Courtney Cook is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside, and a graduate of the University of Michigan. An essayist, poet, illustrator, and the founder of On Loan From The Cosmos, a literary magazine celebrating the radical self-acceptance of everything that comprises who we are in our entirety. Courtney’s work has been seen in The Rumpus, Hobart, Lunch Ticket, Split Lip Magazine, Wax Nine, and Maudlin House, among others. Her illustrated memoir, THE WAY SHE FEELS, is forthcoming from Tin House Books in summer 2021. When not creating, Courtney enjoys napping with her senior cat, Bertie.
Read our Q&A with Courtney Cook, to learn more about her work and the inspiration behind her Tshirt.
What’s your artistic background ? Creating art has been an important part of my life since I was able to hold a crayon. I’ve always loved drawing, painting, bookmaking—whatever. I love the exploration that art necessitates and just being playful and seeing where a piece takes me. I don’t feel tied to a specific medium, but mostly identify as an illustrator nowadays. I’ve studied all forms of art at the Oxbow School in Napa, California, the School of the Art Institute Chicago, University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design, and Tin House Summer Workshop. This summer, I’m beginning my MFA in Comics at the California College of the Arts.
Can you describe your work in 3 words? I’d describe my work as quirky, contrasted, and playful!
“Celebrating the radical self-acceptance” is your motto. What do you think it means to truly love and accept yourself? I think radical self-acceptance comes down to accepting and making peace with all parts of yourself; disability, chronic illness, mental illness, any conditions you may have, and so on. It extends way past just accepting your body and looks, but making a concerted effort to accept all parts of yourself, even things that are seen as “flaws” or hinderances by society, or even yourself. You may not love these things at this moment in time (and you may not ever), but you have to make peace with what you’re experiencing/the hand you’ve been dealt, and just be able to say “this is me, this is all I am, take it or leave it.” It’s all about not letting anything hold you back from being your fullest and truest ‘you.’
What is the message and inspiration behind your t-shirt “Its Okay To Cry”? I am a big crier, and I cry easily. Whether I’m happy, sad, or somewhere in-between, I’m likely on the verge of tears. As someone who isn’t neurotypical and lives with mental illness, very active in the mental health realm, I want to be an advocate for people who experience emotions in a similar way that I do and I believe it’s important to destigmatize mental illness and its symptoms. and let them know it’s totally okay to cry, to be anxious, and to be open about how you’re feeling. It doesn’t make you weak, unworthy, invalid, unlovable, or a burden—it makes you strong.
What kind of reaction do you hope to get from people who see your t-shirt? I’m hoping that this t-shirt design resonates with individuals who cry easily, those who are afraid to cry, those who want to cry more often, whatever! I hope it spreads acceptance, and encourages individuals to embrace their feelings, good or bad. I hope it does a bit to destigmatize being open with your “negative” emotions, and contributes to normalizing crying and feeling sad. Because it’s okay not to be okay!
Marina Abramovic said “Happiness is such a good state, it doesn’t need to be creative. You’re not creative from happiness, you’re just happy. You’re creative when you’re miserable and depressed. You find the key to transform things. Happiness does not need to transform.” What do you think? I love Marina, but I don’t think I agree with her here! As someone who lives with mental illness, I think it’s really important not to glamorize my illness(es) or think that the only way I can create or produce good work is when I’m sad. If that was the case, I’d never have the motivation to get better, as creating art is such an integral part of my identity that I’m unwilling to let go of. I create art in times of happiness and sadness, and I don’t think one is better than the other. They’re simply different works with different tones! I encourage everyone to create when they feel the urge to, and to never feel that they shouldn’t work on their mental health or seek out treatment for fear of losing their artistic abilities.