We live in an age of increasing synergy

We live in an age of increasing synergy

Art and Healing
by Heather Wardrop

“Right now, in 2015, art is being used for healing once more. Yes, it’s happening; and it’s part of a general movement in which areas of human interest and behaviors that were once separated into watertight compartments are coming together again. We live in an age of increasing synergy” said Margaret Atwood at the 23rd Adam Linton Memorial Lecture during the recent Ontario Medical Association annual meeting. At Walk the Arts we fully agree with Atwood’s statement. Moreover, during our June session of Studio Italia 2015, we had the privilege to witness the great synchronicity of life through one of participants, Heather Wardrop from South Australia. Almost simultaneously, Heather both registered for our art workshop in Tuscany and was diagnosed with cancer. Here is her story.

My world was turned upside down

Neither of us, me and my dear friend Joy from Cupertino, had a great deal of experience with painting, both reliant on the Internet, books and occasional classes to try to gain some knowledge. In September 2014 we decided to register for a painting workshop in Tuscany scheduled for June 2015. To attend a ten-day workshop in June 2015 was a real opportunity and challenge for us and we were excited about every aspect of what lay ahead: a dream location, the food and wine, art history. We were ready for it all.

But, shortly after registering and without warning, my world was turned upside down when diagnosed with lymphoma which demanded very aggressive chemotherapy. I adopted the “I can get through this” attitude although my heart broke. Would I see my beloved grandkids grow up? There were no guarantees that the treatment would work. The outcome was grim. The months, the chemotherapy treatments slipped by. I didn’t lose my hair, they fell out, and I still have it in a box! I became an expert at tying head scarves, I did not want to look like a “cancer sufferer on a journey”. I was fighting a battle and my family fought it with me!

The “what about the June art workshop” rattled in my head. Counting the weeks and months of treatment it would be a close call. Would I make it? Joy provided support only a true friend can, travelling from the United Sates to be with me. We painted together and we laughed and yes, cried together, but always the optimists, we continued with our planning. Joy would not let me lose sight of the workshop. Shall we take oils or watercolors? Neither of us had used oils before so another challenge for us; then working out how to get all the canvas paper to Tuscany! We started to have a play in oils neither of us not really knowing what we were doing.

My goal was tangible; I had nothing to lose, all to gain

Plans for Italy and the painting workshop kept me focused. My husband and daughter were fully supportive, encouraging me all the way even though worrying about me traveling on my own from Australia to Italy. In mid March my scan results were in, I was in “remission”. Still more treatment, but by May 7th all finished and I had the final go ahead. Nothing could stop us from reaching my goal, our goal. A personal trainer helped me with building my strength, I did any and everything I could to get myself to Italy. The treatment of lymphoma is no guarantee of longevity, each day is a day to be grasped and lived. I refused to have my cancer hinder my goal, my dream.

June 2015 arrived and we made it! We were in Italy, meeting our exuberant instructor (Yves) and our so expressive and beautiful chef (Mónica) and the intimate artist group, sharing their stories. I felt quite overwhelmed. There I was with like-minded people in an idyllic setting about to launch myself into what I hoped I could manage physically and mentally, let alone artistically. I can remember joking and standing up and saying “I am walking back to Australia!” And there were tears too as I told my own story of how important the workshop was to me in my battle with cancer.

From day one, when the paints came out, I knew I could embrace the concept of letting go, loosening up. I had no need to hold back, at last I had stopped worrying about “getting it right”. And I lost myself in my art. I felt like a sponge soaking up our instructor’s teachings. He kept setting parameters, we kept mixing colours on the palette, vigorously applying on the canvas; “scoop and apply” he kept saying “the light is fleeting!” I had nothing to lose, all to gain. There was so much more to the workshop: the art history lectures, our meals with Monica, the painting excursions to the wonderful destinations, Montepulciano, Cortona, Pienza; our trips to Florence and Assisi. And most important the friendships made not to be missed or forgotten. The 20 paintings were dry enough to be packed and we returned to our respective countries. From then it was up to me to remain open and to apply what I had learnt.

My goal was tangible! Yes!

Having my goal so strongly set in place helped me enormously as I worked through my treatment. If faced with such a predicament, consider well before cancelling a workshop before you need to.   I could have cancelled very early on, but focusing and visualizing myself in Tuscany pulled me through bad days and the tough times. I now feel empowered. Today, I have a new focus, a new goal: to prepare for my exhibition of plein-air paintings based on Australian countryside as I travel our beautiful and diverse country in our motorhome. Joy and I have planned further ahead to 2017 for our Provence art workshop, and still with Walk the Arts. Thank you Studio Italia!

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