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Women + Arts

Improving our World Through Art as Compassion: Women Artists as Witness

Kate Langlois – WNN SOAPBOX

Painting of a woman artist as the healer of the world. Image: Kate Langlois

(WNN) San Francisco, California, U.S., AMERICAS: Where healing and creativity meets we connect to the world. This is how we give voice to compassion with creativity. Cultivating compassion often begins from nurturing love for our own self.

Generally we find by reaching out to others in need, we feed our own seeds of compassion. Reaching outside of our own experiences helps us move beyond ourselves, finding connection to our larger circle in the world community. Inclusive of all abilities, creativity is truly for all of us.

Renewing hope in ourselves and others, art has the capacity to lift us up. Not simply a coping mechanism, art has proven to also be a tool to transform.

In my work as an artist and teacher, I’m part of a growing art movement that uses the concept of Intentional Creativity as a way to shift through life experiences. Creating with paint and writing in the way I have processed through personal tragic events as well as the tragic events of others. I’ve witnessed first hand powerful transformations toward healing.

Applying this same method to world events, the subject matter I’m following in my current art works on canvas are human rights issues. It’s easy to flip past so many headlines with a sense of anger and disconnectedness. When I view tragic world events happening, like so many others, I want to feel more than hopelessness.

Those of us who live on the sidelines, and are not in the physical throes of war, displacement or upheaval, wrestle with how to process the horror of world events. We want to know how we can help? Discovering the bridge between these larger world events and ourselves is a powerful way to invite the resonance of compassion.

In her book, “The Soul Truth“ author Marcy Ellen M.Div. discusses, “The discovery of our oneness and connection to each other and our environment has huge implications for our future. Imagine a world where you saw your neighbor as yourself and vital to your survival. Imagine if you knew that in order to sustain your own life you must help sustain the life of others as well. Survival of the whole of anything depends upon the survival of all its parts and vice-versa.

Just as a sick heart can lead to the death of a body and all the other organs in it, the sickness of any of our earthy parts is detrimental to the whole.” Bringing visibility to social injustices and sharing the voice of those who are suffering is what I want to bring into the world through my art.

Artist Kate Langlois’s portrait painting of poet Liu Xia, who is the wife of Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate Liu XiaoBo. While the Chinese government does not acknowledge the incarceration of Liu Xia, the couple have been under house arrest in their home in Beijing as Liu XiaoBo serves an 11 year sentence for what the Chinese government calls “subversion” for his role in calling for democratic freedom in China under the Charter8 Manifesto. Image: Kate Langlois

In all of the pieces I am imagining what the situation would look like if it was whole, healed, shifted. I try and connect with the emotional feeling of that shift I want to see as if it’s already happened.

During the creating process, I go into an inquiry of what piece of this story resonates with me. I painted about artist and poet Liu Xiabo who continues under house arrest in Beijing, China as the threads that follow back to myself are of both isolation and freedom.

Exploring my painting of Saudi women human rights activists Ms. Wajeha al-Huwaider and Ms. Fawzia al-Oyouni, I’ve sought to know how women view each other in both the East and the West. I discovered even though the perspectives may contradict how we view ourselves, we ultimately desire the same over-arching freedoms.

Currently I’m working on a painting about home and displacement that spans between Iraqi refugees fleeing to Mount Sinjar to the issues of U.S. immigration. My own family’s eviction and my community’s housing crisis in the City of San Francisco, California, U.S. echo the issues.

This process is crucial for helping me feel a connection to the issues of displacement. The symbolism that I use in my paintings are now keys that make up the larger story.

Compassion is defined as an emotional response when perceiving suffering. And it involves an authentic desire to help. Decades of clinical research have now focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering.

That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often also has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: the ability to gather compassion.

Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it. What led 26.5 percent of Americans to pick up and volunteer in 2012, according to statistics from the US Department of Labor?

A painting of Saudi women rights defenders Ms. Wajeha al-Huwaider and Ms. Fazia al-Oyouni by artist Kate Langlois shows a bridge to a world where safety and freedom of expression can exist and thrive for all women everywhere. Image: Kate Langlois

What propels someone to serve food at a homeless shelter, pull over on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken down vehicle, or feed a stray cat?

What is Compassion anyway? And how is it different from empathy or altruism?

Compassion is often confused with empathy. Empathy defined by researchers is a visceral or emotional experience that another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of someone else’s emotions, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness.

Altruism is an action that benefits someone else. And it doesn’t need to be accompanied by empathy or compassion as in an act of making a charity donation for tax purposes. Although empathy and altruism are related to the idea of compassion, they are not the same as compassion.

Compassion often does, of course, involve altruistic behavior as well as an empathic response to a person or an event. But it is compassion alone that involves a clear and authentic ‘desire to help’.

Is Compassion natural or learned?

Economists have long argued it is learned. But a growing body of evidence suggests that, at our core, both animals and human beings have what Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley coins a “compassionate instinct.”

In other words compassion is as natural and automatic a response as any human being can have. It has also ensured our survival on earth.



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