Emily Van Engel: Collective Care Interview Series

March 22, 2017

Collective Care is a written interview series with people who are changing the world. Most often, these folks are working at the intersection of creative, healing, and/or activist work.

I’m in love with the idea of amplifying the work (and self-care practices) of people who are building a more compassionate world. In this series, I get to chat with people who inspire me like whoa.

Today we get to meet Emily van Engel!

Emily Van Engel on art that examines our relationship with our planet, having a plan, and creating a body of work. Read the Collective Care interview! >> www.christytending.com

Emily is a dear, dear friend – and exceptional artist who examines our relationship with our planet is gorgeous and fascinating ways through her art. Her pieces aren’t just depictions, but conversation starters. Her work is layered (literally and figuratively) in ways that honor the complexity of our world – how it is and how it could be.

I’m so excited to share her wisdom with you today!

Emily, take it away…

How are you changing the world?

(What is your change-making, healing, and/or creative work? This might be paid, unpaid or a combination.)

Thanks for inviting me to participate, Christy!

I make art that looks at our relationship with our environment. I see myself as a change-maker because I want everyone on our planet to live in a clean and safe environment, and the art is about getting to that place. The work is unpaid, although I occasionally sell some art.

What challenges your heart in that journey?

Something that weighs on my heart is the knowledge that conducting business as usual in many countries on our planet is on track to change our climate globally, changing how we’ve experienced weather thus far, potentially changing the livability (both physically and politically) of much of the planet for many of us.

I know that there’s action I can take; for me it’s initiating conversations about this topic either in person or through my art. But that presents another challenge because I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough because the problem is still there.

However, I know that I can’t just pull all-nighters and make art 24/7. Taking care of myself is integral to that process of facing the challenge.

What inspires you to keep going?

Seeing other artists’ bodies of work inspires me. I once googled Picasso and scrolled through pages and pages of artwork, and felt my own drive to create such a prolific body of work. It helped me get into an inspired mindset of creating.

I’m also inspired to see other artists, activists and writers address climate change. There are so many angles to approach the topic and it reminds me that my voice is part of a larger picture.

How do you support yourself or tend to yourself and your heart in that process?

What nourishes and replenishes you?

I recognize that I have several goals; make the art, earn income, take care of my health, just to name a few. And that usually the action that I take to satisfy one goal doesn’t overlap with another… or at least in the present moment, making art while going for a hike is not a paid activity (but I won’t rule it out entirely).

There have been times when I felt like I was falling short in one area while I was in the in the middle of actively pursuing another goal; I was constantly feeling pulled and torn. While pondering your question this week, I happened to tune in to one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend, where the two hosts, Ann Friedman and Aminatou So, addressed this topic of work/life balance in a witty and insightful way.

Ann Friedman said; “‘Having it all’ is a lie from the pit of hell sold to women so we’ll feel bad about ourselves all the time and work harder for capitalism.” (Call Your Girlfriend, Episode 71) I agree with their take on recognizing that there’s more to do than there’s possibly time for, and the solution lies in being okay with the choices that you make. For me, having a plan to be in my studio, go for a walk, or pursue paid work later that day or later that week, and building in the time and space to follow up with it, helps me stay in the present moment and focus on the activity at hand.

Also, taking breaks and having veg-out time replenishes me. Being proactive about these breaks somehow multiplies the effect for me, perhaps because I can look forward to them. I have an hour-plus train commute to my grad school program where I usually plan on doing school-related reading and work, but one day I decided to throw a magazine instead of my school materials into my bag, and I felt light and giddy with the prospect of reading for pleasure. (I also have been known to just stare out the window with the bag unopened, or listen to podcasts).

How do you experience care within community?

How do others support you in your journey and practice?

I receive so much support from my partner and my family to do the art, that I feel that I couldn’t really prioritize it the way that I do without them. (I’m talking encouragement and financial support.) I also have a few friends that double as exercise partners, so twice a week I have regularly scheduled hikes, which is fun and social, and making the plan with someone else helps me be accountable to follow through.

What’s your best piece of advice you have for people who want to make a difference?

There are many ways to show up for and take action on something that you care about, so first I want to stress that there’s not just one way. Some possibilities include learning more about a topic by reading and research, attending a community event, or volunteering time and/or money to groups doing good work.

I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase “take care of yourself so you can take care of others,” so on that note I will say that whatever you do, show up full (well-rested, present, or whatever that means to you individually) so you can be in a place where you can be yourself and truly give.

Paint us a picture of the more compassionate world and future you imagine.

I laughed out loud when I first read this question because this is literally the reason why I’m in grad school now. I yearn to paint what it looks like to live in a world where we have ceased the behaviors that are causing climate change.

But since I don’t know exactly what that looks like, I am slowing down and giving myself time and space to explore it. But in all seriousness, even though I can’t paint this picture, I have a hunch that at the underbelly of a more compassionate world is an economy that is based on generosity.

About …:

Emily Van Engel’s paintings and glass work look at our relationship with the environment. She exhibits her work in the California Bay Area and is a candidate for an MFA in Pictorial Art at San Jose University.

How to connect:



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