Sarah Davenport AKA Davs
The Art Of Weakness: Surviving Mental Illness Through Art
I am so weak. Everything affects me, everything. I have never forgotten the time I salted a slug, then ran to get water when I realized what I had just done. I cried when I saw my son catch a fish, because I could see it dying.
People often tell me how strong I am, because of the things I’ve gone through. But it’s not strength. My weakness keeps me going.
My inability to cope with all the world fuels a desperate need to express my weakness. I do it through art, music, writing, and attempted comedy. I need to be understood, I need connectivity, I need to be an open book.
My weakness drives me. My weakness ruins furniture and purposefully hacksaws self cut bangs. My weakness bleeds oil paint, pushing colors around until I lose myself in a place where weakness can shine. I feel time suspend itself and dive into a photograph moving angles and distorting images, manipulating them until I can visually see my weakness reflect through the altered reality of a fraying thread.
I need people to know I’m weak and that it’s ok. Humanity is evolved, this isn’t the wild animal kingdom. There is a place in this world for people like me. My weakness forces me to be a voice (however so small) that speaks for others who can not reveal their weakness in a society run by wolves. I need justice by way of acceptance.
I strive for acceptance by attempting to prove that weakness can be beautiful, and strange, and scary, but most of all, human.
My art isn’t about image, it’s about emotion. Feelings unexpressed, or feared, dreamed of, wished for, reveled in. My weakness allows me to spill myself, like a thousand slivers of shattered glass, jagged and painful, yet shimmering and translucent like fairy dust. I want to be who I am, I want to be imperfect, and awkward, and weak enough to cry over spilled milk. And I think a lot of people do too.
~Sarah Davenport 2014
Below is a little virtual tour of my art exhibit. The writings between the photographs are excerpts of thoughts on mental illness and why I paint.
Thank you to the LCSC Center for Arts and History for featuring my work, special thanks to Debi Gallion Fitzgerald, >>>Kelsey Grafton for curating a beautiful show, Amanda Gill, and >>>Sarah Reaves for working for no pay on the interactive display to enhance the experience.
Check out my PLEA for people to attend the opening HERE
View a glimpse of the interactive display HERE
Watch Depression On Sale HERE
Watch my flippant intellectual copyright thievery. Introducing Sarah Davenport playing two lead roles in Jonathan Safron Foer’s: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close HERE
Watch my oldest son dance at the show = because he’s awesome HERE
Everyone has been absolutely wonderful. THANK YOU.
Shout out to Stacy Streeter who handmade all the frames for the canvas panel paintings:
I have no method for perfection or success. I don’t have a picture in my mind of what I’m about to create. I move the brush with my mood. I push color until it forms it’s own identity.
A blank canvas gives me the fear. It’s all the expectations, and pressure, and worries in life on a textured white surface. It’s mental purgatory. But derision becomes equanimity when I let myself go.
When I make art I fall into a fugue. Physical forgotten. Time suspends and becomes a blank slate for me to scribble all over
I could just be smearing colors into grey, that’s what’s so I enticing. I can do anything I want, there are no mistakes. I let go, fall in, explore. And then come back home.
My art isn’t about image it’s about how it makes you feel. That’s all. The image is just a portal.
I don’t name my paintings, because I like possibilities. I want the viewer to give it their own name, see and feel it in their own way. I’m releasing the moment in which it was created and giving it to you. It’s yours now.
“How are you?” “I’m fine.” “How are you?” “I’m fine.”
If I told someone “I had a headache” they would ask if I needed ibuprofen.
If I told someone “I’m depressed.” They would say sorry, and avoid me until I’m in better spirits.
Would someone get a headache because I told them I have a headache? No.
Than why does my depression damper the mood? I understand people being empathetic. But truly, no one can catch my despair like a contagion.
We’re taught, emotions that differ from contentment are meant to be private… As if they’re a sort of dirty laundry. Why is it awkward to be honest? What’s wrong with reality that we can’t say how we really feel?
The more I openly, honestly, and freely express myself, the more control I have over this wild mysterious thing inside me.
My bipolar life in 7 stages:
1. Can’t find shoes
2. Frantically searches
4. Goes barefoot
5. Steps in glass
6.Finds shoes in most obvious place
7. Repeat *1-6x a day
When I’m depressed, panicked, anxious, manic, or experiencing altered realities I need to to talk about it. Allowing it to consume me, that’s when I go crazy. That’s when I really lose touch with reality. When I am floundering, there is no out of bounds in my mind. I will create looping scenarios, wild and often traumatic, that play continuity to the point of inability to function.
Please be aware that people with mental illness are not always experiencing symptoms of their illness. I am not constantly in emotional chaos. Most often I am very rational and logical. But keeping myself even like so, is a walk on a never ending tightrope made of hills and valleys. If I miss one dose of medication, if something unusual happens, if something triggers me… I walk the tightrope down the hill, and sometimes get stuck there for days. But there can be weeks where I’ve climbed the tightrope up the hill and am even again.
Listen though; no matter how deep and far into a valley I may go, I’m still here, I’m still valid, I’m still worthy of respect.
Verbalizing emotions enables logic to enter the paradigm. In a society that welcomes honesty, we could speak candidly about our real emotions, and in return feel less isolated, we shouldn’t have our realities swept under the rug because they don’t fit into a Fabergé egg.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say “he/she’s bipolar” and watched the affect of that statement turn the person in which they are referring to into a silent agreement that it is perfectly understandable to discredit and or disregard them as a human being.
I wasn’t able to talk about being bipolar. To admit that sometimes I can’t barely brush my own hair, wish to go to sleep and never wake, blackout meltdowns, racing thoughts, grandiose daydreams, and ideas, until I got help.
I don’t think, if I were out in a traditional workforce that I would feel free to reveal anything at all.
There are millions of us, who really do need psychiatric medication to function on a daily basis. One important step to fighting the stigma of mental illness is also to fight the stigma of taking medication for that illness.
Would you ask someone with diabetes to stop taking insulin? Than why are psych meds a joke? Why do we laugh about ‘happy’ or ‘crazy’ pills? I’ve never heard jokes about insulin. Why would one question a clinically depressed person about taking an antidepressant, or a severe bipolar, or schizophrenic why they take anti-psychotics? Yes eat raw, juice, cleanse, positive thinking, those are all nice, but truly for many of us they are not enough.
I’m so tired of people believing that I’ve fallen for the conspiratorial Big Pharma scam and “given into” taking prescription drugs. Yes, I’m aware Big Pharma is corrupt. No, I don’t like it. But I have to do what is necessary to keep myself safe > from myself.
Have you lived my life, and watched me day by day? Are you the mother who watched her ten year old kick in a car window shield, with stop motion memory of kicking it in? Her eleven year old try to kill herself. Her twelve year old dress like Lolita hitchhiking around town with strange men? The numbers go higher, friends.
And that was tame.
Is it that prescription meds are a crutch, are we over medicated, am I mentally lazy? Or possibly… just maybe, is it that we don’t want to face the fact that the brain can have a sort of arthritis, or Crohn’s, or cancer just like one’s physical body. Yes positive thinking, exercise, eating whole foods are all helpful but my brain has an illness, there is no cure. And I am tired of people thinking I’m a fool for not gambling with my glimpse of stability.
I’m pro-homeopathy, but I simply can not afford to play around with my sanity. Big Pharma doesn’t care about me. But my doctor does, and I trust him, that he wouldn’t prescribe me something that to his educated mind would hurt me. Some people can, indulge in natural herbs and such, and I’m happy if something works for them. I wholly accept what works for others. Can others finally accept what works for me?
I feel, by saying I’m depressed; I’m downplaying the realities of how I actually feel. When one is depressed don’t assume that they’re “just” depressed. When I’m depressed, I’m not just sad, and sulky. I’m drowning, I’m suffocating, I’m torturing myself. A ghost whispers reasons for why everyone would be better off without me, haunting my thoughts, overshadowing rationality.Why is therapy useful? Because it provides professional guidance. Why should everyday people listen to a friend gush about feeling hopeless? Because to be genuine is to accept all facets of our being. It enriches relationships, garners honesty, trust, and when it comes down to it, it punches holes into the wall that may be crushing your friend.
In my personal experience 90% of people who deny the validity of mental illness are mentally ill, that’s not meant to be an insult. The other 10% are either lucky enough to have never knowingly crossed path’s with it… or use disbelief as a coping skill, because they don’t want to face that sometimes all the positive thinking/prayer/mind over matter/self discipline can’t even out the chemicals in our brain.
Please don’t write us off with a simple declaration “crazy”. We go deeper than the flip of a wrist. We’re fighting hidden battles. If your significant other had the flu would you make them soup? Bring them Kleenex? We have the flu, but it’s in our brain. And nobody ever brings us soup. We’re people who are trying to navigate society with chemical imbalances that cause anything from heightened emotions, to hallucinations. We’re not crazy.
How stigmatized is mental illness in 2014? I’m considered brave for talking honestly and openly about something that one in four, about 57.7 million Americans live everyday. Just think about that.
I appreciate kind words and understand, when someone tells me I’m brave they’re showing support. There’s no offensive in using that word.
But the truth is, I’m not brave at all. I’m desperate, for me, for others, sick of being silenced, and frantic for change. I’m not brave, I’m weak, I’m in the eleventh-hour. Managing mental illness is still on the back burner of social priorities. People aren’t getting the help they need and that’s at the front of the line for a myriad of societal downfalls. We need education, resources, ongoing open dialog, compassion, and understanding.