Karen Lee

Karen Lee[responsivevoice_button voice=”US English Female” buttontext=”Listen to Article”]
Before retiring five years ago, Karen Lee’s professional life as a psychotherapist and clinical social work educator focused on using words to identify and explore the human condition. Lee chose another path in retirement, one in which she uses visual images to communicate feelings and thoughts, and to connect with others. She says she feels so fortunate to have been able to revisit the “road not taken” and become the professional artist she always longed to be. Lee contends the work of a therapist and that of an artist are similar in that both practitioners seek to elicit an emotional response and connect with others. There’s a major difference, however, Lee says, in that the therapist is focused on another person’s narrative while the artist is exploring his or her own.
“A work of art,” Lee offers, “represents the artist’s interpretation of what she sees as well as invites the viewer to see the world through the artist’s experience. Even a momentary glance reflects a conversation between these two people. I invite the viewers of my work to find their own unique meaning and emotional response to what they are seeing. The conversation has begun.” For Lee, a desire to have these conversations with the world began early in childhood with the media available to her at home. Using crayons, pencils, and chalk, Lee created a visual fantasy world that felt more loving and supportive than the one in which she found herself. Color, shape, and line both soothed and excited her, and they enabled her to transform her reality into a preferred narrative. Art play, she says, made her feel alive and happy, and it continued to do so throughout childhood and adolescence.
As, oftentimes, happens with so many aspiring young artists, discouragement of Lee’s chosen professional path was accomplished through harsh judgment of her potential to make a living doing what she loved. With great regret she succumbed to the prevailing “wisdom” and discarded her dreams of an artist’s life. Becoming a psychotherapist, Lee believes, gave her the opportunity to better understand choices she’d allowed others to make for her. Not surprisingly given her own history, Lee took great satisfaction in working with young people making claims for their own identity as artists. Throughout her clinical career she was fascinated by the narratives people create for themselves – the stories they tell about who they are and how they got that way.
And then one day Lee decided to change her own story – to return to the world of color and shape and line and the art practice that had made her feel so happy at the beginning of her life. Accomplishing this goal necessitated a move from the large cities in which she’d always lived to a home in a big leaf maple forest in Oregon. For four years Lee took classes and experimented with different media until she found the ONE. Using a mixed media approach, blending digital photography and fiber arts, she “re-imagines” elements of multiple photographs to compose a new image reflecting the story she wants to tell. These visual “narratives” explore the very same universal themes, feelings, and concerns that were the subject of years of therapy conversations. Lee hopes the viewers of her artwork will see themselves and the lives they’re living in one of her stories.

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