Nostalgia: from the Greek 'nostos' (return) and 'algos' (pain)
Earlier this summer, I decided to paint a series focused on childhood- particularly, the toys and items that were special to me when I was very young. I've spent a lot of time considering why my brain landed on this topic, so I've absolutely buried myself in all things nostalgic during the six weeks of painting this series. I read articles and poured over psychological studies, listened to music that I loved as a pre-teen, and rewatched every single Wes Anderson movie. I also began reading Susan Cain's newest book, Bittersweet. In it, she argues for the connective power of sadness in a culture that values positivity, when in fact many of us are more drawn to things like melancholy music and bittersweet stories. Through reading it, I finally understood why I needed to paint toys.
"Whatever pain you can't get rid of, make it your creative offering."- Susan Cain repeats this statement several times in the chapters on the connections between creativity and melancholy. The pain I cant get rid of, or one of them, is the pain of growing up.
I experienced nostalgia early and often. I grieved my childhood long before it was even over. I have a vivid memory of sitting on my bed at eight years old, and coming to the realization that when I turned 18, at least by society's measure, I would be grown. I remember doing the mental math quietly, then asking my mom, who was probably putting my infant brother's laundry away in the next room, if ten years was a long time. I felt a profound sadness when she said it wasn't. I had given her zero context for this question, so she had no idea why I was asking, of course, or what her answer meant to me. I realized then that I would put away my Lincoln logs and play doh one day, and then never play with them again. it probably wouldn't be a decision, and I wouldn't even know it was happening, but it was inevitable, and there was no controlling the speed at which this gradual and painful loss occurred.
perhaps that's a part of why entering adolescence can feel so lonely- maybe we are waiting for someone to acknowledge this loss, and all we really get instead is more responsibility, more homework, and the occasional "look how much you've grown!". even worse, by the time we are removed enough from childhood to actually miss it, we aren't convinced that our peers feel it as acutely as we do.
I think in my teens and twenties, I grew to view nostalgia as indulgent, and a waste of time and energy. now, I've started to feel differently. I think when I started painting all my old toys, I intended for it to just be a fun side project. Somewhere in the process, though, I've started to be energized by it. I feel more creative than I ever have. I think I've remembered what it was like to be small, to feel the freedom to play, and make art only using instinct. in moving toward the sadness and bittersweet, I've remembered what I loved about making art in the first place.