The Forgiving Sea Project & the Phenomenological Approach

The Forgiving Sea Project was shown in the Collaboration Hub of The Fisher’s Arts Council in May 2023 for Mental Health Awareness Month. During our events, I had an enlightening conversation with Katy Wagner, MA, ATR-P, LMHCA, a licensed art psychotherapist, who asked me if I was familiar with the phenomenological method of working and if I employed it as I painted over the layers of names to create the next layer of the sea. When she explained the phenomenological approach, she stated that we respond to what we see, which informs our actions. 

I answered yes; it most definitely influences how the painting changes; if there is a dark, solid mark from a name written on the painting, I respond to the marks on the painting in terms of color, line, and the energy the handwriting evokes, which transforms the feeling of the images from month to month and year to year. It is a collaboration, so the Forgiving Sea was called a “Project.” The various Forgiving Sea paintings have different visual energies emitting from them. Maybe this has to do with what people experienced in those years and the collective audience that interacted with the paintings. 2019 - 2020 was an intense year, and Forgiving Sea II reflects the challenges people faced.

I decided to dig a little deeper to see how phenomenology is uniquely positioned to help us learn from the experiences of others. “Phenomenology is a form of qualitative research that focuses on the study of an individual’s lived experiences within the world.”1.

After reading about this process, I realized I come from a hermeneutic or interpretive phenomenology approach. It has an epistemological assumption that this observer, being me, is part of the world and not bias-free. 

I interpret what I see in the painting and then respond with an emotional energy of I am sorry, forgive me, I love you, and be at peace as I paint over the names or events on the canvas. 

My role in collecting names, events, and places on The Forgiving Sea Project - Movable Sanctuary has been one that encourages forgiveness as a viable method of healing by using the writing process as a marker for the individual. The names are visible to all that participate, and some reflect on what is being written by others and reflect on their own experience before or after they write on the Forgiving Sea. My takeaway from researching further is that subjective and objective knowledge of what others experience is intimately intertwined, just as we are all woven into each other’s pain and healing process toward peace.

1. Neubauer, B. E., Witkop, C. T., & Varpio, L. (2019). How phenomenology can help us learn from the experiences of others. Perspectives on Medical Education, 8(2), 90-97.