Few things truly have the capacity to significantly upset the established human condition, to grab and elevate human experience, which essentially reiterates millennia-old concerns. The complexity of the human spirit is only paralleled by its paradoxical simplicity – survival, status, happiness, legacy. These are notions that have defined and still direct human endeavour; these extraordinarily common goals of one's life are also one's heaviest burden. How do we keep alive, daily, despite our frail bodies? How do we attain higher positions among our peers? How do we even grasp with the clashing definitions of happiness, and how do we decide which one truly fits our life? And, perhaps hidden under layers of daily concerns, the question of what we leave behind us lurks undisturbed.
Where, in between these pillars of our existence, do we fit creativity and art? Creative expression presupposes the type of return to the self that sets aside societal needs. To create for its own sake is to make a dent in one´s life, in the time and space of one´s existence, and truly believe that it´s all worth the effort. The work of New York-based non-profit organisation RxArt is founded on this exact belief – that art and creativity is worth the effort, particularly because they bring healing and hope. Their mission is to engage visual artists in their efforts to help children heal. Their main work involves direct work in hospitals across the US, in projects that transform the presence and experience in these spaces.
This year, the organisation released the sixth edition of the RxArt Colouring Book, a project sponsored by Sies Marjan, a luxury ready-to-wear brand based in New York. The collaboration yielded the aptly titled Between the Lines: An RxArt Coloring Book, designed by James Harley with cover design by artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Produced as a gift for pediatric patients in US hospitals, the book puts together work by 51 established visual artists, including Ricci Albenda, Lauren Fensterstock, Julia von Eichel, Amy Feldman, and The Haas Brothers.
The idea of a colouring book designed to bring comfort and aid the healing process of people in pain is particularly relevant in considering the role of art and creativity at a more mundane level, away from the proverbial ivory tower. The artists invite a direct interaction with their designs, shifting the direction of participation between artist, artwork, and viewer. Reflection and most importantly self-awareness play a central role in the apparently simple act of colouring: one´s body and movements are fully engaged; thoughts and senses are anchored by this object which requires attention without limiting it. One of the obvious elements of a colouring book – the separating line – is enhanced by symbolism. To stay within the line or cross this border of objects depicted is a form of dialogue: with the artist and their choice of boundary, with the very nature of the depicted object, and eventually with one's self.
With Between the Lines, RxArt manages to intervene in the established network of existential questions and concerns we might be caught in. To the need of survival, they respond with an invite to consider the survival of others, as well. To the desire for status and happiness, they urge a reconsideration of expectations and definitions. To the individualistic efforts of leaving a legacy, they propose collaboration. In its scope, the book targets children and families who need healing; in its wider purpose, it is an example of what can be achieved when creativity meets humanitarian efforts.
Words: Elena Stanciu