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Still holding on

Updated: Mar 7

It might as well have been the holy grail. That's how excited I was to find the dusty anatomical heart model in a junk store just west of Nashville last year. There was no price on it, so I tried hard not to let the guy behind the counter know how much I wanted it. I got it for less than five bucks and ran out of the store before he could change his mind.

The model is a little plastic gem of an object. Packed with symbolism associated with the emotional side of being human, a heart can mean a lot of things: love, joy, passion, faith, pain, grief, courage, empathy. I could go on. For me it was a gold mine of artistic possibilities. 

But wait, not so fast.

The process of composing a still life takes a while and the longer I stared at the plastic model, the more distorted it became in my mind. It's a weird old antiquated thing, designed as a teaching tool to help explain how a real heart pumps blood and oxygen around the body. I'm not sure it's even anatomically correct. I started having a hard time finding the love and joy I had initially projected onto it. 

How did the heart become a shorthand for emotions anyway?

After a little Googling, I decided the best explanation is that Ancient Egyptians started looking inside bodies and noticed that veins, arteries and lots of nerves radiate outward from the heart, so they figured it must be the center of both reason and emotion. In later ancient times, the Greeks gave responsibility for rational thought to the brain, but passion continued to be linked to the heart. Fast forward to today and Cupid, the god of love from Roman times, carries around arrows with heart-shaped tips and we can't go a day without seeing a heart in a text message or Facebook post. 

We 'heart' people, places and things. We speak of having heart. Taking heart. Getting to the heart of it. We have heart-throbs and heartaches. We break our hearts. We lose heart. We use  hearts to express pretty much any feeling we have about any connection we have with anything. And that's a lot.

So in the end, my painting, Still holding on (pictured below) treats the heart like a container for carrying around our feelings and emotions. An enclosed space so small it could fit in your hand. After a while it has trouble holding everything. More keeps coming and how are we supposed to let go of what's already there?

A special thank you to my dear and very talented friend, Lori Beerman, for her insightful edits.


Still holding on,

Oil on linen, 36 X 30 inches

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