ESACA & Self-actualization
Adapted from a lecture during Art Talk 6 at OCAD University on Dec. 16, 2016.
The ESA Contemporary Art program has brought me to a place where I not only feel that I understand myself better, but I also understand how I interact with the world, and what one’s purpose can look like. Which is a great place to be for myself, as I value efficiency and results, and the system we work within has been created with those being the very product of the work we do. It has exposed me to some of the most meaningful conversations I have ever been apart of, and forced me to make some of the toughest choices about myself I have had to make and allowed me to begin the path of self-actualization.
Some of you may be familiar with the humanistic psychological theories of self-actualization, which is the explanation for one’s motive to fully realize one’s full potential. This is something I have been interested in from a young age, and as I was never particularly religious, I have always wanted to find a way to reach my full potential and realize the truths of life. Self-actualization in itself creates a challenging paradigm where you are continually seeking the most true realization of yourself, which can only be ever-changing. A journey with no real end. This is why I find comfort but also challenge with the models of thinking that I talk about with my peers, we talk in softer terms of unconditionality, vulnerability, and empathy, a more fluid way of discussing the process of self-actualization. All of this is meaningless without personal information, which is where the biggest strides I have made lie.
I used to be a very guarded person. I was anxious, and scared of being vulnerable, because to me, vulnerability equalled weakness. Growing up I had been so ill-equipped to deal with emotional realities and the forces that impacted me. Advice, like being told to be the “bigger person” or to “brush it off” is really quite damaging. Learning how to dismantle that trauma and actually take responsibility for how I felt is one of the most powerful things I have ever been able to make part of how I function. Before these realizations I had built walls around myself, and was delusional in the way I thought about myself and my emotions. I didn’t let things affect me because I separated my so-called “true-self” from what I presented to the world. Any critiques were impacting my “outer-persona” in this delusion and by doing this, I subconsciously created a system to avoid trauma and avoid responsibility for my actions. This was not only damaging in the way that I conducted myself, but also defeated the purpose of having a defence mechanism like that at all. If people from the outside only knew that one version of me, then that was in fact the reality, any other version I thought existed, did not. In taking responsibility for my emotions, I have stripped away all false versions of myself and take one step closer to self-actualization.
Struggling with process and product has seemingly become a big part of this method for me. In my search for self-actualization, while making my work, and in the system we’re developing. My work has been primarily abstract, scanner-based photography that uses physical processes to change or interpolate source material. In the same way that I always sought what I thought was perfection with my distorted view of persona, I have been interested in the idea of perfection through my work and if I could ever create anything that was truly perfect. As I have taken responsibility for my emotions, I accept that I will not be perfect. So I needed to embody and undertake that personal yearning through my work. Aristotle described perfection as
• Which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
• Which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
• Which has attained its purpose
And so if I am to take that definition as law, I set out to see if I could actually make art that actually fit those categories. Is it possible to make truly perfect art? This led me to the process8-based work I was making. I set all my own rules and processes for the creation of my work, making it not a creative expression, but a set of commands being carried out. It exists only with those parameters, meeting the aforementioned definition of perfection. However these photos have been described as cold, and understandably so, this leaves me at a crossroads in my practise, do I stick to what I feel is right and technically perfect? Or do I cater to the opinions I hear and be perceived as “perfect”?
This had led me, through many conversations with friends, to make some fundamental realizations about myself. I learned through making the work I had made, and reflecting on my relationship with it, that I was not so much obsessed with this idea of perfection, but more so the idea of success and my role in that process. This will inform my future work, where I plan to build systems where I am both involved on a planning or process level and on a very tactile, involved level, a piece of myself that I was not previously giving over to my work. All of these realizations and personal progressions I have made would have been impossible without the support that is all around at ESACA.
As I mentioned before, I have always struggled with vulnerability. I had previously viewed it as a weakness, but being surrounded by a community where vulnerability is embraced, it has shifted it from weakness to power in my mind. Vulnerability can be a strong tool for expressing your ideas, persuading others, and making an impact. The vulnerable truth is much more convincing than a fabricated excuse or defensive tactic. This is one part of what makes our method’s system of thinking so adept to solving problems and dismantling trauma. Being as unconditional as possible is a key part in solving these problems both as a community and as an individual. By choosing to go all in, you make a commitment to yourself to be the best you can be for both other people and yourself. Throughout all of this, empathy is a crucial part of maintaining the humanity and making this so much more real. Applying these three principles to my own life and living them was the fundamental shift in how I operated and another important step towards self-actualization. In the context of traditional self-actualization, reaching spiritual enlightenment, the pursuit of knowledge and desire to give to society are considered to be fundamental and are reframed through these three principles in measurable behaviours, providing a framework for me to pour my energy into. Living this way, and placing value on these things has given me an entirely new direction. The truly powerful thing is being surrounded by others who are doing the same thing. This community has affected in ways I cannot describe. I have seen some of the remarkable things that I and others have been able to achieve just by living this. By focusing energy, and living in a fluidly within these elements, that effectiveness I crave is closer than ever.
Now all of this doesn’t come without any sacrifices. At first, I was scared of resentment, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to truly live by these three principles, that people would resent me for the energy I put into the things I do, and the way I act. I consider myself a very passionate person, and it has been hard to see the effort I put into things met with resentment, and it is so frustrating to know how capable everybody is, but not seeing them realize their capabilities. I think we are at such a unique place right now not only with ESACA but with the group of people we are surrounded with everyday, and it would be a shame not to utilize the energy we all are capable of delivering to everything we do. So, above anything else, I would ask all of you to encourage the people around you. Guide them, mentor them, be constructive with them, but don’t resent or shame passion.