Pictured right is an entry from one of Janice Lowry's journals. The artist has kept journals for her entire adult life. "It's the cheapest therapy a person can do," she says. - from Somerset Studio's Signatures: The Art Journal Collection
Talk therapy and trauma counseling aren't nearly as fasionable in Thailand as in LA, says Doc (his Thai name), a Thai national who returned to Thailand from LA to work at the Tsunami Children's Foundation. I'll share more about TCF some other time, but what's really fascinating is the myriad of ways people adapt to culture and navigate to what works.
Since psychotherapy was out, the arts stepped in to fill the healing gap.
Prabda Yoon, a Bangkok-based writer and screenwriter (most recently the 2006 Invisible Waves - and no it's not about the tsunami) was commissioned by the government's cultural ministry to write a post-tsunami book.
Drawing workshops ("art therapy") proliferated as a way to express the inexpressible, and Yoon himself led two: one in the ravaged fishing village of Ban Nam Khem and another at a school in touristy Kamala Beach. He writes with great empathy for the people before this critical, but honest, passage:
"It would be difficult to find an ugly artwork by a child. That is probably because when a children make art, they don't begin with an idea in their heads that what they are doing is "making art." Perhaps ugliness springs from ambition. It is that aimless, childlike spontaneity that Picasso tried so hard to recover and explore during the final years of creative life. The quality of children's art is that it defies all the annoying artistic ambitions held by most adults; the sorts of ambitions that turn art into making a career, or a self-serving, egotistical expression far removed from acts of creation inspired entirely by nature.
Even the children's depiction of the Tsunami's intimidating waves seemed somehow warm and optimistic. The drawings were about loss and in some cases fear, but no sense of hatred ever seemed evident in them. By comparison, the work of adults all seemed to try too hard to locate some kind of logic in the tragedy... Earthquakes and tidal wave, even the weather, are still mysteries to us. We know so much less than we ever want to admit. Only children, in their most spontaneous and instinctive moments, seem able to express this fact clearly." - Where We Feel: A Tsunami Memoir By An Outsider, by Prabda Yoon
Yoon's book was distributed free up and down the Andaman coast. It's a simple short book in both Thai and English that explores themes such as how people labor to make meaning out of the meaningless, Nature, ghosts, death, art.
At first I thought the small book was exceedingly simple. Yet I found myself digging up passages weeks later. Its simple language allowed it to be accessible to fishermen, laborers, juice vendors, divemasters and resort owners all alike.
I realized reading Thich Nhat Hanh's small 96-page book that clarity does not ring any truer in threading tributaries of words or in the sandbags of tomes.
The haiku ethic is striking a chord with me. I have this grandiose idea - grandiose as in one more project where the biz model isn't clear - of creating a small handmade art book/tsunami memoir. I'd incorporate punctuated fragments of blog posts and private journal entries, and a poem - maybe turned to prose - that's been marinating for a bit.
Maybe a fold book to echo an A-to-B saga dovetailing with a universal metaphor of 'path' and walking. Plumb the symbology of oceans and waves? Maybe sound is my metaphor: "Enlightenment hums in the heart as the pulsation of the universe itself" and Jack's "diamond sound of rich shh." Mix my metaphors and toss it all in? Translate to Thai, Tamil, Sinhala and Indonesian?
Ultimately I'm getting the urge to do sometime with my hands besides tapping a keyboard. I guess maybe it was something a cartoonist said at SXSW; he enjoys hand-packaging the books and T-shirts sent out to his fans. It's not a chore to be outsourced. It's that little extra personal connection. The human touch.
The brain may say go with a real publisher - but that's not the point - there's something about the handmade-ness, high touch and the art of DIY book-making that gut-instinct-sits-right-with-the-world.
- Arts and Healing Network's list of classes and workshops.
- This book, Cover to Cover: Creative Techniques For Making Beautiful Books, Journals & Albums, seems to be the definitive source on art-book-making. It's on The List.
- Bay Area Book Artists, The San Francisco Center for the Book, The Center for Book Arts (NYC)
- Creativity and Calamity, just missed this March 27th panel of artists that "incorporate political, personal, historical and global perspectives on natural and manmade disasters in their creative processes." (This panel is timed with the 1906 SF earthquake centennial coming up on April 18th.)
credits Artist journal page from Somerset Studio's Signatures: The Art Journal Collection; Japanese artist Hokusai's famous "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa", a small woodcut; fold book by bookmaker Kavra L.C. Jones'