaks of destiny and finding the unique thread that is your own.

In all the circles of women that I serve we always weave the Red Thread with each of us holding on and asking what our own piece of the thread contains. And if each of us holds our own piece then we hold it together and each is only responsible for a piece of the tapestry. Art gives women access to this understanding and how it can be used to heal themselves and the world.

Shiloh Sophia McCloud is a visionary artist and teacher who has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to art as a path of healing through the process of painting, writing and intentional creativity. Through her work McCloud has represented hundreds of women artists internationally. At the core of her work is a belief that the right to self-expression is one of the most basic of human rights. McCloud is also the author of over 5 books covering poetry, creative expression and business ‘know-how’.

Some additional researched material for this op-ed has also been provided by the editors at WNN – Women News Network.


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