Jay Sullivan - I Am The Canvas

Creative Process & Psychological Change


People have said to me, “Your work is so dark and disturbing.”  I’ve also had concerned family members ask me why I didn’t create more “happy” pictures.

The answer to these inquiries is that you cannot look at my images alone to understand my work.  My work is the image, the creative process and me.  It is three interrelated elements designed to produce both a series of photographic images and, hopefully, positive psychological and emotional change.

My unique experiences throughout my lifetime have caused me to take this approach. In my early thirties, I recognized that my father’s past mental illness and alcoholism had a dramatic impact on my present-day psychology and emotional health.  I spent the next few decades on a path of self-discovery and healing with the help of many talented, insightful and generous teachers.  My natural instincts and personality led me to teachers who have worked in the blurred lines between life, creative process and therapy.  It was a natural place for my photography practice — exploring the creative process, image making, and its effect on my psychology, my emotions and ultimately, the choices I make in life.

The journey has not always been easy.  I “broke” myself after moving too quickly and finding myself overwhelmed by the demons of my childhood. I frightened those closest to me and risked alienating myself from them by regurgitating the past. I also produced some pretty bad art as I struggled to find tools and techniques to turn the personal into the universal.

The challenges, however, have been worth the risk. In countless ways, I have been changed for the better by the 30 years of creative process.  I’ve healed difficult relationships from my childhood, reduced my fear of conflict, become more outgoing and confident, found more connection to those around me, and freed myself from many negative patterns connected with my past.

Creative Process Community

I am grateful to have found a receptive community for my work. There are many artists who have preceded me in using creative process as a psychological tool. The works and personal journeys of Charlie Chaplin, John Cage, Jo Spence, Marina Abramovic, Freud, Jung, and others have created an environment where the melding of personal psychology, creative process, photography and art now has a place in the mainstream. There are now organized groups of people who explore and develop creative processes as a healing tool.  I was even surprised to find there was a term to describe my work — therapeutic photography — before I knew what to call it myself.

Blurring the lines between the images, creative process and my life is about continuous learning – learning about image making, learning about the creative process, learning about myself, and, step by step, learning what it really means to be free and at peace.