Wonderspaces, a mobile collection of art from various artists, set-up its wondrous space in San Diego. I was given tickets, and having no idea of what I was about to experience, I went in with as much expectation as there is paint on a blank canvas.

This, by the way, was an odd feeling. Between crowdsourcing, Yelp research, hashtag searching and just about any other way to experience something before actually experiencing it, I usually know what I’m about to get myself into.

Upon entering the exhibit, I immediately thought, “Oh wow. This is pretty cool.”

Explaining any of the pieces wouldn’t do them the justice they deserve. The best I can say is that it is the type of art that allows you to immerse yourself in it. There were virtual reality headset experiences, I walked through 8000 dangling LED lights, and stood in a room of mirrors while bathed in reflecting light.

This wasn’t a stare-at-a-painting-on-a-wall situation. It was, to be frank, an Instagram-worthy situation.

The artwork had all the ingredients for the perfect Instagram post. Bright colors, reflective tones and that thing where you look really small in comparison to what surrounds you. The type of posts that get, at a minimum, 100 likes.

And that’s how I proceeded throughout the rest of my visit – posing with the art and posing my family with the art. Before long, I had Instagram content for days. I wasn’t allowing myself to go deeper into the art, just taking what it was offering me on its first layer.
Choosing To Do

One particular favorite image I snapped was in front of the piece titled “To Do.” It was also that thing where I looked really small in comparison to my surroundings.

It was made up of thousands of blank Post-It notes. Pink pieces of paper positioned to spell out the words, “To Do,” while yellow ones framed the wording. In keeping with the theme of immersion, visitors were encouraged to write their own “to dos.”

I had planned for this photo to be my first “after” Wonderspaces visit Instagram post. The caption I had planned was going to be along the lines of, “When your to-do list is 5,000 Post-It Notes long.” Simple. Slightly humorous.

But just before I was ready to post, I found out Anthony Bourdain died.

The news of yet another tragic death to suicide had me looking at the artwork much differently than when I first saw it 24 hours ago.

On the surface, I found a clever piece of art. I also interpreted the overwhelming number of pieces of paper to parallel the feeling many of us experience when staring at our own to-do lists.

Choosing To Do

While we cannot all relate to having symptoms of mental illness and being suicidal, we can relate to the sense of being overwhelmed. We can relate to overcommitment. We can relate to a wall, filled with thousands of 3-inch-by-3-inch Post-It notes, written with stuff to get done, people to see, bills to pay and everything else that fills our 24 hours.

That’s the thing about the sense of overwhelm. It is a big scary wall of a million things we are battling, dealing with and pushing through. For many, it reaches a point where we walk away. At best we procrastinate by watching YouTube videos or engaging in some other type of distraction. At worst, there are those that take the dark path that Anthony Bourdain and many others before him have gone down.

I have nothing to offer regarding cures for mental illness. But I can encourage everyone to look at their walls a little differently.

I looked at this wall with a whole new perspective. It goes along with all of those clichés of “taking one day at a time” and not “biting off more than you can chew.”

I no longer see a thousand pieces of paper. I see the two colors, pink and yellow. I see a wall screaming at all us, “You have two choices!”

You can either do or not do. You can try or not try. You can ask for help or suffer alone. You can reach out or keep the status quo.

When faced with just those two choices, I think the best practice will always be “to do.”

Photo by Justin Kanoya of To Do by Illegal Art
Photo by STIL on Unsplash
If we let it, art can impact our lives and shape our attitudes. Justin Kanoya considers one work's message and how he used it to process a sad event.

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