Monday, January 18, 2010

Other People's Paintings

Artist's Point 1

"I used to paint," she said, "but I gave it up. I mean, it took up so much time and my boyfriend felt neglected."

"And you did this for the sake of your relationship?"

"I guess so. I like art and drew a lot as a child. At first, it was kind of like 'therapy.' I kept most of my work or gave it away to family and friends. I hadn't planned on ever selling any paintings, but they insisted I should try, so I put a few in a local gallery. They sold faster than I expected, and I decided to keep at it. I was just beginning to build a clientele when my boyfriend said it took too much time away from us. Now I've got a job in the same gallery, selling other people's paintings," she said with a sigh.

"Was it worth it?" I asked.

"I don't know. I used to think painting made me a better person -- I was definitely more affectionate toward my boyfriend, that's for sure. Now, I'm wondering if I made a huge mistake."

There was a great deal more to the conversation, but the core issue revolved around her self-esteem. Even though she was developing as an artist, when presented with relationship pressures, she gave up her art rather than work toward a compromise. In the course of her therapy, she admitted having done similarly in other relationships. Eventually, she realized she'd established a pattern of frustrating her own needs as a person.

Ironically, as became evident in subsequent couples sessions, her boyfriend wasn't jealous or envious of her success, he was simply insecure and didn't understand how essential her painting was to her sense of well-being. His own history reflected a series of relationships in which attachment was more akin to mutual absorption, and his fears of independence rendered him equally fearful of it in his girlfriend. Working through her tendency for self-sabotage and his fears of abandonment took some time, but they eventually came to appreciate one another in new ways.

A few months after our therapy had ended, I received a package in the mail. Inside was a note that read, "Thanks for everything. I know you can't accept gifts over a certain value, but since you could call this a 'work in progress,' I think it will be okay." Beneath the note was an unframed oil painting depicting a mountain scene with two people standing hand in hand in front of an artist's easel. I thought they would have an even better chance of being okay.

(Creative Commons Image by m.toyama via Flickr)

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