Creativity can be healing (3)

My last two posts have visited some of the places on the internet where people share the impact of surgery in story, image, and poetry.

This last of this series will look at two more websites, a little more unusual than the others I have reviewed.

Ted Meyer records people’s scars in their actual form at Scarred for Life.  Like the other creative people in this series, Ted Meyer’s interest in combining medical science, life and art started from serious illness in his own infancy.  His art deals with the emotional impact of pain and healing on everyday people — patients, families, and medical personnel.  He writes: Scars mark a turning point in peoples’ lives; sometimes for good but often otherwise.  Each scar comes with a story.  Why is it there?  Would the person have died without surgery?  How did the “scaring event” affect them emotionally?  Scars can mark entering into or out of a disability.  Going from cancer to health, limited mobility to full movement.  They freeze a moment in time, a car accident or gun shot.

Ted Meyer's portrayal of a subject and his scar from old-style surgery for pyloric stenosis

Again like the three previous artists in this series, Ted Meyer’s focus for this project is the scar, for it is this that brings together life-saving medical knowledge and skills with the subjects’ personal stories and emotions.  He does not use photography or paintings for this project however, but transfers paint from his subject’s scar site directly onto paper, using the rubbing technique, one of humanity’s oldest ways of creating prints of anything from leaves to graves on a cathedral floor.  He enhances these prints with the brush and pencil.

On YouTube Ted Meyer speaks about his art, selections of which he has exhibited in several U S cities as well as in Istanbul and Osaka.

Clarity Haynes’ scar art is intentionally and resoundingly feminist in a way that not all women will find comfortable or necessary; I also believe that many men will value her project with great respect and admiration – both in a non-blokey way (as we say that in Australia).

Clarity Haynes began the Radical Acceptance: Breast Portrait Project in 1998 with her own nude self-portrait.  In her mid-20s she decided on making a portrait of her torso because she was feeling uncomfortable with her own body.  She found the experience transformative: it made her feel much more comfortable and accepting of herself, and she decided to offer this opportunity to other women.  Her website tells us:  Since then she has sought out and found enthusiastic participants at women’s festivals, fairs and similar events.  Each sitter enters Haynes’ booth to pose, record her thoughts in a book (often handwritten there and then), and consent to having a photograph taken of her nude torso alongside the finished portrait.

Haynes has completed over 500 breast portraits, and has exhibited her work at several locations throughout the USA, as well as on the web.

Like Clarity and other people I know, I have found sketching and photography a helpful and healing way of objectifying my self-image: by seeing myself as others see me I have come to terms with the fact that I am both OK and imperfect; I am much more than my scarred abdomen and my lanky, aging body; I now feel this as well as know it.

Let me quote Clarity again: My work includes portraits of those born with male bodies who have transitioned, as well as those living in female bodies whose identities do not match those dictated by society… This project is about finding dignity and beauty in the physical characteristics of the body that our popular culture often ridicules and heaps with shame, and in the process allowing the models who participate to feel pride in their particular selves – and by extension, the viewers of the work as well, regardless of their gender.

One of the triptyches included in the Breast Portrait Project was especially powerful to me, in part because the model was portrayed at three stages of her life.  In the first painting we see this woman as she might have appeared in her dreams: a pristine woman without a trace of life’s ravages, and the second portrays the effects of age on our bodies – just as our minds and souls mature.

In the final portrait of the three, Clarity Haynes’ subject has allowed us to share with her something of her deep and private pain.  Clarity’s subject does not have the ideal body of her dreams, and she has had to cope not only with age and a mastectomy but also with a large old-style scar, very similar to mine from pyloric stenosis surgery; it marks her as having been restored to life at a very early age but like me it left her to grow up feeling very damaged and alone.  Clarity Haynes added the revealing comment that this woman asked me to ignore the scar on her belly, which was the result of a surgery she had received as an infant that saved her life.  I asked her for permission to include the scar, because in fact it was difficult to ignore.  She agreed.

Isn’t it revealing and powerful that a mature-age woman can be quite willing to share her aging and mastectomied torso, but not the scar she has lived with from early infancy?  And what does it tell us the visitor that she decided to allow the scar from her infancy to be included?  No wonder this triptych harmonised so exquisitely with me.

7 thoughts on “Creativity can be healing (3)

  1. wendy williams

    Fabulous! I really identified with what you said about your scar from pyloric stenosis surgery making you feel “damaged and alone.” That description was about me! Thank goodness for the web and for you and artists like Meyers and Clarity who help us emerge from our pain and feel a part of a community of folks who share similar experiences.

  2. J.B.P.

    Many thanks for the opportunity to read more about the lives of those people using art to share the intimacy of pain and loss. Well done.

  3. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Your comment is most welcome. I love the arts in all their rich variety although I’m not much of a practitioner (apart from my enjoyment of writing). This series of blogs brings some of the graphic and literary arts together.

  4. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    My web searching for the material I write about here often yields a find that makes me so thankful that people share their work, their passion, their stories and their creativity. Thank you, Ted, for what you and your work have meant to me and others via the worldwide web.

  5. Pingback: Never look at a Scar the Same Again | Carladawn64

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