NAME: - - - - - - - Elizabeth and Glen Layton
COVER: - - - - - - Elderly couple at the corner of 3rd & Hunt
MISSION: - - - - -To trace the contours of the mythic realm.
The Layton's are a phenomenon. Nothing is so advantaging, to use Buckminster Fuller's term, to oneself or to others, than is the exorcising of one's illness through art. And this, it would appear, is exactly what Elizabeth Layton, with the help and support of her husband, has done.
"Release your neurosis through art or war," wrote Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, "that is your only choice." If through war, then the damage done to you by this world is returned to the world, to those around you or across the sea, wherever your scapegoating mind can find a victim. And if you survive this aggression of yours, survive it with some sensitivity and self-reflection intact, then guilt and self-loathing will be the result. If, on the other hand, you release your neurosis in a controlled fashion, through deliberately selected creative acts, then the result is twofold. On the outside there will result a work of art, a painting, a garden, an experiment, an artful exchange between people; and on the inside, integrity, the construction of a self from which peaceful acts issue forth.
The analogy here is to the wind harp, the instrument that so fascinated the romantic poets and about which Owen Barfield writes so beautifully. The wind harp was so designed, legend has it, that wind, entering from one side, exited the other side as music. So it is, said Coleridge, that we are all wind harps, or may choose to be. "It is not what entereth a man (or woman) that defileth him," said the guru--as Barfield reminds us, "but what goeth out." It is the output and not the input that is potentially defiling because it is the output that can be controlled, the output that becomes input for others and hence, part of the environment that promotes or helps heal human illness.
All of this is by way of describing what Elizabeth Layton has done. An early divorce, several stays in a psychiatric institution, shock treatments, the death of a child, all transmuted through art into some of the most dramatic and richly-filled drawings in contemporary art. Never have I seen the stacks of correspondence that I have seen in the Layton home, all from people who have had their lives enriched by her work and have been moved to write. And as for her depression, it has been drawn out, exorcised. "I don't know why it is," she writes, "but this contour drawing has completely cured me of my forty-year depression. I simply don't have it anymore."
"All of us," said Nietzsche, "are potentially hero or genius, only inertia keeps us mediocre." Ultimately, depression and inertia are the same thing. To suffer from one is to suffer from the other. In both, life takes on a sameness, nothing seems worth doing. The notion that there could be another reality, one different from the one you are in, seems like a lie that too many people tell themselves. The truth is the truth and life will be what it is no matter where you go.
Movement is the essence of all treatments for depression, movement from one place, activity or viewpoint to another; and when your movement is well under way, attend to form. And then, as Becker said, to art. The result, if you persist, as Elizabeth Layton has done, is the gradual accumulation of legitimate reasons for liking yourself, for respecting yourself; to the point that the potential of which Nietzsche spoke has a chance of being realized. "I believe that Layton may be a genius" said one New York art critic reviewing an exhibit of her work and another, writing independently, concurred. And although Elizabeth Layton shied from such comments, she did reveal, in a different context, another outcome of her work. While reviewing slides of her early drawings, she commented, "You know, in the beginning I drew myself as someone who was ugly but I don't see myself that way anymore. Now I draw someone who is beautiful."
Elizabeth Layton died March 15, 1993. She was 83. Glen died two years later. Exhibitions of Elizabeth's drawings continue to travel the country and most recently, her drawings have been exhibited in Paris.
(For more on the life and work of Elizabeth Layton, see The Life & Art of Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton by Don Lambert: WRS Publishing, 1995.)
Copyright © D. Thomas, 1999 - Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org