Leveraging Our Artistic License

Because my mother is an artist, I have grown up listening to her observations and explanations about how light and shadow change over the course of the day and how this impacts what we perceive around us. Often, she will point out that the grey walls I notice aren’t really grey at all, but more of a cool blue or lavender that reflects against a dark driveway—that sort of thing. As a result, I am far more visually attuned than I would otherwise be. It’s not in my nature to discern such distinctions as finely as she does, but I’m very glad I’ve learned because such knowledge furthers my understanding of and appreciation for what it is I’m actually seeing.


The evaluation that must occur in order to recognize the difference between a “warm” blue and a “cool” one serves as a useful launching point for assessing how each of goes about composing our personal canvas. What I mean by this is if your life, today, were a painting, would you have filled the canvas with warm or cool colors? Dark or light? Would its structure be loose and abstract or tightly controlled with a distinct image rendered? What medium would you use: water colors, acrylics, or oils? You don’t have to know a lot about art to answer these questions—we’ve all seen paintings and know how differently the same image can appear, depending on the artist. In an effort to break down this exercise into more easily digestible chunks, let’s start with structure.


How tightly controlled is your life?


Personally, my answer to this question is a source of consternation for me because it’s definitely not the one I want. Right now, I’d say my life was so loose and abstract as to be spilling over the edges with practically no distinguishable form—and I’m someone who loves structure, where I know what I’m dealing with and everything makes sense. Sooo not my life these days. But, over the years, I have reluctantly learned to live with such flux—and, truth be told, it’s probably good for me not to have everything presented in easily digestible bits. I’m a very lazy person, so if it had been available to me, I’d probably have grabbed the first clear cut solution that came my way rather than work to solve the Gordian Knot that is my life.


Reflecting upon composition and form reminds me of how confused I felt as a child when looking at many of my mom’s paintings. “They’re messy,” I complained. “They’re just a bunch of squiggles. What’s it supposed to be?” Looking back, my strong reaction is sort of funny considering how much I loved finding pictures in clouds, but kids are odd that way. It took me years to see her canvases as anything other than a giant, abstract mess, but eventually, forms did emerge. Over time, I started to see what was there, even though it didn’t conform to my ideas of what a house or wooded glen or collection of shadows stretching across a field was supposed to look like. I started to appreciate the sophistication required to see more, to watch as images materialized from the negative spaces or forms emerged where, at first glance, none appeared. Today, I find great joy in uncovering the unexpected.


So, now, let’s turn our focus back to you. Do you define your life by warm or cool colors? Is there sufficient light for you to see or do you long for more shadow, a refuge from the glare? What amount of structure in your compositions feels most natural to you and is this reflected in how you live your life? Where do you measure on the scale of free, creative expression? How might you get closer to what you want? Take a few minutes and mull this over before you decide upon your final answer. Oftentimes, you need to go beyond your first, right answer to discover the truth.

Heart cloud



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4 Responses to “Leveraging Our Artistic License”

  1. Tanya Holton Says:

    nicely phrased Chrisanna! I relate to everything you write (including have an artist for a mother whose images confused me as a child). I have grown to realize that while I love the light, what I love more is light set against the drama of an approaching storm or light relieving the darkness of a quiet cave–light in the moment of intersection with dark is what fascinates me both in aesthetics and in life.

    • dignitarysretreat Says:

      Thanks for your kind words. As my mom taught me, what makes for an interesting painting requires a real change of “values” in the composition so that there are different intensities of color that play against one another. If everything in a painting has the same “value,” there is no contrast and, thus, little interesting to look at! Perhaps an analogy for our life journeys…

  2. Deborah Says:

    This is an exceptionally sensitive and beautiful post. I will be sending it on to many friends.
    Think you know that we have one very painting which has always hung in the place of honor in every place we’ve ever lived…we are moving soon again and this intriguing study will be hand carried to its fourth home. I will print out this post and will tape it to the back of the painting.

  3. dignitarysretreat Says:

    I’m delighted it struck the right note, thanks for letting me know! I can never tell which of my posts will resonate more than others. Cheers!

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