Category Archives: ambiguous loss

Treating ourselves

…be easier on yourselves……Treat yourself.

says Pauline Boss, who named the psychological condition of ambiguous loss. (See The Art Caravan post about it here.)  She asserts that we are experiencing grief for our losses during this pandemic.  No kidding.  Some days- okay! many days – it feels like the world is spinning out of control.  (I think the phrase, selectively used by my mother and grandmother,  going to hell in a hand basket, is à propos.)

Dr. Boss also recommends that we acknowledge our sadness, stay in touch and be kind with others, establish rituals, and practise self care, as much as possible.

But be easier on yourselves and normalize it. Knowing that grief — those feelings that you described — are essentially normal.  So just take the day off, or do something easy on yourself.  Treat yourself.

Who are we to argue with Pauline Boss?   Exactly.

The Art Caravan offers Red Roses Sonata and Cherry Blossom Symphony by Alma Thomas as our treats for today.

Red Roses Sonata, Alma Thomas, 1972, Metropolitan Museum of Art, T. Vatrt image

I hope you can see this in person some day.   It shimmers.  It vibrates.  It’s mesmerizing.  It is remarkable.

Red Roses Sonata was an unexpected treat for me as I wandered one afternoon through the overwhelming abundance of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.  (You know the feeling: so much good art,  but dwindling energy, and the is it too early for a tea break thought?)  It interrupted the  mid-afternoon museum shuffle and my drifting attention.  It was a beacon of energy that demanded my focus.  I remember being almost giddy seeing it.

No surprise, really,  that I had never heard of the artist, Alma Thomas.  (We all know how much attention an African American woman of a ‘certain age’ garners.  sigh)  She was the first African American woman to have a solo show at the Whitney, in 1972.  In an interview she said One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there.  My, times have changed.  Just look at me now.

Her life is as remarkable as her work. She was a public school art teacher.  Upon retirement in 1960, she painted full time and produced an extraordinary body of work in the expressionist style.  The Smithsonian Magazine recently published a succinct article about her, with good images.

She is sometimes included in the color field or color school movements, although there is more energy and emotion in her work than is found in many of its practitioners.  Cherry Blosson Symphony is in the show The Fullness of Color: 1960s Painting  at the soon-to-be-reopened Guggenheim in NYC.  More visual treats by Alma Thomas can be found at artsy.net.

Cherry Blossom Symphony, Alma Thomas, 1972, T. Vatrt image

 

 

 

Art, ambiguity and loss

Like so many other things in our lives, the Art Caravan’s travelling schedule has been suspended, due to the pandemic.  Instead of bemoaning the specific shows we didn’t see this summer like  L. L. Fitzgerarld at the WAG or Katie Ohe at the Esker  (sigh…) we are going to think about  the work of Pauline Boss, a researcher, professor, author, and therapist who first used the term ambiguous loss in the 1970s.

Doc Snyder's House, L. L. Fitzgerald, 1931

Doc Snyder’s House, L. L. Fitzgerald, 1931

Sky Block, Katie Ohe, Esker Foundation, image by Elyse Bouvier

Ms Boss defines the two types of ambiguous loss:

a physical absence with psychological presence (eg. in situations of divorce, immigration, natural disasters, adoption)

psychological absence with physical presence (eg. dementia, Alzheimers’s, addiction, depression, mental illness, brain injury)

Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss

The On Being Podcast with Krista Tippett  (audio and/or transcript) provides a very good overview to Ms Boss’s research.  In her introduction to the interview Krista Tippett says You could say of 2020 that we are suddenly in a world of ‘ambiguous loss.’  The conversation with Pauline Boss is, indeed, …full of practical intelligence for shedding assumptions about how we should be feeling and acting that actually deepen stress precisely in a moment like this.

I particularly liked the July 2020 follow-up conversation between Ms Tippett and Ms Boss. This Living the Questions  (audio and/or transcript) segment is honest, affirming and, again, offers practical strategies for these strange and challenging days.

On Being podcast

In the spirit of Ms Boss’s suggestions for coping during the pandemic, The Art Caravan will continue with the ritual of bi-weekly postings.  We acknowledge the sadness and losses we sometimes feel. We will continue to enjoy fabulous, fascinating artwork, artists and ideas.  Now we have the luxury of time to share it with you.