By: Rafael Matos

These days I am all about living my best life, and as I take an inventory of the ideologies and actions I practice regularly, I realized my best life demands I get rid of outdated and impractical beliefs that stifle my growth. But navigating change is challenging; replacing old habits with new behaviors that promote physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being sometimes feels like a daunting task. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery to identify my areas for further development and make those upgrades with great enthusiasm, and the moment I experience setbacks, I begin to feel discouraged. As I continue through this voyage, those feelings of discouragement intensify as impediments continue to slow my progress to the point I question myself for attempting to accomplish something that seems pointless. And just like that, I am stuck in a hopeless rut with no visible way out.

But like I said in the beginning, I am focused on living my best life, and when things begin to feel bleak to me, I use my creative talents to escape my self-imposed melancholic mental prison and find my way back towards my path of fulfillment. I turned to the visual arts as my guiding compass to help me find my confidence and realign my purpose. I lose myself in the art making process so much that everything else seems distant and insignificant. All that is important to me is making sure I am prepared to execute the project effectively, as designed. There are various parts to my creative methodology that help me sort through my own personal challenges. In this post I’ll focus the discussion on symbolism.

A painting of a menelaus blue morpho butterflySymbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities. A symbol is a sign, mark or word that represents an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols help people make connections between different concepts and experiences. I think it’s amazing that one a thing can become imbued with lessons that do not result from its own existence, but instead are attributed to something outside of itself. I tend to think about the significance of the images I juxtapose on a surface – I ask myself how can I connect them and why should I make that connection. Some time ago I decided to paint a butterfly mainly because I am fascinated by their physical aesthetic. During the research phase to prepare my painting, I learned butterflies have been used as emblems of transformation and joy and to represent the soul. These three symbols were the ones that connected with me the most because each representation reflected my life at that point in time. For one, I was going through a transition phase in my life. I was experiencing great uncertainty, I did not know if I could afford to pay my bills, if I would stabilize my career, or if could even be there for the people who needed me most, specifically my then nine-year-old niece. It was enough to push me to doubt my value and my worth. And although I was in a transitional state that seem to lack an end, I found myself filled with joy. For the first time, in a long time, I was at ease with myself. I did not have everything figured out, but I was content because I had the opportunity to get up every day and move one step closer to a better me. And that idea uplifted my soul. I felt like I was putting myself back together again.

I worked painstakingly to capture the fine details of the butterfly. I wanted the finished artwork to have a photo realistic quality. As I stepped back to reflect on the final product I realized there was yet another symbolic representation I had not considered about butterflies. See, a butterfly goes its entire life not realizing that it is beautiful. It doesn’t understand the aesthetic value it possesses and the power it has to bring joy and cheer to others by simply showing up in space. It lives because it wants to; the butterfly defines its own purpose. That was a powerful lesson for me to learn. I needed to be reminded that, like a butterfly, I bring a valuable aesthetic into any space I visit. My value and dignity does not diminish because someone else does not praise my talents. This painting was a reminder that no one can distract me from achieving my goals once I define my purpose. I strive every day to live like a butterfly, secure in my existence, bringing joy to everyone around me while flying steadfast in my purpose.

Learn more about Rafael Matos at campuspeak.com/rafael-matos