Book Review: Near Art Experience (Lisa Gill)
Reviewed by Maya Northen
The first thing that struck me about Near Art Experience was, in fact, the title. While the subtitle How to make the most of a head-on collision with a drunk driver, certainly gives further information, the Art piece still left me wondering. Is the author, Lisa Gill, an artist? Or the drunk driver, perhaps? Was art involved in the crash some way, or the minutes or hours preceding it?
As I began to read, I learned that Gill, as well as the friend with whom she’d been driving, is a writer. She says at the in the first few pages (upon reading a statement from the drunk driver about him not wanting to give a urine sample), "…if he didn’t want anything black & white on him, he shouldn’t have hit a writer."
Now, perhaps that simply refers to this book. But to me, if felt apparent that writing was going to be a key in her recovery – or at least that it was going to play an important part in the story she was about to share, not only in the writing of the story, but in the events themselves. Was writing her art, then?
Upon learning her craft, it wasn’t surprising that, despite her her apparent confusion following the accident, Gill tangibly recreates her experience through words. As she details her days and weeks following the collision, the halting nature of her memories and the piece by piece development of her thoughts and emotions allowed me, as the reader, to grasp what she was going through. Throughout, her descriptions of the medical recovery, the physical pain, and the changes in emotional state, there is a consistent theme – art. Between descriptions of hospital visits and conversations with her friend involved in the crash, she continually recalls the mural on the wall next to the accident site. Somehow, despite her mentioning it in the first few pages of the book, it seems to be overshadowed – not by herself, but by the reader’s focus. Our attention is naturally drawn to her disorientation, the loss of color vision, the drunk driver, who is ultimately pursued and cornered by the police, fleeing the scene. We are aware of her injuries and apparent lack of concern following the accident, no doubt either thinking that she handled it exceptionally well, or wondering when the emotions would finally overtake her. The mural, one may think, would seem more or less a side note.
But not for the author. Art becomes not only a mural at a scene of the accident, but a focus of her life – she becomes determined to bring focus to the importance of the art, and throws herself fully into community projects and writing on the topic. Finally, she poses the question: are accidents and other traumatic experiences, that take place near art somehow different? She writes:
have questions. How many accidents, particularly alcohol-related accidents, happen at sites with public art?… Are accidents at these spots less likely to be fatal, or perhaps simply more likely to elicit the kinds of comments I got from witnesses with words like ‘blessed’, ‘lucky’, ‘angels’? …Also, is any kind of trauma easier to process if it handles at a public art site?
At first, it would seem a coincidence. She was hit by a drunk driver, it happened to be near a mural. There could be numerous explanations for why everyone involved in the accident lived. Why would an accident next to a mural be less fatal? Why would a trauma be any easier to handle if near art? Upon further thought, though, it does offer something to consider.
Art, in many forms, is used as a method of therapy – especially (though certainly not exclusively) for those who have suffered a traumatic injury. It’s not uncommon for someone’s story to emerge through drawing or painting or sculpture or even song before they speak of it directly. While they are verbally unable, or unready, to speak of their traumatic experience, they do so through art. In some instances, art is the only way through which their story is ever told. Creative therapies (art therapy, journal therapy, and others) are often used for those battling depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions, as a way for the person to connect with their thoughts and feelings without the pressure of having to speak of them directly. It does, in fact, seem to ease processing the trauma. So the question is, if art can positively impact recovery after a traumatic incident, can it do the same when it occurs simultaneously – when one has a “near art experience”?
Overall Near Art Experience is an easy, curious read, that is incredibly real. There is no ‘fluff’ – Gill’s depictions are incredibly real – when she’s ‘up’, you’re up. When she’s confused or concerned, the reader experiences it as well. Despite the title, the reader understands quickly that this isn’t a book full of inspirational sayings and lists of easy steps to make the most of a bad experience. Gill is telling her story, almost as if she is experiencing it at the time, and is posing a question that she has had ever since.
Title: Near Art Experience