“I hope art will help other people express themselves and help them get through tough times like art has helped me to do.” So said 10-year-old Chelsea Phaire on NPR’s Weekend Edition last Saturday. “Chelsea’s Charity” sends art kits to children in homeless shelters, foster care agencies, and hospitals, and was started about a year ago after Chelsea’s mom told the budding artist that she should try not to break the crayons in the elaborate art kit given to her by a family friend because “everyone doesn’t have these things, so I should be grateful.” Her charity receives donations from all over the world which have been used to deliver over 2000 of Chelsea’s art kits containing crayons, colored pencils, markers, smocks, paint, paint brushes, canvases, booklets and sketch pads to needy youngsters; Chelsea intends to reach children in every single state this year.
“It’s important for people to express themselves because we can’t keep our feelings bottled up,” stated the wise little girl. She related how she learned that art can help when you are hurting. “When my grandpa died and I was 4, I had drawn him a picture, and I had made him a little card, and I folded it up very small, and I put it in his pocket when I was at his funeral. And ever since then, I’ve used art to help me get through tough times.”
Many people creatively “express themselves” to “help them get through tough times;” often these creative expressions also bring joy and hope to others. During this era of social distancing, the Chicago Art Institute, a treasure trove of visual art, is among the many shuttered institutions sharing creative expression on the Internet and through social media.
A recent article entitled “Creative Filing as Joyous Creation,” talks about the fascinating, delightful work of one my favorite artists, Joseph Cornell, an assemblage artist who created boxes functioning “as poetic dioramas and intimate theaters — each one a small world unto itself.” Perhaps I relate to these little worlds because I remember not only storing discovered treasures in cigar boxes when I was a little girl, but also imaginatively creating my own imagined worlds within their confines.
Cornell filed his raw materials including typed and handwritten notes, bird feathers, newspaper and magazine clippings, postcards, marbles, watch parts, and on and on in carefully labeled storage boxes in his basement, then used these eclectic materials to compose poetic images in boxes that were usually also of his own construction. The self-taught artist is said to have been seeking a response to his creations that “emulated the pure wonder and guileless pleasure a child would have in response to a favorite toy,” and would occasionally lend out the valuable pieces to neighborhood children to play with.
The very first piece Cornell exhibited to the public was a soap bubble set, and the soap bubble motif appears frequently throughout his work. The Chicago Art Institute’s iteration of Soap Bubble Set features a pair of clay pipes, acquired by the artist from the Dutch Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and a reference to Cornell’s Dutch ancestry, and can be interpreted as “a self-portrait of a curious mind, evolving from childhood into adult intellectual exploration without ever abandoning the element of play.” Joseph Cornell’s unique expressions of himself continue to fascinate, providing joy to others long after his death in 1972.
In this era of self-isolation when no events are listed on our calendars, some of our time can be productively devoted to creatively expressing ourselves. We may not make lasting art, but we can express ourselves in our creations whether they be delicious food, inventive games, lovely gardens, newly painted walls, or daily diaries, poetry, and journals. We can also peruse the joyous creativity of others, finding inspiration in the worlds of wonder that surround us.