Hang It On The Wall

I didn’t listen to music for two months. I hardly ate. I went for jogs along the water every Friday late at night because I couldn’t sleep. 

Painted sketchbook page, I referenced a Russian artist I forgot the name of

It wasn’t like I started painting girls crying or the silhouette of couples embracing. There was an old book from my parents that I had lugged with me to college. One of those massive, expensive books you can pick up at an art museum, full of glossy pages and photos of the art. I would pick a random page and try to replicate it on some canvas paper. No grids or tracing paper; no pressure for it to be good or accurate. It was mind numbing but in a good way, like legos, or a familiar movie. There wasn’t much thought behind it and it got me out of my head and into my hands. I bought thick brushes that needed to be held the same way you’d grip onto a glass bottle. I bought tiny brushes, the three small strands of which would fall off within a week because I was too rough with them. Painting got me into my nose; the smell of the oil paints was somewhat nose wrinkling, like fat turned solid in the pan after frying bacon, but with a less repulsive, animal quality. 

Heartbreak came at a time when I was already not doing great. I got a good kick in the pants, meaning, I started calling my parents more, I budgeted my money strictly, I showed up to work thirty minutes early every shift, I ate kale salads, and I tried to keep myself busy. It worked to some extent by keeping me out of bed and active. Yet I still needed something more.

Painting didn’t magically fix everything, and there was no intention to use it to “heal” anything. But there was certainly a meditative aspect to it. The colors, the lines, the physical exertion of blending and dragging, the little triumph of looking at a finished page and thinking “I am done and I did good”. A little pat on the back. Your roommate saying it looks good. Hang it on the wall and make the space a little bit more your own.  

Being treated badly by someone you are dating can deceive your emotions. Logically I knew it wasn’t about me, there was nothing I did to deserve being treated poorly, and it shouldn’t make me feel bad about myself. Logical and emotions are two very different things. Emotionally I felt this suffocating worry that I was failing at loving, at dating, at making people care about me. Painting was like a shining antithesis to these emotional notions. It didn’t matter that the paintings looked good to people around me. I only cared that it made me feel good at something. Every time I finished a page there was a little success, a little pit of contentment in my stomach. Proof I wasn’t failing in life. 

When I’d finish cleaning the brushes I’d feel hunger in my stomach. I’d go days picking at my food and eating only a quarter of my morning bagel. Bits and pieces here and there, only eating out of necessity. Falling in and out of love unfortunately goes straight to my stomach. But I swear, after closing the paint tubes and wiping down the last brush, I could go into the kitchen and heat up the leftovers, scoffing them down while post-mortem analyzing my work. Painting gave me an appetite. 

I can’t claim art fixes your life, only that when I was at my lowest it certainly picked me up and put me back together better than most things and people could have. I wonder if other people feel the same way.

Another therapeutic activity if painting isn’t your style.

Olivia Sully is a Junior studying English Literature at New York University. Olivia spends most of her school and professional life writing and reading, but she likes to decompress with her paintings.

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