Why Every Artist Needs A Therapist

In 1892, John Franklin Earhart wrote a book called, The Color Printer: A Treatise on the Use of Color in Typographic Printing. The volume, essentially a manual for printers of the day on how to properly mix colors, is rather dry except for a number of exquisite color illustrations.You all remember the color wheel from kindergarten art class where we discovered that every color ever is some combination of the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow? 

Well, Mr. Earhart takes a little over 130 pages to make the same point.

What struck me about the book was how similar you and I are to the color wheel, and every other example Earhart displays. We're all, every one of us, made up of some combination of similar ingredients and it is our stories, our pasts, that define just how much of each color, how much saturation, how much contrast, how much brightness our lives hold.

Great therapy is like a color wheel.

I recently heard a talk by John Ortberg. About halfway through, he said something I haven't been able to shake:

"You bring to your work the person you are becoming."

It occurred to me that John Ortberg was making the same point as John F. Earhart, which is to say that we bring to the printing plate, and the art we make, and the world that we occupy, a very specific mix of colors and we must understand how these colors came to be. How were they mixed and in what proportions?

Unfortunately, most of us can't do this work alone.

Just like printers of the 19th century needed Mr. Earhart's manual to discern how colors were made and to help them understand what happens when these colors overlay one another, every artist needs a therapist to help them do the same.

Perhaps it is because I got my Masters degree from a school with the word "psychology" in the name, perhaps it's because I've been seeing a therapist of one kind or another since my parents divorced when I was a kid, or perhaps it's because I don't know of an artist I really respect who hasn't submitted to the often painful (but beautiful) process of self-discovery and self-awareness, I'm pretty sure I'm ready to go on record by saying:

You can't know who you're becoming - you can't know the colors that have defined you, without a lot of help. 

The core questions therapy asks are this:

What colors are layered within you and how did those colors come to be?" Put another way, "Where are you going and where did you come from?

These questions, if unanswered, will almost always end in ruin when we inevitably encounter crisis, pitfalls, sticky relationships, and the like.

The stories we tell, whether we know it or not, will always be an expression of the people we are and the people we're becoming. The stories we tell today will always contain every single color and hue of each and every story that has come before it. And it is only by understanding these past stories and the colors that have made up our tragedies, romances, moments of hilarity, humiliation, surprise, and suspense, that we begin to understand how to tell new stories in meaningful, beautiful ways, and colorful ways.

If someone isn't helping us understand the colors that have made up who we are, we'll never be able to do the work we were made to do.

"It has been the aim of the author to produce a work showing, in a measure, what can be accomplished with common colors, by printing over one another…" - John F. Earhart, The Color Printer

The examples throughout the book stunning. Layers upon layers. Colors upon colors.

Like Earhart's manual, you need a guide to help you get back to the basics; to unravel the make up; to discover the stories that created the colors.

The work of the artist is to tell great stories by painting an unfinished world with extraordinary color.

The work of the artist is to create art which shows what happens when stories (and colors) combine.But first the work is to understand what colors (and stories) have painted you.

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