Experiencing the Contrast of Life

We are in the midst of January. One way to combat the cabin fever of winter and the shorter daylight hours for those across the northern hemisphere is to turn to creative processes.

In 2010, during one of the worst blizzards in New York history, many people bundled up and went outdoors with their cell phones or digital cameras to capture the beauty of the pristine snow against the textured backdrop of the urban environment. Some captured the absurdity of humans struggling against Mother Nature in their fight to dig out and return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible.

Contrast often gets our attention. It can be very dramatic. Drama can cause a variety of experiences such as: awe, giddiness, fear, and sometimes shock.

Coping with an experience generally falls into three categories:

  1. engaging in the experience
  2. avoiding it
  3. overcompensating for it

After the blizzard, some people gave into the experience and engaged with the snow. Some people avoided it by staying away from the region or staying indoors. Others got caught up in the ‘expectation’ that the Department of Sanitation would handle what Mother Nature was delivering. When those in charge fell short, the situation heated up, not enough to melt the snow but in finding someone to blame.

The ‘unexpected’ can cause a range of feelings in humans, from joy to fear. The ways in which people cope are specific to them, to their early life experiences, their stage in life, and their future concerns. Most people had an experience flowing somewhere in-between. In some people the unexpected contrast of the heavy snow sparked their creativity. Others felt shutdown. In extreme cases their basic survival was threatened because support vehicles could not get down snow-packed side streets. Mother Nature is not fair in how she delivers her impact. She just does. Just as a bobcat in the wild does not discern which animal to take down for its next meal, Mother Nature spares some and hits others hard without reason.

In art, the contrast between the dark pigment of charcoal against light or absence of pigment on paper can create drama that is compelling to the eye. The self-portraits of Kathe Kollwitz and Egon Schiele are good examples of this. In Kathe Kollwitz’s work, drama is created by the contrast of not only the pigment but of the pressure applied to the paper, and the use of contrasting line to define and imply action or the lack of it. In Schiele’s numerous self-portraits, intensity is created by the placement of thick, dark, lines which define and the almost absence of pigment in other areas. Schiele’s self-portraits express his willingness to expose himself literally and figuratively on paper and canvas. If you Google an ‘image’ search for Kollwitz or Schiele and self-portraits, you will find very expressive examples of contrast in: texture, line, form shape and subject matter. You may find the experience exhilarating. You may find some of the artwork off-putting. The art may trigger feelings like the snow did for many New Yorkers.

In art, as in life, all drama or complete void cannot be tolerated for too long. The experience would be overwhelming. Many people have had an experience of contrast that shakes their lives and shapes them forever, for example: the profound loss of someone or something, a traumatic experience, relationship issues, a sense that something is holding them back from living fully, or an expectation that life has let them down. Uncontrollable anxiety that flares up and takes over, or depression that has an emotional base so deep that it limits the simple pleasures in life are indicators that life is being coped with rather than lived. Most of life is lived in the flow somewhere in-between contrasting poles of drama and void, in the blended parts of life where life is fluid, where creativity and hope are accessible.

© Copyright 2011 by By Barbara 'Basia' Mosinski, LCAT, ATR-BC, MA, MFA, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ricky P.

    Ricky P.

    January 7th, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    Life is full of ups and downs…Although we may try and make our own decisions about whatever we can,there are some things we have no control over,like the blizzard…It is best to make food use of whatever the situation…Yes,a rainy day may ruin your plans of some outdoor play,but it also gives you the opportunity to grab a cup and watch the rain outside from the window…!

  • Pauline

    Pauline

    January 8th, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    amen Ricky P!

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