........................................ from thought leader Jan Phillips http://janphillips.com/about-jan/
To be an artist it is not necessary to make a living from our creations. Nor is it necessary to have work hanging in fine museums or the praise of critics . . . To be an artist it is necessary to live with our eyes wide open, to breathe in the colors of mountain and sky, to know the sound of leaves rustling, the smell of snow, the texture of bark . . . To be an artist is to notice every beautiful and tragic thing, to cry freely, to collect experience and shape it into forms that others can share.
........................................ from thought leader Jan Phillips http://janphillips.com/about-jan/
It amazes me how quickly the time flies by. It is quite true that the older you get the faster time goes. Christmas has arrived again! Best wishes to all of you for peaceful moments.
“The power of the arts to convey a felt experience of mystery is profound.”
--- Christine Valters Paintner, PhD & Betsey Beckman, MM Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction
It's so hard to capture the many impacts and experiences both as artist and viewer. I like the idea of conceptualizing an element of mystery about it all.
For decades (yup I am that old that I can use that phrase), I have noticed that when I am sick I feel a creativity urge unleashed in me in a big way. I have no idea why or what could possibly be the underlying reason for it. It has periodically lead me down some roads that would not necessarily be the best choice for a sick person – painting the living room or perhaps several rooms over the years, building a new workbench and a myriad of art projects imagined and started.
Maybe it’s about being openly vulnerable and stripped back to a raw state where there is little left but to listen to the fundamental inner voice which may have been suppressed and which may be the root of the illness to begin with….who knows.
Well here I am again…sick with creativity unleashing itself all over the place. I have held myself back from the renovation of my studio for this round because it is a BIG job and I admittedly am down a quart on energy. Soon.
Often I get my pump primed with some reading. Art books of course. I have been reading David Choe again. I first saw his work in Juxtaposition, a great magazine (and art book publisher – check out their special book on nature) that I pick up periodically. His work covers a range of the palatable for me personally. Some of it I really turn away from (and he would like that) but some I cannot get enough of. His layering, characterizations, compositions and palette I go over again and again. I read something he wrote about his approach that caused me to run down a new road and new train of thought. He was describing how he pulls out all these materials and sketches and layers paint and scratches and sketches and layers again. He says you have to just try it all and be prepared to let it be destroyed and let it go, let it go.
LIGHT BULB ATTITUDINAL MOMENT.
So here I am just letting it fly with layers, and materials, and sketching, and paint, and ink, and more layers, and the final step which is to cover the whole thing with dark oil paint and then start to rub away parts of it. And be prepared to destroy it and let go. But I don’t need to…it’s working…..
My assistant has been following me closely all day.
I have explained to her that I have Kennel Cough
which she understands fully.
Trapping light. Trapping wasps. Trapped in winter. Trapped in dilemmas. Trapped in trees.
I have been totally transfixed for two days by a wasp, a live wasp, which has installed itself upon my exercise ball while being stored in my mudroom. My mudroom is easily the temperature of a refrigerator and at times as cold as a freezer. Side note – I indulge this fixation as I simply cannot use the exercise ball which for my exercise circuit it is the next circuit in a sequence. Thus I cannot exercise. How convenient is that! OK. So back to the wasp. I have two clear plastic storage containers in my mudroom. Each has a simply delicious and spectacular partial wasp nest in it. Do I need to tell you that I creep quietly into the room to sneak up upon them to see if they have come alive and are emitting wasps into the mudroom? OK. Back to the wasp again. HOW COULD IT POSSIBLY BE THERE? HOW!!!!!!
So this morning I decide to entrap the thing so I can get my exercise ball which is now required in red alert status due to Valentine’s over-indulging. It all becomes way too much for my artistic sensibilities and I race for my camera and macro lens. (also serves to procrastinate further on the exercise thing) I open the mudroom door and for the first time in several days it has now moved. Really? It was there three minutes ago. But I have a particular radar for some living things and I locate it right away. So I entrap the wasp in a sealer jar and begin to photograph it some more. Finished, I am caught in a dilemma. Do I keep it trapped? Do I let it go perhaps to reproduce or call more of its friends? How can I trap it? That will kill it. What a glorious creature you are to arrive when it’s -30 and survive in zero degrees! It’s entrapment has entrapped me in this dilemma. I abandon it to go for a walk to consider.
As I walked Charlie Girl my dog I got into one of those pickles I seem to get myself into. It’s unbelievable to me how I do these things and a source of mystery. But it seems to happen frequently enough that I cannot deny that it’s a characteristic of my journey. Listen to this.
We often on our walks meet many people, dogs, squirrels, rabbits and the occasional deer and fox along the way. Some are known to us and we count on them being there. There is one very lively Border Collie who has an exceptionally long fenced yard and he races back and forth, up and down, trying to entice other dogs to race with him. Today Charlie took the bait. I decided to traverse the knee deep snow to go over for a visit and pat him over the fence. It’s about 12 feet from the path to the fence. So I am walking along the dog raceway chatting up a storm as the dogs race back and forth past me. They stop. I approach for the pat session. Off they go and I decide to walk a few more feet and then return to the main path. I straighten up and swivel and before I could even understand what was happening a flexible shoot from a low hanging tree is plastered between my glasses and my eyes, effectively shutting my eyes and pressing the lids to stay closed. Yup. I am stuck to a tree branch. So I decide to move my head to try to get off and another branch grabs my woolly toque tightly. So I cannot move. A branch stuck to my head and one between my glasses and my face. Of course it did not occur to me to take my glasses off. It was all happening too quickly. My first thoughts were what if someone can see me? Followed quickly by what if someone can’t see me and I am stuck? Really stuck! Then I start to laugh and the twig on my eyelids acts like a rasp. Good grief. My head felt pinned as if it was in a surgery vice and someone was about to drill into my brain. I cannot move one tiny bit! I could go blind! Note that it still had not occurred to me to take my glasses off. As I said, things were happening quickly. Really. Well needless to say that I figured it out. One eyelid is a bit scraped. I am not blind.
But I am struck by many things. The ongoing reality in my life of the endless play within the play. Today’s play is entitled ‘Entrapment’ for the harsh reality of the feeling of being trapped. The wasp goes free I tell you!
And if someone could answer for me the why I have this duality between my discernment of fine movement and incredible detail versus my all too frequent physical bungling because I am not watching what I am doing I would be so grateful.
On a final and related though wave, I was asked a great question the other day by someone preparing a lecture. The question seems complex but most will have an immediate answer nonetheless and it goes with my theme today. So I will close by asking, “What stops you from living? What entraps you?”
They say that many successful artists (what is that by the way?) or many consistently producing artists had a strong cheerleader as a child, more often than not his/her mother. I did not have a mother after the age of 10 and my father was determined to get this wild child (me) under control and well-protected in a 'good job'. So he systematically and consistently discouraged any thought of art as something more than a hobby…..and, "people don't do their hobbies for pay!" My growing obsession with art was met equally by his increased negativity about the art itself. Really, he was frightened for his child’s future.
So who was my cheerleader? It was that little voice within. I think at some point for all of us it comes down to that and that alone. Can you hear yourself cheering you on? Can you hear yourself at times driving you on? Do you hear yourself calling, calling, calling out to yourself to engage, try again, don't be afraid, work a little longer, work differently, work smarter and any other entreaty about perseverance you can think of?
Yet now that I am older, I also have many loving friends who are cheerleaders. Frankly, I have fantastic cheerleaders and they mean so much to me. They are confirmatory. They are my outside reality telling me that the most recent experiment in art making has hit its visual communication goal. They cheer me on with their glowing appreciation. They cheer me on with their wonderment and queries about “how did you think that up or how did you ever do that?” Then there's “how long did that take? WOW!” And who doesn’t love to hear, “I love it! I want one!”
They pick me up when I have fallen - fallen away from that voice within that whispers make art, make art, create. Little falls from fatigue....small failures... Big falls from that handful of times in my life when unbalanced critique such as a screaming fist-clenched raging prof reigns down like blows. My cheerleaders help me to embrace the reality check that screaming is not cheerleading….nor is it educational or even helpful. Well, maybe helpful in that when the Phoenix rises from those ashes of despair it is with a new and even grittier resolve about that whisper within….make art, create.
If you cannot hear your cheerleader within, find your own cheerleading squad. What we do as artists can be lonely and
disheartening and confusing and joyous and thrilling and, and, and ... Cheerleaders have a role in our journey.
This is a tribute to my steadfast cheerleader Piper the dog. She faithfully and patiently followed me on my photographic journeys up and down back lanes, showing huge interest in the things which caught my eye. She silently and watchfully
slept in my studio during the many hours while my soul flew free making art. She never faltered in her steadfast presence during my joy and my despair on this journey. I miss you Pipie.
Piper March 2000 - June 2013
One more walk into the doctor’s office to hear the words, “Well it’s not cancer.” But I knew that. This time I knew that deep inside. So the ride up to this moment was not as anxiety soaked as previous times. Nonetheless, relief sweeps over you in waves so high that you cannot catch your breath in moments.
One of the first times this happened was the defining moment of my artistic journey since 1995. I sat in the oncologist’s office on 23 December at 5PM. The situation was surreal. In 1964 at 6PM on 23 December, my mother died from cancer. The surroundings were surreal. It was so very very quiet. Only the sound of my thoughts screaming in my head. I was alone, the only remaining patient, the lights were low and one little small tinsel starved fake Christmas tree sat in the corner with a few slowly blinking lights. I was reading a book on art quilting/embroidery and thinking to myself that I had not even entered the world of artistic production that I wanted to be in. If I get a chance to go on, if only…… The waiting was hard. The nurse had called after my latest blood test and said that the doctor wanted to see me. That was a few weeks earlier. I walked down the hall through brighter almost glaring white lights into the tiny room. Waiting, more waiting. The door burst open and the next sound I heard was “It’s not cancer.”
Do you have a defining moment? I left the office, drove home and literally stepped onto a new artistic path. I have kept the promises I made to the universe on that 1995 late afternoon. There have been other moments like this since that day. Each has its own life message and life direction it seems to me. They feel big.
Do you have big moments? A First Nations elder told me once that the universe seems to deliver big messages to certain personas. Really big messages or cascades of consecutive messages seemingly piled on top of each other totaling big. That’s me.
So what is it this time that defines me? Or is there something big? I think so. One is a decision about how I want to spend my energy. It is no longer boundless. Budgeting energy. Budgeting anything is not necessarily one of my skills. But I can learn. Energy by virtue of age, health and totality of life commitments. Bounded energy. This is a big thing for me to swallow. I verge on hyper-activity as a baseline. Some friends would say lose the “verge on” and this would better describe me.
I know I have been incubating some mark making. This is about as precise as I can be about what has been happening inside. All to say that it feels like something new is about to burst out. New in terms of style, technique, and desire all rolled up into one something. At this juncture the words of Marianne Williamson come to mind which I paraphrase as “It is not failure that we fear but rather our own greatness (meaning success through self-fulfillment).”
So today, Good Friday, high holy week, brings me to this edge. Stepping into the next phase. Mining both the wisdom of all the moments leading up to this one and yet letting them go in order to step onto a path unknown and trying to do so with no boundaries or definitions of what that means or even how to achieve it.
“I am blessed.” A friend of mine says this when you ask him how he is. “I am blessed!” Ezra says. I feel this way. “I am deeply blessed.” I've had another big moment. The rest is really up to me.
Happy Easter everyone!
Ten years ago I stumbled across a concept called The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). Have you heard of it? WOW! It was as if a number of critical light bulbs went on for me which explained the past and also introduced a degree of management to my day. This trait was discovered by Dr. Elaine Aron, http://www.hsperson.com/ , in her psychiatric practice where she saw/sees a large number of artists. I shared this with a few people and the light bulbs went on for them. Life changing light bulbs! Here are some points from Elaine’s home page.
·“Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population--too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.
·It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it to be in most or all animals, from fruit flies and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others'.
·You are more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.
·You are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.
·This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called "shy." But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.
·Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told "don't be so sensitive" so that they feel abnormal.”
So part of the pathway is to determine how much stimulation you actually need and to be able to manage this. OK. Clearly this will require a lifetime of practice! The key is not to lapse into boredom (often resulting in unhealthy behaviours) but at the same time ensuring you don’t push yourself into the tilt zone. I am sure if one is inclined, you could study your pattern daily for years before being able to refine that thin fragile line in the sand between the two states.
So the world has changed so much with social networking. I am reflecting (as an HSP would do of course) somewhat deeply on my own use of pinterest, twitter, facebook, blogs and email as a way of stimulating myself which is manageable. Manageable in the sense that you have total control over the stimulation versus something like a party. My friends, co-workers and family are surprised at my engagement with social media. They interpret social media as socializing and they code me as, to a degree, socializing adverse. I love people but this face-to-face stuff is where I clearly shut down in an overwhelmed pile of silent goo – so to speak. TILT! TILT! So they are also suspicious of my social media behaviour as being a defect of some kind. A type of thing that I am doing because I am incapable of doing/being something else. Not so!
To me social media is rich stimulation. All those ideas, all those pictures, all those people doing and thinking such interesting things. I have learned a huge huge amount about artwork, my clear and abiding, ever-present obsession. Tons! But as I sit drinking all this in when I want and to the limit that I want which equals manageability of stimulation. It serves the added function of blocking out the wearing noise of places like airports.
I have been thinking about this topic for several weeks now, as I am want to do (read Elaine Aron – lol), and I think that I have it figured out. I write for you about this with the cheery optimism that this could also be of value to you or someone you love.
I do several different types of art. Why? In part it’s because I love it all and cannot just pick one. But mostly I think it’s because each medium seems to satisfy a different physicality need which has become linked to my creativity. Oriah Mountain Dreamer http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com/index.php in her book What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul says that creativity and physicality indeed have a vital link. It felt like a relief to read this years ago as I have only ever heard one other artist express it.
So if I feel super energized or physical, I often want to go wandering with my camera and its macro lens. It usually ends up being a journey of lots of crawling about, up and down, stretching, holding a pose….. On the polar opposite end, if I am feeling quiet, precise, contained and controlled, I will want to get out my ink pens and begin to draw in detail. Tension demands knitting (no pun intended). Loose and slow wants oil paint. Intense and focused needs acrylic paint. Measured and controlled is watercolour.
Lots of physical energy and imprecision hooks me right to building assemblage, mosaic tile work or machine quilting finished whole quilts. Fine manual dexterity and focus is for building the detail on or for fabric art. Lots of physical energy but laser precision is for processing bl/wh film or taking lino to press. Carving lino, however, is like ink drawing – tight and controlled.
All of this intertwines with the spiritual and energetic aspects of art making. It feels like you enter a place which is not based or grounded fully in reality. A creative haze settles around you. When I am fully there, I have little appreciation of things like dogs racing madly in and out of the house, pots boiling dry on the stove, the minutes or even hours ticking by, the ill-effects of spilling, gluing, and spraying on surfaces, open windows and pelting rain, hunger, fatigue, muscle stiffness and many other things. I love this feeling. It’s addictive. People remind me to eat
and stretch. Digital timers keep us safe from kitchen fires. The dogs have been trained to check in or is that check on me. You surface up out of the haze and dip back down again, up and down, up and down.
Then there’s the switching up of the brain functioning. Some would say that the creative haze I speak of above is a right-brainness. I would say it’s different. For thinking however, I reach to the work of Edward de Bono who talks
about the ‘six thinking hats’. http://www.debonogroup.com/six_thinking_hats.php de Bono says that you need to learn different thinking modes including creativity, alternative thinking, judgement, analysis, optimism, objectivity/facts, etc. I came across this many years ago and trained myself to do this deliberately. It is really useful as you move through various phases of art making. Free flowing ideas, alternative thinking, judging…..all needed……
Then there’s that mysterious place I call incubating which for me seems to be a space and function with all three aspects rolled up into a silent unconscious place. I often realize its yield upon awakening. But sometimes I get its benefit a year or two later as a technique or concept I was struggling with learning suddenly seems to be fully present without any practice or thought since the main learning event. That one really blows me away!
I asked my brother once what appealed to him about one of his passions – golf. He said that even though you quite often play the same golf course, every shot, every time, is different. He finds it endlessly engaging. I think art making is the same. Every stroke, every stitch, every cut, every shutter click, every time, is different. For all the myriad of physical, spiritual, energetic, cognitive permutations, it is different, it is stimulating, it is engaging, it is fulfilling (OK there are days when it is not so fulfilling but rather vexing) and it is oh so very very soul filling.
Personal Assistant #2 offers helpful criticism to think less and do more.
Procrastination in the name of perfection has immobilized me yet again. I wish the same phenomena would cut in regarding my movement towards snack food. Nonetheless.....that is another matter.
I could have launched this site and blog months ago. Instead I have been reclined in a comfy chair studying other people's blogs under the delusion that the perfect opening segue would reveal itself. Nope.
I have sunk to the depths of resorting to self-entreaties like " just do it!" or "just be yourself!" I've even tried arguing with myself such as "but you love writing" (which I do). Then of course there is a host of vacuuming, exercise, overtime work work, dog grooming including the unpleasant nail clipping, walking the dogs in -25, and even reconciling the bank book list of urgent priorities.
Today was absolutely the best though. I have been absorbed totally in Nat Geo Wild, telling myself that one does not usually get to see shows on these unusual animals and it is critical to learn the facts. I mean you can see the whole wild cat, alligator, shark thing on a regular basis. But Mother Warthog, Wolverines: Animal Ghost, and an update on the Bandit clan of Meerkat Manor? Seriously? One clearly could not take this availability for granted. Ask me about wolverines anytime! I’ve got the facts now……
But eventually I can't even bear my own thinking anymore and so today I finally launch into action on the blog.
The pattern reminds me of how I get when trying to begin my art making. It takes but a few moments once over the barrier of resistance to be immersed totally in whatever I have chosen to do. It's getting across that invisible line though that is difficult.
I read something years ago in a textbook on Buddhism about this exact phenomena while taking World Religions (ask me about retributive justice and the 7 Hindu hells anytime). The Buddhist monks were putting forward that it is not the thing itself that is forbidding but the threshold. Thus, mental effort should be focused on the threshold in order to overcome it. OK.
I think I made some good headway on this with my art making awhile ago. I was reading an article in the Saturday Globe and Mail about a new book called ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Duhigg, Michael Phelps long-time swimming coach. He trained Michael to adopt a simple starting the race procedure - the same thing every time, every time, every time. There is also a mental imaging practice done at other key times throughout the day. It is a mental recitation of this practice followed by imaging success at your task. Imagine it again, and again, and one more time again and yet again. So it's race time and as you approach the block your entering in routine kicks in. You just do it, no resistance, no threshold to cross, no anxiety. It's automatic. FOLLOWED BY SUCCESS. (I think it's worked out well for Mike)
So I made my own ‘entering in’ practice. Of course I could not stop there and made an exit practice also rationalizing that the ending hooks right back up to the beginning. It has worked marvellously!
This morning, as I began Day 88 of self-torture in the guise of deep reflection and research, I came upon the idea of creating an entering in practice for blog writing. YEAH! THAT'LL DO IT!
Which brings me right back to one final round of thinking before launch which goes like this: just do it, be yourself, gosh I do love writing, who really wants to watch a host of cheetahs kill baby warthogs, there is no ideal opening segue, shouldn’t you actually be making art, is blog writing actually a form of procrastination for art making……and so it begins.......or is that and so it continues…. (actually gotta go right away because Rhino Rescue is just starting) (seriously - it's important)