Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Bernie's Ramblings: An Artist’s Peak Experience

An Artist’s Peak Experience
Abraham Maslow, the inventor of the term, “Peak experience”, says that "peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, possibly the awareness of an "ultimate truth" and the unity of all things ... the experience fills the individual with wonder and awe....he feels at one with the world, and is pleased with it ...." They are moments when you feel more at one with yourself and the world, more integrated. You feel happy, even ecstatic, interconnected and in harmony.

For me, as an artist, painting is a struggle. My struggle comes from forcing myself to adhere to an almost daily routine of painting and trying to create order out of all the chaos that surrounds me. Too many times life gets in the way and painting has to take a back seat... but sometimes life gets in the way and inspiration comes. When this happens it's as if the painting I’m working on takes on a life of its own. It's as if divine intervention takes over and I am merely a tool in a higher power’s hands. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen every time I pick up a brush but it happens enough to give me those “peak experiences” that are forever etched in my mind and that I am eternally grateful for. While painting en plein aire (French term for “on location”) with a group of local artists I had one of those divine encounters or “peak experiences” as defined by Maslow.

We, the Onslow Outdoor Painters Society (OOPS), were painting on location at the Beirut Memorial, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on one April afternoon while the azaleas and dogwoods were in full bloom. The OOPS artists were scattered throughout the site painting from various vantage points. I set my easel near the statue at the memorial and opted for a close up of the statue's boots. Since I was positioned at the focal point of the memorial I had the opportunity to meet many nice people. Two of those people opened my eyes and broke my heart creating my peak experience.

Two ladies approached me, commented on my painting and one asked for a business card. As we talked she told me, "My son is buried over there", motioning to the Veterans Cemetery adjacent to the memorial. I was taken back, she was my age and her son was close in age to my three oldest children. I am used to burials of WWII, Korean, and Vietnam veterans over there, older veterans who lived full lives and not someone my children's age. She (wish I could remember her name) mentioned her son was killed in 2004 and that her friend's son was killed less than a year ago. My eyes were opened to how real this war is and my heart ached for these two ladies. I noticed one lady wearing a "Gold Star" necklace knowing well what it represented since my wife's grandmother was a Gold Star mom. She lost her oldest son in Korea in 1950. When I got home, I added the necklace to my painting as a tribute to these two anonymous ladies, their impact on me, and Gold Star moms everywhere. I have four children of my own... my mind can't even imagine what Gold Star moms and families go through.

As I write this... Cpl Johnathan Taylor, age 23, a young Marine from Florida stationed here at Camp Lejeune was the most recently identified death of the War on Terror. He was killed on February 23, 2011 by hostile fire in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan bringing the American casualty toll to 5923. (Operation Enduring Freedom, iCasualties) Whatever your politics may be... I think everyone agrees that we must be mindful and prayerful of our men and women in the military service of our great country. 5923 may simply be a number to some people but to many, it represents lives shaken to their very foundations. I'm talking about the family and friends of this 5923 and unfortunately, future families who will experience the kind of sorrow exhibited by the two women I spoke with as I painted my tribute to them.

My painting, A Tribute to Gold Star Moms, is a visual reminder of my experience of that eventful day. It echoes Maslow’s definition of peak experience through my unity with those two anonymous women, my sense of wonder and awe, and the overwhelming sense of the sublime and divine that I gained from the experience.

In faith,

 "A Tribute to Gold Star Moms"
10x8" oil on panel
Bernie Rosage Jr

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