Pamela Hochstetter interviewed by Marta Maresca
You have a degree in Divinity and you teach art. What do you see as the relationship between art and spirituality?
When I entered Yale Divinity School in 1986 at age 36, it was in part to leave behind the world of art as I knew it. I felt strongly that there were more meaningful ways for me to use my life energy in the world.
I had created and run a couple of art-related businesses by that point and was very disenchanted with the production and especially the marketing of my wares. Neither of those businesses allowed for completely free expression of my own creative impulses. Rather, it was a matter of meeting the desires of the marketplace.
At the same time that I was falling out of love with my profession, I was falling in love with spiritual matters. In retrospect I would call it a “conversion experience.” I wasn't struck by lightning, but by my joy in stillness, reading spiritual books, praying and engaging in periods of deep self-reflection. So I applied to Yale thinking that I would give myself the time and space to cultivate the garden of my heart. What I neglected to consider was that I was leaving art-my spiritual lifeline-in the dust.
My five-year long experience of divinity school was not what I expected. Instead of being spiritually nurtured, I found myself in what felt like a theological think-tank, where the stress of unruly reading lists, perfectly written papers and intimidating exams seemed to be the heart and soul of the place. However, I persisted in my studies, ignoring my intuition. My body cried, “Beat feet and get your butt out of here.” My stubborn brain insisted, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.” And deeper still, I thought that somehow it was God's will for me to be there even though it was making me sick. I view that as spiritually immature thinking now.
I regret ignoring my own inner voice then. Now, when I “backslide” into second-guessing what I know to be true, at least I am aware, “Oops, you did it again!”
After graduating from Yale with a Master of Divinity degree I became profoundly ill. It took close to seven full years to recover. During that time I came to know myself more clearly than I had in the previous 40. I reconnected with the artist who I was (and am) since birth. Thank Goodness! I explored more fully the world's rich diversity of spiritual traditions, and began a meditation practice. Whew! What a workout!! And I thought Yale was tough!
During those years I filled dozens of unlined journals with drawings, colorings and words, pouring my heart out onto every page. No censorship there! No writing what a professor wanted to hear or making a pretty picture in just the right colors to please a client. Nope, just truth-telling and spirit engaging! Hallelujah!
When I was well I did some low-key training in process-art methods with a gentle, willing art therapist. (In process art, you let the painting happen of its own accord, spontaneously.) I did my own work first with her, then proceeded to witness how she worked with others. I got it quickly because I had already been doing as much on my own during my long healing process. In November 2001 I began working with clients individually and in groups.
So, I teach others and use personally art as a vehicle for Self-expression. Expressing in full living color the Spirit/Energy/Universe that creates, sustains and repairs All That Is and that flows through each of us. I know one practitioner of process art who calls her business, “Painting from the Source.” I concur.
“Ode to Letty Russel”
For you, is spirituality based on beliefs?
Been there and done that. Having had to memorize doctrine and dogma in divinity school and having later watched the balloon of beliefs burst before my tired eyes, I am now a believer in mostly my own experience. Some might call it gnosis.
The spiritual tradition or philosophy that has been most useful to me in the last 15 years is Buddhism. It has provided me with a much clearer understanding of the nature of things. I don't call myself a Buddhist. I take what makes sense to me from any of the world's spiritual traditions, nature and life and apply it as I see fit. I feel like I am a little bit of everything. We are each some small aspect of Divinity's grand notion.
Are some people “born” to be artists and others not? What has your experience been in teaching art? Do we all have a hidden “artist within”?
I think we are all born creative beings. Some of us are perhaps more inclined in specific ways than others, but none of us is without it.
I have observed that many people have had their own particular flavor of creativity beaten out of them. I don't mean this literally, but the effects of being shut down creatively can be just as destructive. Teachers, school boards, parents, siblings, friends and the media all offer brutal messages contributing to this. “What is it?” “You'll never make a living.” “It's an unnecessary line item, slash it!” “You can't draw. Trees are not purple. Erase that and do it over until you get it right.” These are just a few samples of the arrows that shoot down one of the most precious and accessible forms of Self-expression: ART.
What can I do, today, to express art in my life?
Do you mean be artfully expressive? Here are some suggestions.
Take a stack of computer paper. Grab a box of crayons, watercolor paints, children's finger paints or just your pen and pencil and start doodling LARGE: big movements using your whole arm, foot (when holding implement in toes) or head (when holding implement in teeth). Go crazy. Don't show anyone. Do you ask people to read your diary or to come listen to you when you pray in bed at night? Treat this work with the same respect.
Gather a bunch of magazines on the way to recycling. Don't do a vision board. Just rip out the images that grab you most vigorously. Find a place to pin them up where you'll see them. Forget about the pin holes. Your happiness is at stake here. Let them speak to you until they're finished. Take their messages to heart. Let them nourish your spirit.
Buy or make something funky to wear. It could be as simple as a sash to tie around your waist or, if it's more appealing, make a scarf or new tie. Make sure the colors and textures resonate with your gut. If it's a magenta boa to wear to the office, so much the better.
Make sure that no one's around. Turn your favorite rhythmic music on and allow your body to move spontaneously. Do this for at least 20 minutes. Then sit or lie down and notice how you feel. Give big thanks for the gift of being alive and the ability to move.
Use your voice. Again in a safe, undisturbed space. Make crazy sounds. See how silly you can sound. Please don't begin by telling yourself you can't sing. This is just about expressing whatever energy needs to come through you in the moment. Again, notice how you feel.
Be yourself. Not who you think you should be.
What do you think the expression “the Art of Living” might mean?
When I sit down to process paint, I love to watch as the painting unfolds. I may have made a plan to paint from 2:00-4:00 pm, chosen a medium, the size of paper and the brushes to use, and decided how to protect the floor from my wild imaginings. So I have definitely created a structure. But beyond that, a color begins to move around, blends with others, may even jump off the page, and eventually a composition of sorts presents itself. It almost seems to happen on its own. Ta-da, a painting!
So too with a life well-lived or lived artfully. You make many decisions that create a structure in your life and then you allow Life to happen. You observe relationships, movement, harmony and disharmony, and may add some punctuation for emphasis. And when you take time out for stillness to settle in you, you are able to notice the big picture of your life. Some control, not too much. Surrender to the movement of Life and surrender to the life of a painting are quite similar.
How can I be more creative?
Pay attention to your first creative impulses. Don't second-guess them. Act on them. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. You will probably feel more alive. The more you honor your creative voice, the more it will speak to you. Stay acutely attuned.
Make a commitment to spending even just 10 minutes a day doodling freely. Work as large as you can-the bigger the better. Use color with your choice of medium. Consider this a new spiritual practice with untold creative benefits. Watch as your creative life begins to open up.
Acknowledge the herd of judges in your head, ready to pounce on your artistic ventures. Learning to manage them is key. Forcefully banishing them to a distant land can be counterproductive, because they tend to push back. Just observe their insipid murmuring and continue with your creative adventures. Eventually their voices will turn into a whisper that you can ignore. Persevere in spite of them. It's worth it!
“Just show up.” Sometimes the hardest thing about starting anything creative is just STARTING. Once you jump over all the obstacles to exercising your creativity-the laundry calling you, the dishes that need washing this instant, the sick friend who must hear from you this moment, the 43 emails of supreme urgency-you're home free! Forget about everything else. Everything will still be there when you're finished.
When my mother was on her deathbed, we had a long conversation. She said, “Remember all the days I didn't get out of the house until 3:00 pm because I had to be sure everything was in order? Well, I should have just left it behind and gone to the museums with you and your sisters. Nobody gets a gold medal when they die for having had a clean house.”
Know that avoidance is completely normal. Acknowledge it. And show up with your art medium of choice anyway.
How does art relate to happiness?
How do raindrops relate to plant growth in my garden? This would be my personal response.
When we were really young, we used to delight in completely free PLAY with artistic materials. Paint, crayons, colored blocks, tinkling silver triangles, trembling tambourines and Mexican maracas became enchanted instruments in our trusting little hands. We let the world know we were here. We made our very own “sound.” It made us happy to hear ourselves out loud. Our spirits danced for JOY.
Making art with a free spirit can imbue us with deep happiness. I know this personally and have witnessed it hundreds of times when I have helped to inspire others to let go and let flow what that they have in them that wants to be expressed.
Art can also, obviously, spread happiness to other viewers, watchers and listeners. I think beauty is an aspect of Divinity. Not just icing on the cake.
Can art help us overcome painful experiences? How?
Yes. It seems that by creating in a spontaneous, uncensored way we allow the flow of our energies to move out onto the page instead of staying bottled up inside us. When we are in a state of “flow” we may even have the experience of feeling at one with the Universe, which can be enormously healing. The sense of personal freedom that many process artists report is almost beyond description. It can give a person a sense of expansiveness that lasts for some time and trickles into other aspects of life. This can be very empowering. It can renew one's vitality in the present and assist in transforming one's life.
How are art and love related, in your view?
If Love with a capital “L” is comprised of goodness, kindness, beauty, unity, truth and consciousness, then it is easy to see how art is related. If you do art consciously, surrendering to the truth of being, allowing it to pour forth honestly and spontaneously, then you are actively participating in the amazing action of Love. You become a willing instrument of Love/Divinity. Art is one of Love's voices.