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The Jury Is In. Creative Consensus Part IV: Rita Blaylock

(Where do creatives weigh in? I wanted to find out, and gave some contemporaries the following question: "Mental health and creativity. How does one affect the other?" Rita gives us her perspective.)

Rita Blaylock. I will always conjure her up as little Rita Yadamec, long before her last name changed. She had long, red hair and a love for animals as big as the outdoors. She ran, and drew, and read, and grew up wild like the blackberry bushes on our family homeplace where her grandmother lived. She is a beautiful combination of her parents. Brains and eccentricity. She is an amazing artist who doesn't know how truly amazing she is. She is a digital art master, but retains tremendous skill in the classic fine art forms.

Rita pondered the question and returned to me with this, "I hear a lot of artists say that their mental illness and their pain have inspired some of their best creative works, but that hasn’t been my experience."

This was . . . different.

This was new and entirely foreign to me and my own creative process.

She went on to explain that she can only create when she is "feeling safe and stable." Anything short of that got her "stuck in survival mode." She's sort of polar opposite from most everyone I had talked to before in this aspect, or so I thought at first glance.

Rita's mental state is as important to her creative process as everyone's else. She just needs a different kind of fuel. While I feel wild and free with a brush when my emotions are high and scattered, she finds creative freedom in security. The same chaos that lets me get out of my shell paints her into a corner.

Rita circled back to give me some true nuggets of wisdom after her original lines. She felt that it was important to include a few more things in her summation. Rita drew connections between mental illness and art, stating that, "It seems artists are more prone to mental illness... or people with mental illness are more prone to be creative?" She dug deeper to give us some more insight . . . "Maybe artists envision how beautiful the world could be, because they see how ugly it is. Or vice versa."

She went on to say that, in her experience, creatives tend to be empaths. She said, "And being empathetic honestly just makes life harder in a lot of ways."

Though we have vastly different approaches, it makes sense. I feel like my best works have been a combination of both beauty and horror. I've incorporated juxtapositions like hearts and tears or flowers and blood. I've mixed dark, black backgrounds with yellowy crowns and hanging stars. I've mixed rainbows with dark, jagged smears from my fingers. I've painted so-called beautiful words over ugliness. I've painted those whose names we've seen murdered in the headlines with rose crowns. Maybe that's what Rita meant. Maybe that's my way of reconciling things that strike me emphatically. I am conscious that it's ugly, but what if I add some pink flowers in the corner?

I paint from rawness, and she paints from the healed breaks. I think, though, that we all have broken.

One thing has stuck in the back of my mind since reading my cousin's response. Rita creates when she is feeling safe and stable. I'm lucky enough to say that I've seen her drawing a bit in my presence a time or two. This creativity has come in the form of Thanksgiving table sketches or pencil drawings from the outer perimeter of a church family reunion. Still, it has come. Now, when I think back, I'm just glad that she felt safe and secure in those moments among us.

Thanks for your honesty, Rita.

Go check out Rita's "Mythic Pets" here:


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