I was painting beautiful pictures, but I felt a sense of frustration
I went into consulting because I wanted to do something new, something creative. But before I knew it 4 years had flown by and I realized I'd been so absorbed with the immediate tasks before me, I hadn't done the kind of work I'd hoped to do. Now that I look back on it, I can see that working on various IT projects was good experience, but at the time I felt frustrated.
That's why the idea of 'reviving my creativity' through TOTSUKITOKA really struck a cord. It struck me that in the past I would love thinking about lots of different things and explore ideas, but over the years I'd become so caught up thinking in terms of the 'right' way of doing things and working within given frameworks at work, I'd totally lost the ability to think outside the box. And so I decided to start the TOTSUKITOKA course.
I remember the first EGAKU session I joined. I didn't have any confidence in myself. I turned up to the studio racked by self-doubt, and to be honest I was pretty disappointed by the picture I painted. Sure, it was pretty, but it seemed to lack substance. It left me cold. On the other hand, people around me were creating works which were full of personality, some of them were creating these incredibly personal and expressive works which moved me. When people saw my picture they'd say it was "beautiful," or that the artist is someone with a "pure heart." But I felt frustrated, I knew that wasn't what I was after.
The magic of EGAKU - uncovering the answers to your problems
After I started TOTSUKITOKA for a while nothing really changed. I was my usual self with very little confidence myself. However, I decided to approach drawing as a way to deal with the situation I found myself in at that moment. Rather than approaching it in a purely conceptual way I was looking for hints and insights I could apply to my life. I noticed that by taking this approach, art became like a filter. Each time it would somehow transform all the negative energy inside me into something positive.
In September when I was drawing my picture on the theme of "Creation," as I was drawing I was actually looking for clues to deal with a situation I was struggling with at work. At the time, I was working on a new business development project, building something new with a group of extremely creative people. However I felt insecure, that I wasn't actually 'creating' anything. But as I was painting my picture in that session, it dawned on me that 'creation', the creative act comes from a state of childlike play - this was the answer I accidentally stumbled across.
At that time, I felt EGAKU worked like magic: I'd project my troubles onto the canvas and it would give me the answers. The messages come away with were always full of hope, and would push me to reflect. I have a habit of putting aside things that bother me and blindly pray that things will work out if I try hard enough and give it my best shot. However, I've learned that it can be satisfying to stay with the thought and really work through it.
Inspired by the expressive freedom of children
5 months into TOTSUKITOKA I was hospitalized with hepatitis. Right up to that point, I'd been totally absorbed by work - it's really all I was doing. But when I was in hospital my family, colleagues, friends and other people around me gathered around to help me, and this experience taught me the importance of cherishing these relationships. It also made me realize how much I needed to grow up as a person. I spent a month in hospital getting my strength back, and by the time I was discharged my art had become stronger.
The first picture I drew after I got out of hospital was at the New Year's EGAKU session reflecting on the year ahead, "This year's me." The title of the piece is "Hitoridachi" (Standing on my own two feet). Until then, I'd spent my entire life following my parents' and other people's advice but I felt I'd reached a point in my life where I needed to be more independent. That's what this picture was about.
It was a special session where children were also amongst the participants, and it ended up being an important experience for me. I remember there was one child who had painted this beautiful picture and then just as she was finishing up, drew a big fat line over the entire canvas. When someone asked her why she did that she simply replied, "Just because I felt like it". I was stunned. Until then I'd approached painting as a way of visualizing my ideas, seeking answers, and trying to make sense of my experiences - there was a purpose, so this idea of doing something "just because I feel like it" was completely alien to me. But seeing these kids playfully painting their thoughts with such abandon, I felt rather embarrassed by my own efforts. I realized how dull and trivial my paintings seemed in comparison to the dynamic, bold creations these kids were coming up with. In some respects that experience transformed the way I think.
Children just put their thoughts on paper honestly, they tell it like it is. They don't care what other people think, or whether people like it or not. I loved that they were just painting what they wanted to paint. That moment I had a visceral sense that what they were doing was really the essence of human creativity.
Painting a world beyond words
Of all my EGAKU works, perhaps my favorite is the one I painted in March on the subject of "Change." The title is "Challenge - Anything's Possible." Looking back on my TOTSUKITOKA journey, I know I'm still not where I want to be but I feel that I'm headed in the right direction. In this picture I imagined "change" as a big wave coming at me. I feel a mixture of excitement and fear. But if you make it through the wave when you come out on the other side, you'll find you've grown and that experience has helped you grow. And then the next wave approaches…
At work I still have my fears, but I've found that clients are slowly beginning to trust me. I recently got married and started living with my partner and despite my initial fears I've found that things have worked out ok. So many things that used to make me anxious, I've realized I can handle and that if I really put my mind to it it's no big deal. I feel I've also become less inhibited when I paint.
Perhaps the biggest change is that I've learned to paint from a place that isn't defined and limited by words. The way I think and approach the themes have also changed. Now I find I can be more honest about expressing my feelings about a subject, without holding back. Before, my paintings were always about work, but now I feel I've become more adventurous, much freer in the way I think about things.
Art is a magical tool
A lot has happened over this past year both in my career and personal life. With EGAKU I think the individual's effort to engage with their deeper self and find their own meaning is important, but I think that the magical power of art is really what makes it so powerful. Art is a magical tool.
I have to admit that at the beginning I didn't understand the power of art. But I think it would be a pity to experience EGAKU without discovering its magic. I think I've taken away so much from this course precisely because I was reacting to a sense of inner crisis, so I was totally committed to the process.
Being able to paint freely, I feel it's helped me channel all these insecurities I had at the outset into something positive. But I have to admit that I can sense I'm already coming up against another wall. I know I need to grow more as a person. I have so many areas for growth and I know I need to keep pushing myself to get to the next level and beyond.
I have no idea what will happen if I do another 10 months of TOTSUKITOKA. But what I can say is that over this past year, in spite of everything that's happened in my life, I feel I've been able to change some things I didn't like about myself. Perhaps after another 10 months it'll help me get to a place where I have a clearer idea of what I want to do in life, my vision and the things I need to change to get there - that's my hope.
*This article is a translation of the original Japanese interview.