Picasso's Blues

I took an art history class at UC Berkeley as part of my undergraduate degree in English. It was a popular class, several hundred students, and we met in a large auditorium with the professor lecturing from the stage while we looked at slides of art.  It was fascinating; I loved entering the auditorium and waiting for the lights to dim, the projector to hum and the screen up front to fill with works of art as diverse as the prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira to the French impressionists.

I learned a bit about Picasso’s blue period in that class. Between 1901 and 1904, following the suicide of a dear friend, Picasso painted only in blue and blue-green tones, most of the subject matter somber and gloomy. Many of the paintings were rejected by the public at the time—people thought the work was too depressing. By 1905 he’d moved into his rose period, but some of the blue period paintings would later become his most sought after and valuable work. The ones I saw left an impression on me as a college student sitting in that dark auditorium, trying to understand the complex heart of this great artist, grateful that from this painful season of grief he left this haunting body of work to the world of art.

It occurred to me that when we’re beside ourselves with grief—or joy, or love or despair—it’s then that we want most to find a way to express it. To share the depth of that emotion or experience with someone else. The search for our own authentic form of expression in any given moment is also the search for who we are in that moment, and what we want to share of ourselves with the world. Picasso’s work during that season of his life emerged in blues and greens, mirroring the despair he felt at the loss of his friend.

In his book, Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner writes,

I believe that what Genesis suggests is that this original self, with the print of God’s thumb still upon it, is the most essential part of who we are and is buried deep in all of us … I think that among other things all real art comes from that deepest self – painting, writing music, dance, all of it that in some way nourishes the spirit.

I hear that creative call in my “deepest self,” and my need to answer it is as necessary as my need to breathe. Since I’ve been able to form words and hear melodies, I’ve wanted to give them shapes and rhythms and create songs. I’ve never understood where it came from, exactly. Neither of my parents is particularly musical, and although my mom had piano lessons as a kid, she’ll be the first to admit she can’t carry a tune to save her life. But I could, and I sang all the time when I was a little girl. I sang along with the radio in the car, I made up songs and sang them into my hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror; I convinced my sister (who absolutely hated to sing) to do duets with me at family Christmas gatherings. (Forgive me, Heidi, I was answering my creative call.)

When we think of creating in terms of giving voice to an expression deep inside of us, we begin to understand that it is essential and natural to our existence. That “artists” aren’t just the handful of people among us who work in recognized artistic fields—dancers or painters or musicians.  But that within each of us is an expression of creativity that is uniquely ours, God-given and God-breathed; it wells up from our truest selves and gets released in as many different ways as there are personalities and DNA sequences. The writer finds expression in her novel, the teacher in his lesson plans, the athlete in her performance individually and as part of a team.

When we create, whatever the medium or context, we are pressing the seal of our unique imprint into the clay of our own lives. Painting a diverse canvas with our own color, shape, texture. Not just a single hue, but a vast ocean of variation and nuance—each one adding to the beauty that is the whole, yet each as distinct as a brush stroke. Answering your own call to create contributes to the beauty of this divine work of art that is all of humanity.

(excerpted from my upcoming book, Sowing the Seeds of Love: Cultivate Your Creativity