by Keri Phillips
I was visiting Manchester and, whilst walking along King Street, took a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit the recently opened George Thornton Art Gallery. I should also add that calling into art galleries is a rare event for me. However, on this occasion, because I had been getting lost in the early drafting of this paper I thought I would go somewhere a bit different, but without any particular hopes or expectations.
I had a really interesting conversation with the person responsible for greeting visitors, Desiree Estrada Pinero. She is a jewellery designer who also works at the Manchester Craft Centre. We discussed creativity and she said that during the lockdown she had found it very difficult to produce anything. She profoundly missed her routine of getting out, catching up with friends over a cup of coffee. She also said that this was in contrast to some of her other artistic colleagues who had thrived during that time, being highly productive, some even more so than before.
I then went downstairs to the rest of the gallery. I was particularly struck by this picture, entitled Thou Art in Heaven:
It seemed to capture one of the key themes which, for me, had been evident in response to the pandemic; namely the reassessing of what had previously been fundamental truths. When I went back upstairs I began again talking to the jewellery designer, including my reaction to the picture. At the back of my mind the idea of including the picture in this paper began to form, along with wondering how to get permission from the artist, Matthew Leak. At that moment, the artist himself walked into the gallery and the three of us spoke briefly together about the impact of the pandemic. As I was preparing to leave I asked for his permission regarding including the picture in this paper and he happily agreed.
In reflecting on my visit, it seemed to embody some of the points which I had been planning to convey in the paper. First, as already mentioned, this is a time which has for many triggered a reassessment of some important and on occasion fundamental truths. I am also aware that there may well be many others who would see the picture in a totally different light. Recalling the moment I first saw it, it was almost with a sense of relief that I felt that the meaning had leapt out at me. Desperation for meaning might be another sign of these times. Also Philip Stokoe suggests that in times of massive anxiety we are particularly vulnerable to false meaning (Stokoe, 2021). It may become more important than the truth, however defined.
Certainly the search for meaning can be fundamental when grieving the loss of a loved one. ‘In the aftermath of life-altering loss, the bereaved are commonly precipitated into a search for meaning at all levels that range from the practical (How did my loved one die?) through to the relational (Who am I now that I am no longer a spouse?) to the spiritual and existential (Why did God allow this to happen?). How - and whether - we engage these questions and resolve or simply stop asking them shapes how we accommodate the loss and who we become in the light of it’ (Neimeyer and Sands, 2022: 11). Similar questions, though with less intensity may be raised regarding other losses which do not involve bereavement but are nevertheless intimate. ‘…….we ‘hold’ beliefs, and letting go of a belief is painful, it is a loss’ (Stokoe, 2021: 50).
Also my conversation with the jewellery designer regarding the highly variable impact of the pandemic on people’s creativity was a powerful reminder that there has been some ‘good news’ as well as profound challenges and pain. I have therefore sought to bring such balance to the points I later make.
My concluding reflection at this stage on my spontaneous visit to the gallery is that it was entirely a ‘gift from the universe’. As mentioned, I had already started the early drafting of the paper, but I then went into limbo. I was not sure when, whether or how to proceed. My chance visit to the gallery helped me move forward.
Click here to read the full paper by Keri