The Power of Loss and Gain

 “Gain disguised as loss” is a potent artist’s tool. To acquire it, simply, brutally, ask “how can this loss serve me? Where does it point my work?”. The answers will surprise and liberate you. The trick is to mobilise pain as energy. The key to doing that is to know, to trust, and to act as if a silver lining exists if you are only willing to look at the work differently, or to walk through a different door, one that you may have balked at.” – Julia Cameron

Loss is a universal human experience, and we experience it frequently, in various dimensions. Big losses, for example: the loss of a loved one, a beloved pet, the loss of a job, or losing mobility or ability of senses as we get older. Smaller losses, such as the loss of time, loss of consciousness when we go to sleep, or the loss of a bunch of keys we had a moment ago in our hands.

Gain is more subtle: we need to be tuned in to see it, to find it.  It is often quite a challenge to see gain after having experienced a loss.

I am more concerned, however, with the seemingly-insignificant loss of comfort, i.e.  discomfort.  Just think how we are confronted with it every day: I feel cold, I battle to stay awake during a lecture or a talk, I have the wrong colour shoes on, or I become aware that my clothes are embarrassingly crumpled.  The food a host gives me is not to my liking, but I struggle through the meal, not to offend. I am bored, tired, restless, and itchy. I am uncomfortable, and I suffer from loss of comfort.

It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.                                                                                    – Joseph Campbell

A lot of what is wrong in the world today is the result of an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort, or loss of face: greed, abuse, judgement (seeing someone else as having less value than yourself), consumerism (got to buy the latest gadget to make your life easier, or buying the latest fashion to feel more secure about how you look).  Plastic packaging may make life easier, but it creates a devastating loss of the natural environment. Loss of animal species, such as rhinos, to produce bogus medication for the loss of virility – the list can go on and on, all as a result of wanting to ease discomfort.

Sitting with discomfort can have spiritual, creative, compassionate and life-giving benefits.  It can even create peace of mind. I have become curious about what happens when I allow myself to sit with my discomfort as a part of my artistic practise.

I have drawn the human figure throughout most of my adult life, as a part of my practice as an artist. I have often experienced discomfort whilst taking part in life drawing classes –  I’ve suffered from boredom, frustration, and lack of ability; as a result, I have become fidgety, tired, irritable and restless, to name but a few of my discomforts.


To deal with these feelings, I started playing games with myself to get through the session.  Games such as:

  • turning the drawing upside down and drawing the next pose over the previous one
  • crumpling up the paper before drawing
  • folding the paper concertina-fashion, and opening a section with each new pose, in order to have mismatched sections
  • tearing the paper up and reassembling it to draw over again
  • looking to see if I can discover different shapes in the figure
  • drawing the figure with horizontal lines only 
  • looking to see which lines show the movement in the figure
  • playing with dramatic contrasts of tone, etc. 

I can then stand back and discover the GAIN, the gain in the drawing, the enhanced expressiveness, and even the increased energy in my mind.  Often the loss (discomfort) disappears with destruction of a drawing, or with having a new vision from the discoveries I have made.  But the playfulness doesn’t always succeed…. the experiments may not work, the image may not ‘sing’. Which means I have to create new games in an attempt to discover the unknown, or I have to spend time looking and discovering what the drawing is telling me. I have to figure out what is needed, and how I can achieve it.  This process of going into the unknown is always uncomfortable, however exciting it may sometimes be.

This exhibition is a collection of work about losses and gains made through playful process. It is about being willing to abandon comfort, and to enter the unknown.  It is about the courage of the artist to open to discomfort, to not-knowing, in a search for authenticity, and a fresh take on what it means to be human. 

 It is a metaphor for the struggle of living, of trying to make sense of our lives.

– Hermine Coleman

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