The Question that Changed Everything

I’d imagine that people become artists because they just know that’s what they have to do – and it’s all passion and talent and skill rolled into a burning desire to do nothing else.

Not me.

I became an artist by accident.  It was a strange journey, via the Medical Sciences, full time motherhood, a long stint in the performing arts followed by a few years of debilitating illness, a move to the country, and then, equipped with three (non-art) degrees and several (non-art) professions, I finally started studying art…

But we’re jumping ahead. About a year before I got to that point, I recall a ‘changing moment’ in my life. Of course I didn’t recognise it as such then.

I had been ill with severe chronic fatigue syndrome for some time and was sitting with a yet another doctor in the hope that he would be able to help make me better. After the usual medical stuff, he leaned forward and looked intently into my eyes, for what seemed like a ridiculously long time. Just when I was starting to feel decidedly uncomfortable, he sat back thoughtfully, and said:

“Malini, do you have an outlet for your creativity?”

‘What an odd question!” I thought.

I mumbled something, a little annoyed at his (rather non-medical) intrusion into my private life, and promptly dismissed the whole event. In fact, I took at as a sign that here was yet another GP that couldn’t help me and I never went back to see him.

Fast forward a few years.

Seeking the proverbial sea change, I took myself and my family to Albany, a beautiful coastal town in the South-West of Western Australia. There I took the plunge and enrolled in art school. It was exhilarating! So much so that I keep thinking, “So this is why I was such an appalling scientist!”

Remember that feeling when you fell in love for the very first time? That’s what it was like. Making art was all I could think about – first thing in the morning, last thing at night. It was a beautiful and all-consuming feeling. It was almost a struggle to do anything else. The year I had my first solo exhibition (while I was still a student), was the year I remember thinking “I’m well.”

Of course, it wasn’t just making art, a lot of things had changed to make me well but really, that doctor was on to something.

The thing is, it was adversity that first led me to art. I turned to study because I was too sick to work.

There were days when I couldn’t walk without a walking stick, didn’t have the strength to hold a cup and had to be carried to the toilet by my husband. But on the days that I could, I got to my classes and I made art.

Eventually, making art helped change both my life and the way I defined myself. I went from a mediocre scientist (who was terrible at maths!) to a chronically-sleep-deprived-mother to an 0verwhelmed-by-the-adrenalin-of-constant-performance-singer to where I am now: a very contented artist.

I am also a workshop presenter and teacher, one who guides absolute beginners down the path of making art via my intensive art workshops. Helping others explore their own creativity through my workshops has also become a consuming passion for me.

Someone once said, “Making art is a gesture of hope”. I now regularly get to witness that hope in my students’ eyes. And it’s an honour and delight to take that journey with them.

When I tell someone I’m an artist, I can almost guarantee that the next thing I’m going to hear is “What sort of art do you make?” It’s a simple, polite question. One for which I haven’t yet worked out a simple, polite answer.

What I DO want to say is something like this:

“Well, it was adversity that led me to art, and ever since, it is adversity who has been my constant companion. So it’s become the theme in most of my work – I try to paint the journey from adversity to ‘the other side’ and all that happens in between.”

See what I mean? This is not a simple answer to “What sort of art do you make?”!

Adversity is never what it seems. I once heard it being referred to as ‘a gift that is wrapped up in sandpaper’! It’s a mysterious phenomenon – that humans need tough times in order to become tough. I find it is expressed rather eloquently in a passage from the Baha’i Writings, where the Divine declares,

My calamity is My providence. Outwardly it is fire and vengeance, inwardly it is light and mercy.”

It goes on to suggest that we should embrace all the hard stuff, as eventually, it leads to eternal strength.

So I paint these intriguing, yet universal ideas: that beauty and growth arise from periods of darkness and despair.

If do it often enough, maybe I will finally ‘get it’. Someday, when crap happens, (as it regularly does), my first thought won’t be “I need to escape to a paradise island!” but will instead be:

 “Bring it on. Only good can come from this!”.

So I’ll leave you with this little suggestion: Go over to the closest mirror, take a long look into your own eyes and ask yourself,

“Do I have an outlet for MY creativity?”

That creativity – when it finds its expression – may not change your life completely, but it will help complete your life.

______________________________________________________________

PS I now live in Perth, Western Australia where I regularly run workshops for beginners … and in clear across the country, in Melbourne from time to time. I am also developing an e-course for those of you that live everywhere else in the world! You can find out more about my unique (and so, so fun!) one day intensive workshops over here, and my e-course over here. I’d love to meet you :)

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Comments ... oh they do make my heart sing!

  1. WOW!

    Malini! Your story is absolutely amazing and so inspiring! :) And your paintings are so soulful with such beautiful colour combinations! I’m definitely a fan now :)

    All the best,

    Larissa

  2. How very inspiring! And your artwork is breathtaking….

    • thank you Nahal, that is so very kind of you! I’m delighted that you read my first blog :) there are a few more chapters in the story now … hope you enjoy them!

  3. Thanks Malini, your story stuck a chord with me as I am sure it had with many others.

    • Hello Parisa, thank you for taking the time to read my story and for your comment. We all have similar threads in the tapestry of our lives, don’t we? Amazing that the final picture is so different! Hope you enjoy the continuing chapters too :) All the best!

  4. Felix Ong (Ong) says:

    Hi Malini,

    Just read your inspiring story & viewed some of your lovely paintings & would like to say that that it was inspiring! I remebered you as a young girl with large soulful eyes when I squatted in your house at Minden Heights; Penang. Will remeber you in my daily prayers.

    Best wishes from an old x old family friend…

    Ong

    • FELIX!!!!! I remember you very well, old friend! I recall that you treated me like an adult and I was only 15, and you got a lot of points for that :) Thanks for your kind words! Hope you doing well!

  5. Peter ODonnell says:

    Malini,

    I am not sure if there are anymore platitudes that can be heaped on you, you are inspirational.. Look forward to catching up with you next month.

    Peter

    • That’s funny, Peter :) It looks a bit like that, doesn’t it? People have been very kind to me. Thank you for coming to my workshop, and for your warm response. I’m looking forward to sharing another artyfarty day with you and the others :)

  6. Ushonah Hutchings says:

    Love your art Malini and your inspiring story

    • Hi Ushonah

      Thank you for taking the time to read it and for your kind comment about my art :)
      Hope to share more in person one day!

  7. Hi Malini,
    How are you, just had a read on your website and blog..You are amazing girl!!! Remember our group exhibition, Emergin8….am working on the next one 22nd June at the Met Gallery again “Catharsis” Hope you will come to the opening night. I would love to do one of your workshops sometime, but guess what, I am making the sea change this time and moving down to Albany at the end of the month….Keep you blog going, its wonderfully inspiring Malini, and I hope this finds you and your family in good health…xxxx Patrizia

    • Hi Patrizia,
      Congratulations on making a sea change! We loved living down that way – Albany is a treasure trove for artists, every where you look there is inspiration for the eyes :) Good luck with your move, and with your work! As I recall, opening nights at the Met Gallery are not short of a crowd! Well done, and thanks for your kind words too x

  8. Malini, that was a beautifully written, honest and raw insight into how adversity inspired you and how you have used your talents and learnings to inspire and help others. Love your work! (all of it).
    Much love
    Astrid (Alice Springs)

  9. Hello Malini, this is such a beautiful post and I can relate to so much in it. I am at the stage on my journey where I am still largely housebound and have to pace everything I do with large periods of rest. But art has become my joy. I draw and paint in my journal whenever I can and go to a different place within myself where dreams and passion can fly. It’s a beautiful feeling. I find your journey very inspirational and am so pleased to connect with you. Em ♥

    • Thank you Emma, it is wonderful to connect with you too. I’m finding more and more that using the creativity within has such healing and energizing effect of people… my journey is paralleled by hundreds of others. So glad that you’ve found that ‘place within where dreams and passion can fly’ – what a lovely phrase :) xx

  10. Malini, Malini, Malini
    Wow! I so recognise the story you told here. My own path was very similar yet also different.
    Carol

  11. Malini this is so powerful. Glad to be participating in Flora’s class with you. Can’t wait to see where it leads you!

  12. It was a similar question which led me here … During one of the counseling sessions , my counsellor asked me to start finding my creative outlet .. And that point I only wanted to write … So she said write each day , little or small , but write ..
    I moved the place and I didn’t have her around , but every time life got tough on me , I remembered her words .. My tears were soon channeled creatively .. Another counselor told me , that my issues were coz of the environment I was in , and while I could not change it all , I chose to change my reaction to my environment … Sadness , pain and hurt is now challenged in something creative ..
    I became an artist and a painter ..
    The life got tougher and I grew stronger inside facing it … And recently started “whirling” in moments when I had no access to paints …
    Each pain , each tear is channeled in something creative … The more the pain grew the more my intense my artistic expression grows

    • Writing is a wonderful creative expression. And using our creativity is the best medicine for everything in life :) Thank you for stopping by and for sharing a bit of your story, Noopur.

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] My massage therapist was responsible for starting me on Part B – the workshops for beginners! We had recently relocated to Perth from Albany. My family (husband, teenage daughter and myself) had to move to Perth on very short notice and it was a difficult time so I couldn’t leave the house easily due to family concerns. So I had a massage therapist come in once a week to give me an hour of stress relief. Noticing all the art in the house, she would often ask me when I would run a class. After months of this, I finally gave in, and said, “bring some mates and I’ll teach you lot how to paint, just give me a day!”. She took up the challenge, I had a BALL, and that’s where it all began. For how I started Part A, making art and exhibiting my work – you’ll have to read my blog! [...]

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