The Simple and The Difficult

PghPsych proudly welcomes its newest contributor, Christy Gualtieri. In “The Simple and the Difficult,” Christy shares her thoughts and insights on art, the meaning of life, and a trip to the museum. Enjoy!

In Good Health,
Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

The Simple and The Difficult
by Christy Gualtieri

Yellow and Blue by Mark Rothko

Yellow and Blue by Mark Rothko – Photo courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art

A few years ago, my parents were in town to celebrate my birthday. They’d never been to Pittsburgh before, and I was excited to show them this great city. I was especially excited to bring them to the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland. It’s always wonderful to look at different paintings and sculptures with my dad, an artist with an encyclopedic mind about other artists and their creative processes, so it was great fun to walk through the museum with him for a new perspective.

We walked up to a painting in the Modern Art collection: Mark Rothko, Yellow and Blue. I squinted at it, and inwardly sort of shrugged because it made no sense to me. It was just a block of color resting atop another block of color. Most random color selection ever, too. Um, why is this art? I naively thought. Anybody could do that. It looks so simple.

As someone who has had a life-long problem with anxiety, I should have known better. The things in our lives that seem so simple are very often the most difficult to achieve. For those who don’t struggle with anxiety, the seeming solution looks so simple on the surface: Just don’t get anxious. Think good thoughts. Don’t focus on the things that give you anxiety. But those who struggle with anxiety know the monumental difficulty of doing just that: corralling your thoughts. The exhaustion of finding the cause of the erroneous thinking that starts out as quick and innocent as a few snowflakes, but can so easily build up into an avalanche of negativity, ruining your attitude for days on end. It takes years of hard work to build the confidence you need in yourself so it is easier to control those thoughts next time.

And life? Mine could look simple, too, just like the painting I saw in front of me. I’m a stay-at-home mom, modern-day housewife, and a freelance writer. Not a bad place to be by any means, yet not without its own hidden challenges: the tedium of life’s routine with a toddler, never-ending household chores to manage, and the worry that my life as a writer has permanently suffered because of life outside a traditional workplace. Could I be so dismissive of my own life the way I seemed to be about this work of art?

My dad smiled when he walked up to the painting. “Ah! Rothko.”

“Not my favorite,” I said.

He held up both his hands to mimic a small screen, the way film directors do in movies to capture the perfect shot.

“The way to look at a Rothko is to zero in on it,” he said, walking a bit closer to the painting so only the middle part of it was centered into his hands – where the yellow no longer hovered above the blue, but began a slight, delicate descent into it, creating a horizon of thin brushstrokes. “There, in the middle? Now it’s not two colors anymore – it’s not even three. Now there’s a whole new field of color that you didn’t know was there. Isn’t it awesome?”

Suddenly, I understood.  My life has meaning. Yours does, too.

It was one of the most beautiful paintings I had ever seen.

Best wishes,

Christy GualtieriChristy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at, and tweets @agapeflower117.

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