Since the shelter in place order began here in Illinois, my kids and I have been watching a You Tube series called “Draw Every Day with JJK”. It helps us keep a routine and it gives us something to look forward to every day at the same time. The series teaches us a lot about how to draw comic book characters, come up with our own stories, how to use colors, motion lines and speech bubbles to communicate a story through pictures and words. The series is pretty cute; the artist splits his screen so that we can see him on the one side while on the other we can see him draw up close. Half-way through the show, he shows his two pug dogs in the “pug cam” to break things up – usually, they are asleep. Sometimes, he has guest artists, who teach the younger viewers how to draw their own signature character from their books or graphic novels. Finally, he ends with “family draw time” and invites his children to draw with him for the viewers and plays various drawing games that keep everyone entertained. I love how people’s creativity has surged during this quarantine and has allowed us all access to a part of ourselves we otherwise muffle with all the noise of our busy lives.
“Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My father, and Dealt with Family Addiction”
The artist in the series, Jarret Krosoczka, caught my interest with his memoir, “Hey, Kiddo” – a graphic novel about his childhood experiences growing up without his mother or father and being raised by his grandparents. Unfortunately, this is a far too common of a story for many kids, whose parents struggle with mental illness and are addicted to alcohol or drugs. I decided to buy his memoir and read it in one breath one night after the kids went to bed. Why is this story important to tell in a blog about practical psychoanalysis?
Here is why: Jarret’s story is a wonderful example of how something very painful in our personal story can become a source of inspiration for others, an aesthetic production of something beautiful that serves not only us but other people as well. It is a story of how a piece of us that makes us suffer can be transformed into a contribution to humanity that lives beyond us. This is one of the outcomes of psychoanalytic work.
Art and the Subject
Jarrett wrote the memoir and drew all the artwork for it himself. He has a nice webcast, in which he explains how he decided to write the book and what his process was for the artwork itself. What interests us in psychoanalysis is the question of how art becomes his way of expressing himself in adolescence and beyond.
In the book, we find out that Jarrett’s mother, who is addicted to heroine, has a talent for drawing herself. They exchange letters with drawings while she is away in rehab or in jail of pictures of Jarrett’s favorite comic book characters. His mother encourages him to draw, praises his work and draws characters of his choosing in her letters to him. Jarrett’s grandparents, who despite their quarrels and idiosyncratic dysfunction, manage to provide a stable, predictable and reliable environment for him, also notice his latent and invest in it by sending him to art school. In the memoir, Jarret explains how his art teachers play a role in his ability to sustain his interest in art and develop his craft further.
Today as an adult, Jarret is quite successful in his work and has written and illustrated many children’s and comic books. If you look at his books and listen to him speak about how he created each, you can connect the dots between parts of his past that are expressed in his artwork. The memoir is the culmination of that work and touches on the most personal parts of his experience. Art and creation have that two-sided quality of touching on both the painful and the beautiful at the same time, all connected to the subject of the unconscious that we listen to in psychoanalysis.
Artists and Their Unconscious
It was wonderful to read how one of Jarrett’s art teachers told him to forget everything he learned in this one book about drawing characters the Marvel way, trust his own style and work on perfecting that, which comes from within him, not copy other people’s work. I’ve seen the same sentiment from an art teacher described in another graphic novel that I will talk about in a later post. Artists have a connection to the unconscious within them that a “typical” person tends to repress for the sake of normalcy, social norms and expectations. We’ve seen that throughout history in the work of many big artists from Picasso and Dali to more modern artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, for example. There is something about the connection with their unconscious that they manage to express through their art, which makes its presence known and its voice heard in the social link. But they’ve had to take a risk in order to do that much like how Jarrett had to take a risk to speak about his painful history publicly.
If you are someone, who uses art as a way to cope and a way to express yourself or your pain, share your artwork as a comment to this blogpost below.
New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka creates books with humor, heart, and a deep respect for his young readers—qualities that have made his titles perennial favorites on the bookshelves of homes, libraries, and bookstores.