Pink Oracles

art by bari wiselman schulman

“Write down, therefore, what you have seen, what is happening, and what will happen afterwards…”

Revelation 1:19

(this post is taken from a piece I wrote for a Writing About Art class at the Hyde Park Art Center:)

The dripping pink residue of acrylic and spray paint on paper—the colors all sticky and rich, careless and alive—seized my heart muscles. I was there, wholly there, in front of bari wiselman schulman’s art at the Other Art Fair in downtown Chicago this past April. The journey on Green Line train in the rain and the purposeful thunking of my Doc Marten boots on asphalt and the SZA song stuck in my head—though all these things got me to where I was in that moment—were suddenly made both more real and peripheral by this jolt of neon. 

“Pink is a color rarely found in nature. In a fictionalized natural space, [it] awakens and politely shocks the viewer into attention.”

South African artist Simphiwe Ndzube about his exhibit “Oracles of the Pink Universe

Looking at schulman’s art, I was politely shocked into the present by those neon colors, by their messages that said: be here, you’re alive. Now, typing this, I look at the pictures I took on my phone of her pieces, specifically “state of #2” with its orange-yellow-pink-blue S’s and 3’s and 8’s swirling into each other, the flamingo-pink nail polish on my thumb hovering over the screen.

schulman told me her art was an outpouring of her background in psychology and linguistics, like she can’t help but paint as a result of her knowledge. I love that, the outpouring of it, the I can’t help but part of it. That life is enriched by creative practices and color. To take a “long, loving look at the real” (to quote Fr. Walter Burghardt) and say yes, I can’t help but create when I behold, long and loving, this gorgeous, terrifying, heart-cracking-open world.

She gave me a handpainted business card. I put it on my desk next to my spring cactus in full bubblegum bloom. My fuchsia pink Moleskin journal sits beside the cactus. Above my journal, taped to the wall, is a prayer card with St. Therese of Liuseux holding red-pink roses and a crucifix against her chest. In this moment, at the most mundane of places—my desk in my room—the color pink reminds me that everything is a source for everything else. The pinks of nails and pictures on phones and cactus flowers and smudged journals and decades-old prayer cards somehow contain a loose thread, and maybe it’s the artists who find the threads and make sense of them. Color as connection.

Writing, lately, has been a source of weird anxiety for me. The idea of writing, the pressure of it, the label and distinction of calling myself a ‘writer’ vs. the actual act of writing. I overthink, and I feel the competition and insecurity of trying to be a ‘writer’ in the writing world among so many brilliant writers. Then I realize, in this thought process, that I have lost the truth and meaning of what writing is about for me, of why I am drawn to write in the first place, of why I love it so much.

When creativity is competition, creating itself begins to feel like “too much and not the mood,” to use the title of Durga Chew-Bose’s book. I find myself wanting to nostalgically return to a ‘lost’ sense of delight in writing that I ‘used to’ feel. I should be writing. I should be loving every minute if I think I’m a real writer. Why can’t I? Who am I to call myself a writer? Who am I to speak for/of anything? 

The morning of that rainy afternoon when I went to the art fair, when I was still in my pajamas and looking out the window onto the bird feeder with the cardinal, I had a conversation with a dear friend who reminded me that I am a relational person, that I crave the realness and truth of life lived, not just life ‘studied’ or written. In college I took pride in being an academic, a philosopher. I liked that label and miss it sometimes. I wonder, would college Cassidy—being drenched in philosophy classes and academic conversations and writing—have more interesting and thought-provoking things to say about art, maybe specifically schulman’s art with all its linguistic-psychology undertones, than current Cassidy? Maybe. But also maybe the art may have not spoken the same way to me as it does now. 

So what is it about this art that resonates with my current doubts and longings and questions? Perhaps the unfinished movement of it. It makes sense in an un-academic, embodied, emotional way. I am both so grateful and at peace, physically, with where I am at in my life right now. I love my community in Chicago and feel called to be here. And I constantly feel on-the-brink—of what exactly I don’t know. I am confused about what I want, how I should be spending my days, what relationships I should be seeking/pouring into, if I’m somehow wasting my time or running out of time, if I’m being authentic, if I’m doing enough/being enough. All this, always blending and moving, the gratitude and the joy and the doubt and the questions. Big globs of pink, all loud in my head.

My therapist told me that when I start to think in ‘shoulds,’ like ‘I should write, I should be writing,’ to switch that thinking to: “I like to write, I’d like to write.”

The ‘philosopher’ is still part of me, but right now it feels like that means observing life closely, forming relationships slowly and truthfully, documenting with my breath and my journal. Paying attention, being quiet, trusting my voice. Reverencing and honoring all the contradictions, never seeking to trample life with words.

Seeing schulman’s art helped jolt me out of my head, my head so full of competition and insecurity about my own art/writing. Maybe this time of life is one of being politely shocked by the gifts I’ve been given, knowing I will never know it all or be totally confident or ready, but just having courage enough to create. 

Life has depths I sometimes only remember about when I write and make connections. Perhaps writing about life being lived is useless, yet it opens something big and squirmy and thrilling and no-word-exists-for-it inside my chest. When I write about the real world so equally terrible and beautiful I can’t help but feel like the uselessness of these words finds a tiny ounce of meaning in that they are coming from that inexplicable chest-place.

I’d like to write, I like to write welling up inside when a cactus blooms. That’s what it’s all about, to let the words flow from a place of I can’t help it, I love it all. “To believe in God,” reads my favorite quote by the poet Joseph Pintauro, “is to get so attached to everything that it can’t give you up.”

And so all this was swirling in my head when I saw schulman’s art at the Other Art Fair. When I left the fair and went back out into the gray drizzly city, I pulled my mask down around my chin and took gulps of fresh air, jittery with inspiration. I was thinking about schulman’s art and how I knew I wanted to write about it, I just didn’t know what I would say yet. And that is a feeling I hope I never lose, trusting my own creative process. I’d like to write, I like to write: the oracle.

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