Monday #36: A Light Heart

Mural Pinot Picasso

This past weekend we attended the annual “Pinot to Picasso” benefit gala. It’s the big fundraiser for the Arts Council of Princeton where I am an instructor. It is also one of the few events for which I will donate art. In fact, everything at this event is donated to the council which features food by local restaurants and wine provided by one of Princeton’s area purveyors. Even the space is donated and, as usual, it was an empty office space in a corporate complex. The artistic staff at the arts council always turns this kind of space into an eclectic mix of the magical, quirky and industrial and I always look forward to being at this party.  This year, they did something they’ve never done–they set up one of the unfinished walls as a space for attendees to paint. A table on the side held plastic gloves and aprons so that no one would muss their cocktail attire and the floor in front had jars and spray cans of acrylic paint.


You can bet that I did not wait long to join in.


Even my left-brained, techy boyfriend grabbed a brush.

When I talked with O’Sheila, the staff member who was in charge of this little painting station, we marveled at how these big, collaborative projects morph rapidly with exuberant energy. In my work in schools and other public spaces, I have watched this happen with wonder each and every time. One person’s mark becomes the inspiration for another person’s mark. Colors and lines change. Spaces fill in. New images take shape from scribbly bits. When I am witness to these kinds of things, I always wish I had a time-lapse camera going.

Of course, in the beginning, it was just a big, blank, white wall waiting for the first person to put something down. Who wants to be that person? What will they put there? It’s a little bit of pressure, isn’t it? O’Sheila said the first mark of the evening was… a little heart.

I like that.

I like that because hearts are happy images that bring a notion of love, of joy. The heart-shape is a safe and easy one that always connotes something positive.


Hearts are a common motif in my own work and, at least I believe, they instantly render something lighter and more friendly. Even the quick and abrupt email or text with a “<3” at the bottom sends a lighter vibe.

But hearts, in reality, can be anything but light. Emotions of the heart are often sad, longing, regretful, unforgiving and heavy. In a recent conversation with my bestie, we talked of this heavy heartedness and, specifically, the unforgiving heart. This is, perhaps, one of the heaviest hearts. It is the heart that holds what it does not really want to and this load is often a burden to carry but we do it anyway, don’t we? Forgiveness. It is tricky business.

I’ve heard many metaphors to describe the unforgiving heart but the two that come to mind are the carrying of a large stone or the holding of a hot coal. When our hearts cannot let go, we are the sole bearers of the weight or the heat. As our muscles tire or our hands burns, the world goes on around us as we stand there with our baggage. In my own life, I see how this effort to carry these things takes creative energy away from our most important goals and relationships and puts it into things that are often unchangeable but that gladly suck that energy up like a hungry, black hole.

Letting go will lighten our hearts. It can happen, and beginning is as simple as imagining this for a moment: What would it feel like to have a lighter heart?

Because, if we lighten our hearts, one thought will become the inspiration for another thought. Colors and lines will change. Spaces will fill in. New images will take shape from scribbly bits. We can choose to believe this is all true.

And, I’ve seen it happen.

TRY THIS WEEK: Lighten up.

About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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