Mona Lisa Doesn't Always Smile

Jess Crawford is a Toronto Nursing Student and an Artist. Check out her blog post below including one of her recent pieces. Tune in for our conversation with Jess here or subscribe over on iTunes!

I saw the Mona Lisa about a year ago. It was a frightening experience. 

A postage stamp sized picture attracted a hundred people to this corridor to take a photo. I hate crowds. 

I do not even really like the Mona Lisa as a piece of art. To be honest, I do not even know when she was painted, nor her significance. It does not interest me.

In Montréal's Musée Des Beaux Arts, I, probably like several others, questioned the purpose of the giant murals with 4 strips of colour that my dog could make if she had paint on each foot. Then there are those paintings that, to me, are merely splatters. If that is art, so too is a nurse’s scrubs. 

Prior to my visit to Europe with that embellished painting, I experienced exhaustively high anxiety, and sporadically excruciating stomach pains, unknown to me at the time to be a result of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  I was not excited for my trip to Europe, despite its zero cost to me and the frequent questions from friends about the adventures I would have with my family. This is when I first realized that mental illness does not take a break. It is not like work that you can subscribe to a vacation email and turn off Facebook and leave your phone behind (though I did all of that). My mental illness still made me cry at a restaurant buried in the forest atop a hill in Florence; my mental illness is with me right now in Winnipeg, Manitoba and I now know that it will be with me for my life. My anxiety can be very unpredictable, too often provoking seemingly spontaneous vomiting episodes, hyperventilation, or panic attacks, so coping can seem absolutely impossible some days, and some days it is. 

But every moment not filled with mental illness' bullshit, I am loving. I love my partner, family, friends, and my dog. I love my job and future career as a nurse, continually helping those who experience mental illness. AND... I am creating an arson of coping skills, which, coupled with all of those people (including my bosses who know and help me cope with my mental illnesses; amazing right) creates one big Jess force to battle those Nega-Jess' in my head.

 One of those skills is art! 

I consider myself an artist now, though my paintings will not be famous like the Mona Lisa or any other museum bound piece. I did TERRIBLE in high school art class, so this is absolutely not something I have been 'gifted' in any way. Rather, the ways in which I go about 'making' art is why I enjoy it. 

 I love art because it does not have to be shared with anyone, I choose to share it on Facebook, through an upcoming poetry collaboration, and on my website ( because it can speak to others about my illness without having to experience or see what I experience (as in my poem “(Don't) Live my Torture”). I did not even realize the therapeutic ways of art until Innsbruck, Austria, where I was surrounded by the endless mountains. I did not make a copy of them but observed them and felt my watercolour paint brush caress the paper the way the mountain tops did the sky. Since then art has been about feeling; be it observing something in front of me, or trying to explode feelings of anger, sadness, or pain on paper or with words. I have even performed a comedic slam poem called “A Day at the Beach” to express and relate to others the annoying struggles of bowel issues. As a side note, I am not anxious about public speaking at all, but I will be extremely anxious about getting together in the park with a few friends, going out for dinner, seeing butterflies, going to the mall, etc. My brain is a bit backwards.

 And for all of those who think that art is backwards for them, refresh your brain. Use my Rule of 3: I try something 3 times before I decide if it’s not for me. I make it a point to work with my psychologists / counselors for 3 sessions before I determine if we are a fit. I use 3 coping skills before I resort to my anxiety medication. So try 3 mediums: go do a PaintNite, a pottery studio, or knitting – whatever art interests you. And take away that standard crap. It’s not about the result but the way it made you feel. Like with ice cream; so incredibly delicious, but an absolute nightmare for my stomach afterwards – the eating is the best part! 

- Jess Crawford