Art Restoration

Destruction: Craquelure

         Craquelure is the term for when a painting ages over time and the paint becomes cracked. It’s such a complicated process in which many factors like humidity and paint type can affect the way the painting develops this texture. You can see it on many beautiful pieces like the “Mona Lisa” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. It appears like scars on the subjects in the paintings. Seemingly unfixable blemishes on these priceless works of art. They’re not seen as a nuisance so much as a celebration of a painting’s age and its lasting staple of art history. Paintings can even be authenticated by craquelure, almost like a fingerprint.

         I often make the mistake of looking at my scars because they’re hard to avoid. I have no heroic tale to tell, I assure you. There are a couple of scars that are from surgeries, but the rest of them were self-inflicted, results of manic attempts at gaining some control over my life. It’s a paradox, losing control to gain control and it’s something I will never understand. Most of my insecurities rest in my scars. I stopped considering myself beautiful when most people do, in middle school. There were many reasons, but the main one was how my appearance changed. The minute my first cuts healed into white scar tissue, I considered myself irreparable. I had permanently damaged myself, the irreversible destruction of my mental illness.

            When I was thirteen, I received my first inpatient treatment for self-harm. At a visit, I showed my parents the scar on my wrist. “Almost healed,” I said proudly. At that time, I assumed this was a one-time thing. I could feel pride knowing I’d overcome this little lapse in judgment. These faint lines would eventually disappear and I would one day forget what it felt like to harm myself.

         My parents didn’t say anything to me. The look of discomfort was evident on their faces as they changed the subject. I learned from that point on, it wasn’t something people wanted to discuss. From then on, I didn’t talk about my scars to anyone. My first scars faded enough that they are impossible to see, but they were simply replaced by new ones. I learned how to lie to my parents and mental health professionals, the cycle of self-harm continued in the dark.    

Healing: Kintsugi

         Kintsugi is a Japanese practice of repairing broken ceramics by filling in the cracks with gold. It’s based on the Wabi-Sabi philosophy of seeing the beauty in nature’s imperfections. Pristine ceramics or porcelain pieces that have been damaged may appear hopeless and destined for the trash. But the four-hundred-year-old tradition turns the hopelessness into gold. When repaired, the new and improved piece has lines of gold signifying where the piece broke. It doesn’t erase the past mistake of breaking the dish, but it mends it and allows it to be functional again.

         By the time I hit high school, I’d grown almost indifferent to my scars. There are still moments when I’m anxious about them. When I meet new people or enter a new environment, I feel vulnerable because everything you need to know about my mental health journey is written on my skin for everyone to see. I’m terrified at what people might think. I wonder if they’ll think I’m crazy or dangerous. Maybe they’ll think I’m stupid, selfish, seeking attention. First impressions are permanent and unfortunately, sometimes my scars make the first impressions for me.

         In reality, I’ve done everything to cover them up. I tried to use makeup, long sleeves and pants to hide my body. I bought creams that claimed they could erase scars like magic. I wanted to fill in my broken pieces with gold, to maybe make myself beautiful. Surely, the gold could distract from the damage I inflicted.

         But over time, I learned that people really don’t care. In high school, I was constantly reminded that my peers were so worried about the way they looked that they weren’t paying attention anything else. I took that advice to heart and began opening myself up again. If people wanted to stare, that was their issue. I didn’t bring the topic up but I tried not to hide as much.

         Even with my regained sense of confidence, I still had one enemy. The girl in the mirror who spoke with venom in her voice. Who frowned at the marks and held on tight to the regret of her actions. I practically warred with myself, angrily critiquing my past-self and admonishing my weaknesses. It was nearly a weekly occurrence of standing in front of the bathroom mirror. With a frown, I’d pinch and stretch the scars over and over again. It was some mindless hope that if I glared at the scars hard enough, they would wither and disappear under the scrutiny. It was true that I could heal self-esteem but I would never be lined with gold.

Acceptance: Aphrodite

         The Ancient Grecian aesthetic was all about unmatched beauty and idealized sculpted bodies depicting gods and heroes. The positions are all intentional, the proportions are exact. In their time, they were pristine. The marble was the perfect material to convey this concept of no blemishes, no imperfections, and no flaws. Now, the artists are probably rolling in their graves because the sculptures look a little worse for wear but centuries of existence will do that.

         One rainy day, I went to the Harvard Art Museum for an art history assignment. After viewing the required exhibit, I decided to spend more time in the other more classic exhibits of Rococo European art, East Asian statues, and Medieval Christian relics. I ended in the Ancient Roman and Greek exhibit.

         At this point I’d lived with some of my scars for almost a decade. As I slipped further into adulthood, I became more anxious at the implications of being covered in scars. It was weighing on me and I hoped the trip to the museum would allow myself to clear my head for at least a couple of hours.

         In my looping path through the exhibition, I stopped at a smaller statue that was a foot in length and was practically just a torso. I stared at the object in the glass case for a long time. This headless, armless, legless statue was still considered valuable. The mysterious woman was severely destroyed and the marble was cut into.

         I glanced at the description.

         Aphrodite Adjusting Her Sandal, 1st century BCE.

         There she was, the Greek goddess of beauty, marred and ruined yet treasured, preserved and put on display for people to admire.

         In awe, I realized she had deep scars in her left hip. Just like I did. Here I was, thinking this disfigured statue was beautiful despite everything. I bore her scars. If she was beautiful with the same scars, then why wasn’t I beautiful? When looking at art, I thought that the world only valued imperfect aesthetics. Clean and unharmed.

         However, as I viewed Aphrodite in a permanent pose of fixing her sandal, I found this was completely wrong. She’s still a celebrated work of art and I was struck with the beauty in that. The deep understanding that is undeniable. Because, that’s what art is, examining the human condition, right? And there’s nothing truer about humanity than the fact that we are all flawed, outwardly or not.

         Deep down, I know I can forgive myself for lasting harm I placed on my body. Because I had always viewed art for the beauty that was intended. Sometimes the world changes things beyond our control. Paintings crack, statues chip, and our bodies are damaged over time. But that doesn’t distract from the soul of a piece of artwork or the heart of who we are as people. Oftentimes we don’t realize how much we celebrate the imperfect. Because, usually we hide it behind academic terms and analysis. But clearly these are celebrations of the flawed. Scholars revere these imperfections as evidence of a piece’s lasting impact on the world. Without craquelure, we ignore the history that paintings have seen. Without Kintsugi, we ignore the potential in ruined ceramics. Without centuries-old statues, we ignore how humanity survives despite destruction. Without imperfection, we ignore the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to overcome hardship.


Jillian Eagan is a graduate of Emmanuel College in Boston, MA where she received her BA in Writing and Publishing. She is currently working to receive her MA in Human Rights from the University of London. Her work has appeared in The Start Literary Magazine, Spoonie Magazine, JAKE, Divinely Inspired Lit, and Wishbone Words Magazine.

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