Existential Anxiety, Marcel Marceau, Anne Frank by Diana Rivera

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” – Anne Frank

“In silence and movement you can show the reflection of people.” – Marcel Marceau

In what ways does art provide meaning to existence? How does it enhance the meaningless with which we grapple? I have been immersed in the work of existentialist thought (Yalom and May, to name a few) and have become intimate with the question: What does it mean to be human when living at the edge of existence? I dare say all of us are at the edge of that existence at any given moment even when the conditions may appear disguised by success, comforts, vanity, and exhausted by anxiety.


Artists are at the edge of existence and constantly grapple with the fine line between meaning and meaningless, having and releasing, letting go and letting be. Artists experience rates of anxiety that appear higher than others because they explore such emotions in their work. Artists may face the depths of the unknown in ways that are acceptable because only in art making can such experiences find voice, and express harmony or dissonance.

One antidote for anxiety could be curiosity in the face of conflict and the unknown. Recently, I have been developing some new curriculum regarding personal transformation during WW II  through the arts and it focuses on the work of mime-artist, Marcel Marceau and Anne Frank. I have been struck by both their stories. 

Marcel Marceau, formerly known as Marcel Mangel, created fake identity cards in order to avoid the German enforced labor draft. He ended up joining a ring for smuggling Jewish children out of France and into Switzerland. “I went disguised as a Boy Scout leader and took 24 Jewish kids, also in scout uniforms, through the forests to the border, where someone else would take them into Switzerland.” He did this journey three times and saved more than 70 children. His work in mime was an exploration of identity loss, the unacknowledged voice, the drama of silence, and the ways the physical form can create stories that touch the heart and incite the mind.

Anne Frank…What can I share of this young woman’s life that you may not already know?  Would her full biography convince you of her talent? Anne Frank’s life serves as a symbol of bravery, writing in close quarters with her family who lived underground in Amsterdam during WWII. Without interaction from the outside world for two years, she went deep inside herself to find worlds of thoughts and emotions and she journaled about them. She left her and her future audience to question how we can live more deeply by being grateful and in touch with the beauty every moment could offer.

At the edge of existence, wherein the unknown is localized, there is great potential for risk and transformation. Like Marceau and Frank, once the individual accepts certain realities of existence (loneliness, misery, death) and decides to fall into the challenges of existence, then something else takes over. The intensity of potential, inner wisdom and the unknown, mixed with the spirit of the here-and-now, could be the alchemy which makes life worthy of living, even if that moment is fleeting. 

I say this with compassion as many are held back from involving oneself in the challenges of life with a sense of curiosity, desire for risk, and openness for transformation. And, why? How come so many talented artists, for example, can’t write themselves into the narrative of their life?Although not an answer to the entirety of the topic, but a response to the question at best, is that anxiety is a restricted hand that grips into the central nervous system of pain. It tightens its hold, whispering requests of refrain, fear, and other worries that demoralize the human spirit. It can shed one of any hope or desire to soar well-beyond human belief. 

Marceau and Frank are reminders of what it means to be human beyond imagination and should counter the ways anxiety constrict the soul.  If not them, then who? Who in your life – artist or not – replaces the nagging finger tips, the sweaty palm, the passive fist?

Published in: on October 13, 2014 at 8:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Creative Miami: Nina Surel’s Studio, a Touch of the Feminine by Diana Rivera

On a recent trip to Miami, I came with a question: What is Creativity Today: Miami? Inside of me I was curious about the people and places that make up a synergistic artist community in the southern most cosmopolitan city of the United States, crowned and arranged in la hispanidad. Beyond Art Basel Miami, and the hoopla that international, art festivals bring to any community, what happens when the lights dim and the curtain closes? Who is still performing the fine art of their own personal performance in creativity?

I went on a hunt through the city like a fox with a compass, a clown with a note pad, a detective with a wand.

I arrived at to the Art Center SF of Miami to learn more about their artist community and organization, and was given a tour by their Executive Director, Chris Ingalls. As we walked through the corridors of the 40 + artist resident studios, we were invited into Nina Surel’s Studio by her welcoming smile and a canvas of a Klimt-esque, succulent collage painting of a majestic woman.

I had an opportunity to meet with Nina a couple of days later. The same smile welcomed me into her studio and I was drawn to how it was adorned with glass jars of costume jewelry, antique buttons, porcelain flowers and lace strings falling from shelves. Looking at the details of the room, I felt the rarity of my fingers turning into rose petaled syrup.

I came to learn about how Nina creates. When she was a young girl in small town Argentina, she became ill with a form of rheumatism. As someone who studies the psychology of creativity, I was flashing back to many research studies that had been done on well-known visual artists who tapped into their artistry as a result of illness. The symptoms left her unable to be physically rigorous. It did allow her imagination to tune her fingers into another frequency: one where she could orchestrate with clay and other materials such as fabrics, paints and sewing.

Nina described her training and mentorship with a Spanish ceramist in her town. She spoke of leaving her ‘day-job’ to claim her artistry. She offered a timeline of her experience coming to Miami as a personal revival. In the background of her explanation was the silhouette of her paintings, many of which featured a digital image of her as the principal subject adorned with flowers and arranged in jewels.

From her interpretation, I learned that her new series of paintings included her as the primary subject. Each series expressed her own personal transformation as a woman and as an artist. It was a collection of conscious and unconscious stories that propelled the play of her femininity on canvas. I encourage you to check out her collection by clicking here.

It’s interesting to wonder about why one is drawn to a piece of art. Perhaps it is this conversation between her story of the feminine that had catapulted my attention consciously and unconsciously  to be curious and seek out a conversation. As she poured me jasmine pearl tea, my fingers wrapped around the dainty floral painted porcelain cup. I sat back with the peace in knowing that any artist’s work is a result of an intrapersonal conversation and it is in moments of  inquiry and authentic listening, that I heard an artist’s personal journey as if it were my own.

What is creative Miami? Within that hour, creative Miami was an authentic exchange of experience, shaped into a conversation, distilled onto canvas. It was the antiquated pieces of jewelry, paints and fabrics that defined the collage as a story where I became a character within it: a crowning flower with wings of an ear.

Points to ponder:

Have you met an artist recently that has sparked your curiosity? What would you care to know about in that person? How does that question relate to you?