Trust / by Jeannine Cook

Growing up on a farm in Tanzania, I learned very quickly that trust between humans and between humans and animals made the world go round. Wild animals, wary and watchful, sometimes paid one what I considered the supreme compliment of trust, allowing a human near them, to share their world at close quarters, whether they were mighty elephants or miniature dik dik antelope.

Here in coastal Georgia, the same system operates with birds and wild animals we meet. I was watching a raccoon perched comfortably and serenely on the deck railing this afternoon, watching us as we moved around inside the house, and again reflected on this vast issue of trust. In this instance, the raccoon arrives at the same season every year, during the daytime, to get food. She is feeding her four very small babies and needs help, she thinks! But trust is an ever-increasingly interesting subject. Just this last week, on Krista Tippett's "Speaking of Faith" programme on NPR, she interviewed Paul Zak, the scientist who has almost single-handedly invented the term, neuroeconomics, all based on trust. He has discovered that trust, the social glue that holds together families, communities, societies..., is dependent on oxytocin, a molecule produced in the brain. When each of us feels trusted, we produce more oxytocin, and thus we trust more too. This trustworthy behavior is of course much easier to foster in person to person (or animal, I believe!) contacts, and when corporate culture gets too distant and impersonal, we run into the financial and ethical problems we have been experiencing more and more in recent times.

As an artist, I reflected, it is not just the person to person relationships with other artists that is important. Of course, relating to artists whom one admires and respects is totally rewarding. My recent visit to the opening of The Luster of Silver silverpoint exhibition I had helped curate at the Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History, Evansville, IN, was made far more special by the encounter, finally, face to face, with many wonderful artists with whom I had been corresponding by e-mail. I suspect the oxytocin levels must have been zooming for us all during that weekend!

Nonetheless, there is another level of trust that is, I believe, terribly important for each artist. Trust in oneself and one's abilities.... Innumerable times, I have embarked on a painting or drawing, particularly in silverpoint where you cannot erase anything, and suddenly felt something akin to panic: "oh, can I do this as I want? How do I accomplish it?" Experience has finally taught me to listen to a still small voice inside my head, saying, "Trust yourself. It will work out". And somehow, it does seem to. Perhaps not always splendidly, but nonetheless to an acceptable level. That sort of trust only comes with experience and self-awareness, I suspect. But it is invaluable, not only in art, but in every avenue of life. Maybe Paul Zak will find another molecule in the brain, cousin to oxytocin, that engenders trust in oneself and one's abilities!