What it means to care for oneself was a question often on my mind while on vacation this past month. I thought about how so often with the art that we love, our attachment has come about through periods of self-reflection and separation from our normal routine. Ironically, in the art world, it feels like we are regularly forced to make demands of ourselves that are counter to the artistic life—at odds with our creative spirit and the work we write about, talk about, sell, buy and promote.
I had not taken a real vacation in years. My philosophy had always been, “If you create a life that you love, then there is never a need for a vacation.” Planning, working and strategizing usually filled my trips to Saint-Tropez, Mexico City or Beijing. Although for a long time I had needed a real vacation, to surrender myself in the woods or beach, I never wanted to leave my daily life. It’s a life I have always thought of as pleasure and adventure; it is the art world, after all.
But something fundamental was missing. Something we often forget (though the dog days of summer tend to remind us) is that the simple act of separating from our social environment and daily life is not only healing and restorative, but has the power to be transformative.
When we incorporate a painting, sculpture or any artwork into our lives, the connection between the piece of art and ourselves needs to be authentic. The work must truly reflect our aesthetic energy or spirit. Choosing right requires us to be connected with ourselves—perceptive of what is intangible in our individual natures. Choosing wisely could meaningfully affect our overall sense of self and the living and working environment where we exist. After all, it’s been reported that appreciating a work of art stimulates the part of one’s brain that also processes pleasing smells, tastes, and sounds—sending a subconscious signal that “this is good for me,” and giving rise to an influx of positive emotions.
Art resonates deeply within us when the artist has been able to tap into what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious—that innate essence that transcends matter and is commonly shared by all of humanity. Most artists do this, in large part, by separating themselves both physically and spiritually from their world and going on a pilgrimage, often called “the artist’s journey.” Everyone needs to walk the artist’s path, to take real time off by going traveling and caring for the self before returning and reconnecting.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell details the hero’s journey across epochs and cultures in human history—stories like Odysseus, King Arthur and others have come to resonate and inspire us because they meet our need for truth, understanding and universality. Similarly, just like Campbell’s heroes, from time to time the artist takes a journey filled with rest, adventure, and play, and brings back a mind filled with symbols and creative works that reflect commonality in our human experience.
When we look closely into a Rothko, Dali or other masterpiece from somewhere in the world, the artwork can elicit a spectrum of emotions from its viewers ranging from joy to disgust. Much like Prometheus, who in Greek mythology brings the gift of fire to humanity, the artist brings us creative gifts that light the fire within us and could help us relate to one another, be inspired, or cope with the challenges and tribulations of daily living. This is what the right work of art has the potential of doing. Art speaks to us because it is a product of a deeper reality that exists, and that we share with one another.
Choosing the best, life-enhancing art comes from knowing oneself—from having clarity about our wants and needs and who we are or want to be as individuals. The best art buying decision-making comes from being in-tune with the self, something achieved by taking the time to truly listen to our inner voice. This is the reason why many of my collectors often make their best art purchases right after time off.
This summer, focus inward. On your return, you then can start building the most creative environment for yourself, and living authentically as the person you want to be. Take care of yourself. Go on a vacation. Take your artist’s journey, even if like Thoreau it’s only to a tent in your backyard.