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Radical Joy

“There is no joy in the rectangle, the triangle, the square, I try to create with shapes that are friendly. I try with my work to give a positive feeling, something opposite to the news” - Gaetano Pesce


If you'd like to read this August 2022 article in its original format along with all the illustrations please follow this link: https://conta.cc/3TEDe0I

What a wild, strange and weird reality we are living in right now!

My conversations this month have circled around fear - of climate change, of civil war, the end of times, world war, inflation, depression, homelessness, doom scrolling, drought and disconnection from nature.

For many of us disorder appears to reign.

Large and small offenses without consequences have created the impression that rule breaking is the norm rather than the exception and a sense that lawlessness will only increase.



It depresses me to know that more than half the world’s population now lives without access to nature in rigid boxes that are more canvases for the display of status, ideology or brand identity, than spaces for the cultivation of joy. Work has become about endless productivity gains, rather than the joy of craft or creation. School has become a push for achievement rather than an exploration or an adventure.


Bland good taste is associated with safety, with righteousness, with a disciplined form of goodness that suppresses our childish love of color and play in favor of a monotony of sharp corners, harsh lighting, lifeless gray beige and institutional drab dullness.

It’s no wonder you and I feel pushed down. When we’re stressed or anxious we are less tolerant of ambiguity and risk, which in turn makes us more likely to reject ideas that are strange, offbeat or new and hold onto old rigid ways of being.

It feels to me like the joy is being squeezed out of daily life and that our culture has declared joy to be superfluous - the icing on the cake rather than an integral part of the cake itself.

What would it be like for us to face our fears, and feel them all the way down to the abyss of powerlessness?

What if we surrender to our grief and let it

spread all the way to our toes and wiggle it out?


Could you sing into your pain? Could you create the silliest song you ever sang?

What if you paint your rage bright red and splash it with glitter?

What would it be like to dance with the great bear of your fear?

Could humor, curiosity, creativity and contradiction interrupt the rigid framework of what Margaret Thatcher called TINA (There Is No Alternative) thinking?

Joy is a high energy form of happiness characterized by the intense momentary experience of positive emotion, one that can be recognized by certain telltale signs; smiling, laughing, and a feeling of wanting to jump up and down.

Joy evolved for the express purpose of steering us toward conditions that encourage us to flourish. We feel joy most strongly in the presence of nature, rich colors, abundance, in community, in celebration and surprise.


Think of the last time you were suffused with joy.
Where were you?
Who was there with you?
What was happening?
Chances are you were feeling healthy, abundant, connected and enlivened.

The drive toward joy is synonymous with the drive toward life.

Joy has the power to free us from the rigid f

ramework of our physical and mental environments.


My inspiration this month came from the book “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness” by Ingrid Fetell Lee.

If you have the opportunity I highly recomm

end that you spend some time with all of the research and insights in this book. I couldn't put it down.


Ingrid identifies nine aspects to the power of joy; energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration and renewal. Each of these categories has its own aesthetics, vibration and opportunities to add more joy to our surroundings.

One or more of these aspects will resonate with you and may provide you with some inspiration for ways you can bring more joy into your life, your surroundings and your art.


It can remind us that nothing is irredeemable in this world, nothing so ruined it is ever beyond hope. The things that bring us joy open our hearts, our minds and bring us back back to life. Even the smallest efforts to share our joy have an infectious quality that can begin an upward spiral that elevates us, our homes, our neighborhoods and our communities.

The energy of joy is vibrant, colorful, invigorating, exuberant, enlivening and dynamic. Joy is twirling, skipping, giggling, and dancing. Bright vivid colors animate music festivals, fairs, parks, parties and playgrounds.


Color pulls joy to the surface. Consider how we associate color and feeling in our language; we are caught in a black cloud, feeling blue, our life is golden, we are green with envy, in the pink, lighthearted…

Color and light have an alchemical relationship. Light energy is color's power supply. Our eyes cannot perceive color without the vibration of light. Each color has its own frequency and our eyes can only see a limited range of the color spectrum even in the best light. At night they say, all cats are gray. Their true color never changes but we cannot perceive color in darkness.



Over millions of generations of evolution, bright saturated color so reliably predicted nourishment that it became intertwined with joy. Color gives a vibrancy that lets us know our surroundings are alive and can help us to thrive.

Johannes Itten, the German colorist said this “Color is life; for a world without color appears to us as dead.”


Light and color also have a profound effect on behavior. In a study of nearly a thousand people in Sweden, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and the UK people working in bright, colorful offices reported being more alert than those working in duller spaces. They felt more joyful, interested and confident than those working in drab buildings and offices who reported feeling restless and unable to concentrate.

Teachers and students say they feel safer and attend with more regularity in brightly colored schools. In a study of elementary schools, students in classrooms with more light learned faster in reading and math.

The flourescent blue light of most office buildings resembles a cold and cloudy day and interferes with our perception of warm colors. Notice how these solid, unchanging indoor environments drain your energy.



Last month when I visited my ob-gyn I noticed how the whole office was designed to be cold and sterile rather than welcoming. The lights are cold, flat & blue, the wall colors and the cushions are dark green and black. Everything is rectangular. All the paintings were old and faded and sunlight entered only in the lobby. The staff were nice enough but hardly warm and welcoming. I imagine that it feels depressing to work there and the turnover must be high. It made me want to redesign the whole space for them and add some joy.

Hospital patients assigned to sunny rooms

are discharged sooner and require less pain medication than those in rooms with less light. Variable sunlight is best, but broad spectrum artificial light has been shown to alleviate seasonal depression and can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Bright light can even reduce both depression and decline in Alzheimers patients.


For brighter more energized space, or painting, consider reducing dark, light-absorbing colors and infusing bright warm colors like yell

ow and orange in shadowy corners or adding small pops of vivid or fluorescent color for more warmth and life. The shape of joy is curved and flowing, soft, organic and enveloping.


Abundance is overjoyed, brimming with happiness, lushness, sensory overload. Abundance awakens all of our senses. It is small things repeated many times, like confetti, sprinkles, glitter, pattern, rainbows, fields of flowers, buffets, jelly beans, candy stores, farmers markets, shopping malls, sparkling lights, polka dots and stars.

Abundance is the opposite of impoverishment and it tells the story that we have more than enough energy and vitality to share. Adding layers of patterns, dots, stripes, bouquets, etc. enhances the fun for both artists and viewers

.


Freedom is unconstrained. It is open spaces like fields, lakes, parks, gardens and beaches, wide blue skies, forests and connection with nature.

Contact with and views of the green natural world relieve stress and have a restorative effect on our minds. Access to nature improves sleep

quality, decreases blood pressure and lowers depression and anxiety.


Did you know that more Americans visit zoos than attend professional sporting events?

Artistic motifs for freedom include landscapes with wide open vistas, sunrises, sunsets, sailboats, soaring birds, verdant greenery an

d loose curvilinear mark making.


Consider where you feel most unrestricted; is it sleeping under the stars, riding in a convertible, skinny dipping, out in a boat, at sunrise yoga?

Harmony and order suggest the presence of an animate force and the smooth flow of energy that order creates. Our brains release the pleasure hormone dopamine in environments with enough complexity for us to identify patterns, connections and correlations.

Disorder gives us a feeling of powerlessness and anxiety while order is the tangible manifestation of unseen harmony working to sustain us.

Harmonious environments are stable, complete and inclusive. They are characterized by symmetry, rhythm, and balance. There is har

mony in a circle, no hierarchy in a round table. You might employ circles, complex geometric forms, grids, bilateral or fractal symmetry to invoke the energy of harmony.


Play is our greatest means of accessing delight.

Play allows us to practice giving and taking, empathy, fairness, flexible thinking, problem solving, resilience, imagination and frolic. Think back on your favorite childhood games and toys. Did you save some of them? Do you have a special collection of “Joy Toys” that make you smile just to look at them?

Some examples of joyous play might include hula hoops, kiddy pools, bubbles, balloons, balls, googly eyes, squiggles, splotches, splats, gooey, giddy, giggly, stretchy, bombous, bulging and other organic forms.

Our mind associates curved forms and oversized eyes with safety and positivity, they send the message that we are operating in the world of imagination where spontaneity, whimsy and silliness prevail.





Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play says “The opposite of play is not work, its depression”.

Play is something we do solely because it produces joy, it can be the ideal reset button when we are feeling blocked or blue.

When you wish to reverse the constant feedback loop of anxiety, failure and fear nothing beats the power of surprise.


The expression of surprise is closely related to the expression of fear; wide eyes, dilated pupils and an open mouth prepare the body to react to a sudden threat.

Surprise redirects our attention, alerting us to an unpredictable gap between what’s happening in front of us versus what we had anticipated. Surprise engages us in the contradictions between the strange and the familiar.

The unforeseen pleasure of surprise incites curiosity, invites exploration and increases the chances that we’ll interact with others in ways that keep the positive vibe flowing.

Surprise welcomes the weird and the whimsical, it is the antithesis of restrained good taste, plastic flamingos, giant balloon animals, pinatas, mystery vacations, colored linings inside drab coats, Easter eggs, yarn bombing, pothole gardens, tiny fairy villages, tree faces, Jack in the boxes, towering sculptures of ordinary

objects and pop-up cards all encourage us to approach and engage with the unexpected.


Surprise has the power to puncture our worldview and force us to reconcile new information with previously held beliefs.

In this state of joy we are more likely to accommodate a fluid and accepting mindset.

Like surprise, the joy of transcendence is a wondrous shift in perspective from the mundane to the elevated.

Transcendence lifts us up from the pull of gravity to the feelings of walking on air, on cloud nine, swept off our feet, in high spirits, elevated to a place where we see the light. Elation can be magical in its ability to clear our mind

s and open up the space for joy.


We find transcendence in mountain tops, canyons, tree houses, towers, cathedrals, skyscrapers, domes, Ferris Wheels, zip-lines, rockets, gliders, kites, balloons, and everything that floats or flies.

Transcendence is closely associated with the feeling of awe - a connection with divine presence where the sense of peace and purpose is so vast it is outside our usual frame of reference and overwhelms the senses. In transcendence our small self experiences a sense of oneness and euphoria that dissolves the boundaries of nationality and culture and is vital for giving our lives meaning and purpose.

As artists we can invoke transcendent joy using upward sloping lines, curvilinear movement, light, sky-like colors that shift in upward gradients, tall trees, a bug's-eye view and subjects that appear to soar and float.



Arthur C. Clarke, the great science fiction writer said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” We live in a moment where technology is redefining our world at a dazzling rate, making what was once impossible possible every day.

Have you experimented with the visual AI Dalle-E who produces images to match the phrases you submit? It looks like magic to me!


The joy we find in magic stems from a deep impulse towards expansion of the mind and the human condition. The realm of magic is the world of story where big dreams are within reach, enchanted creatures roam the earth, caterpillars transform into butterflies and where coincidences, luck, spells, and superheroes break the fundamental laws of physics every day.

When we find ourselves in situations rich in amb

iguity we call on magical thinking, superstition and even wonder. Wonder overlaps with awe when it ignites our curiosity about the boundaries of the world we live in.


In our love of rainbows, comets, fairy tales, unicorns, mermaids and elves is a belief that the world is bigger and more mysterious than we ever dreamed it could be.

Extraordinary magic surrounds us everywhere we look and as artists we can call on optical illusions, mirrors, mysterious lights, invented creatures, invented worlds, mirages, extreme magnification, iridescence, angels and other spirits to invoke the joyful possibilities of magic and make the world richer than we have

dreamed it to be.


The essence of celebration is that it is a participatory form of joy. Joy’s highest highs bring us into a collective experience of belonging and attunement.

Celebrations mark the pinnacles of joy in our lives; marriage, birth, harvest, growth, victories, new beginnings with ritual feasts, toasts, dances, costumes, bonfires, singing, kissing, embracing and the relaxation of societal hierarchy.

Sharing a group affiliation makes us more comfortable with less personal space and we exhibit greater trust in ourselves and in others. We are more likely to sacrifice for the benefit of others when our focus moves from our own needs to the needs of the group. Heart rates and movement synchronize in coordinated

song, dance, chant, and movement with the group.


The physical movement of celebration expands our bodies as joy courses from the center of our hearts to the ends of our extremities. Celebration is about the bigness of our feelings. Big objects signal the bigness of the emotions - giant cakes, parades, fireworks, tents indicate something different and important is happening in the life of a community. The joy of celebration magnetically draws others into our circle to join in our delight.


Celebration can also facilitate an ecstatic release of energy allowing latent emotions normally kept under wraps to emerge in communal catharsis and healing.

How might you expand your own circle of delight and celebration?

How can we use celebration to become more inclusive, unified and interdependent? Pay attention to the aesthetic cues at your next celebratory event - look for: garlands, glitter, disco balls, sparklers, tinsel, rhinestones, ribbon, ruffles, fans, pompoms, lanterns, feathers, inflatables, banners and streamers…

Out of destruction, renewal creates beginnings. The energy of renewal reminds us that every joyful beginning is also the end of something else.

We may be at the end of an era, the end of a way of life that is familiar and comfortable, but it is also likely that we are at the beginning of something new that just might be joyous.

The relentless drive of nature to endure and propagate reclaims every space where humans have lost interest. The great city of Troy

was only recently rediscovered, a magnificent tomb just uncovered in Egypt, The wreckage of Chernobyl now hosts the return of endangered wolves and lynx.


Environmental renewal is at the center of our attention every day. As we debate how to repair the damage we have done to our fragile ecosystems with our sprawling development and ravenous appetite for natural resources we need to also consider what else we humans need to thrive and flourish on this planet.

Without joy we may be surviving, but no matter how comfortable and well fed we might be, we are not thriving.

Can we follow the guidance of joy to things that animate, stimulate and sustain us?


The lesson of renewal is that from small seeds, big things grow. Even our smallest efforts, a single flower, a painting, a party, a mural might be the beginning of an upward spiral that changes a community, a neighborhood, a life.

In my search for ways to use my creative gifts to make the world a kinder, more hopeful place Ingrid Fetell Lee gave me many suggestions for creating a bright life raft of joy in the sea of negative thinking that often overwhelms me.

I love the idea that I can use humor, curiosity, creativity and contradiction to interrupt the pervasive gloom in the media and conversation and send up a signal flag of hope.


I think the most radical resistance we can offer to the anger, fear and anxiety spread by both the red and blue teams is living lives filled with as much joy as we can handle.

Would you like to join in becoming a Joy Ambassador - spreading a pandemic of color, fun and surprise? Let’s scatter seeds of radical joy and bring rainbows that swell into the empty spaces in our lives - blighted downtowns, oppressed communities, or hearts ravaged by loss.

Together we can manage joy in the opposite way that we manage money. Let’s spend it every chance we get!



Do you hear laughter? Do you have paint, glitter, music, and balloons? Let’s broadcast joy far and wide so others can join in. Because the more generous we are with our joy, the more we will have for ourselves.

We are here to see rainbows and to paint them, to be tickled and enthralled, to eat a second gelato with a sprinkly cupcake if we choose.

Let’s create art that lights us up inside. If you are already spreading radical joy please share your experiences with me. If you'd like to work with me to make your own life more joyous please reach out. I welcome the conversation.

With Light and Delight,

Susan


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