Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Question of Identity

Self-Portrait: Full of Lies, 8x10inch oil pastel, pen, coloured pencil
It occurs to me that artists do self-portraits. It’s just a thing that artists do, probably when they can’t come up with a more compelling subject matter, or is that what still life bowls of fruit are for?  Digressing. I have not done many, and not for years (self-portraits, I mean, although, I don’t do much bowls of fruit art either).  This, however, is Not a Self Portrait.  It is full of lies. It doesn’t look at all like me, and it doesn’t even look the way I think I look, but oddly enough, it is what landed on the page while I was thinking of doing a self-portrait.
Cats on the other hand, have no problems at all with identity. A cat always knows exactly what he or she is. A cat is a cat, and if a cat where to consider it’s own identity. I am absolutely sure the cat would be thinking “I am cat” and be both accurate and done with the matter.
I envy cats.
People, on the other hand, struggle with identity. I always felt pretty sure of myself, with absolute certainty, I considered myself uniquely me. As if that was something solid and real and immutable. But it’s not.  We change, moment by moment, day to day, and only our internal narratives keep us feeling that we remain the same; break the narrative, and it all breaks down. So many things can break that narrative, stress, pressure, illness, brain damage, experience. Sometimes we change for the better, learning, growing and moving on. Sometimes for the worse, in denial of reality, all sorts of weird things happen. Obviously, there is not much that can be done about the physical assaults to the mind, but I do feel that in facing fears and unwelcome realities head on, we become better people, more capable, more compassionate, more open to new experiences.
I suppose, until now, I’ve been speaking in code. Here’s the big unpleasant reality that completely turned my psychic worldview upside down.  It is dementia, specifically, watching my mother in law change from a real person, to a shell of one long before death took her. I won’t sugar coat that.  Not all dementia patients loose themselves so completely, but the mere fact that it can happen shook me to the core. Prior to that, I thought we had some sciencey version of soul.  Now I know, without a shadow of a doubt that our identities are the result of a functioning organ we call a brain that relies heavily on a community of other functioning organs, a community of living cells we call the body. 
The joy of it is, once I got my head wrapped around that fact of life, I can not only take it, but revel in it, that we are who we are, and sing and think and paint and draw, love and hate, go running down the street, or lie dreaming in our beds and are just filled with so much, a series of moments in time, moments in thought, that becomes the narrative of our souls, fragile as it all might be.
Note on the art: it’s oil pastel, pen ink and coloured pencil. Lately I’ve been cruising Etsy and admiring other artists.  Most of the art that I love is semi-abstract, expressionistic and rough edged, often tagged naive art, raw art, art brut, primitive art.  Looking at my own art, especially that which I post on Etsy, I wonder if I am holding back, being too tight, too careful, too busy proving that ‘yes, I can draw'' vs being expressive. Those of you who follow on instagram may have already noticed.  This is turning into another blogpost, so I’ll leave it at ‘more later….’


Rolina said...

Your musings are so interesting - and I totally LOVE the work, it is very expressive!

(I still don't quite know who I am and probably never will, but I don't mind)

kaslkaos said...

Thanks so much, Rolina. You are wise, re: " still don't quite know who I am and probably never will, but I don't mind "

Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

I am who I am...never the same (almost) everyday *shrugs*

john's grandmother has dementia, and has recently gone into a home since it was getting unsafe for her to be on her own. She really doesn't have that many lucid moments any more, which is sad since there are so many stories she will probably never tell :/

Jenny B. said...

Following up on others' comments, I totally agree that identity is fluid. And cats know that too! In fact, have you ever seen a creature that changes its essence as often as a cat? One moment it is the soft cuddly thing curled up in a corner, another moment it is the predator stalking a mouse. Something to marvel at.

kaslkaos said...

Sorry I took so long to get back. I went into silent mode for a bit.
Jennifer, yes, that is sad, it's how I feel at the home I volunteer at. So many stories but no way to get at them.
Jenny B, if you are reading this, so sorry about Lucy, take care of yourself. Cats have souls. There is sad irony reading your words about cats here.

Michelle B. Hendry said...

I Love Jenny's interpretation. Identity is fluid and cats are a wonderful way to observe it. There is a fine line between the fluidity of identity that is growth and the loss that is dementia. Great post!

kaslkaos said...

Hi Michelle, thanks!


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