“Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”– Ranier Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet)
The alchemists have a saying: ‘Tertium non datur.’ The third is not given. That is, the transformation from one element to another, from waste matter into best gold is a mystery, not a formula. No one can predict what will form out of the tensions of opposites and effect a healing change between them. And so it is with the mind that moves from its prison to a free and vast plain without any movement at all. Something new has entered the process. We can only guess.– Jeanette Winterson
This painting has been on and off my easel since February. And although I wouldn’t call it gold, I can say that the process of making it had an alchemical quality. Put another way: I have no idea what I’m doing or why, but always have transformation foremost in my mind.
For those of you who aren’t painters, I want to tell you this secret. To be a painter – even an amateur one like me – you also have to be a gambler. Painters have to be willing to lose, repeatedly, until a painting is finished.
Every time I make a painting, I reach a point where I must put everything on the line, bet it all on the next brushmark. And many times, I lose.
Now, I’m not a gambler in any other way. The only slot machines I ever remember playing were the ones I visited at the Las Vegas airport en route to the Grand Canyon. I didn’t win. Lottery tickets tempt me sometimes. But the potential jackpot is less compelling than the greater likelihood of losing. I’ve never considered myself particularly lucky.
Instead, I prefer a sure thing if I can get it. I am a creature of routine and sameness for this reason. I know what I like and try to maximize my chances. Maybe I just like control. Don’t most of us?
But painting is never a sure thing. It’s a practice of uncertainty and risk. Painting is always a gamble.
The first brush strokes come with low stakes. There’s a lot less to lose when so little has been invested. But as a painting progresses, so increase the moments of possible ruin. With each new brush stroke, the razor’s edge becomes thinner.
Yes, mistakes can be corrected and even Bob Ross style happy accidents may add life to a painting. But I can tell you it’s not as easy to fix a painting as you might think, especially not if you want to preserve some precious part you’ve attached to. Changing one thing often creates a domino effect of other needed adjustments. This is doable. In fact, better paintings often result. But there is almost always something lost. And it is a gamble. The losses may never be recouped by the final bet.
When you look at a painting, there is typically no hint of the artist’s sweat, or that razor’s edge in view. You decide if you like it or not, and move on. You don’t see the paintings that have been tossed, scraped down, or sanded away, sometimes after countless hours of attention. But the artist remembers. The artist can’t separate the painting from the process of making it.
Maybe there are painters out there who don’t identify with what I’m saying at all. I’d love to know YOUR secret! And I’m aware there are ways of painting that make outcome more predictable. Still, I recently heard that Anne Packard once threw one of her paintings into the ocean. I know the struggle is real, even for great painters!
And I know the paintings I’ve wanted to throw into the ocean are often the ones I become most attached to. I don’t throw away the ones I don’t like. Instead, I let them rest where they taunt me until I have the courage to go back and try again. These are the ones I suspect others won’t value the same way I do; these are the ones that contain a bigger piece of my heart.
I don’t really like gambling. I hate to lose, especially in a contest with myself. I’ve had enough loss in my life already. But I am a painter, which requires me to be a gambler. I keep painting. Because sometimes I win. And only because I am willing to try again.
And sometimes I even understand: What is meant to be kept, can never truly be lost.
And sometimes I even know: we only find out what is truly possible, when we are willing to surrender everything we have attached to.
Are you a gambler? Are you willing to release the things that hold you back for the possibility of something greater?
Here are a few recent paintings that were saved from the trash.
Embrace winds of change Cast aside fearful habits True love lives in you ©️Amanda Reilly Sayer
I haven’t shared a painting here in some time, partly because I’m not sure WordPress is the best medium for sharing visual creative work. Let me know if I’m wrong! Nevertheless, I wanted to share this image because it is a re-rendered painting I posted here a little over a year ago, my third ever WP attempt.
A lot happens in a year and as one’s blog offers a potential mirror for personal and creative evolution. It’s fun to look back as we also look forward and keep ourselves rooted to the present moment. This painting is a bit of a triumph for me, which you might more fully appreciate if you read about my challenges with some earlier iterations of it here.
To all who have enjoyed and supported my creative efforts, I thank you. Many blessings in the new year, a chance for growth, and the realization of hopes and creative dreams for all. Let’s continue to shine light in the darkness.
I presented my gift to you with no fanfare, no overt meaning beyond, “I found this old box of Uno and thought you might like to have it.” My name had been written on top of the metal lid before you were born. I suggested you could possibly cover my name with yours.
You’d been asking me about playing Uno for several months, asked if I could buy Uno for the office. You seemed pleased I had remembered, but were noncommittal about adding your name to it.
Containers are made to hold things. Sometimes they even become special mementos to keep that which needs saving. They’re also, metaphorically speaking, very relevant to therapy.
Although your understanding of metaphor is still developing, I suspect you know, even without knowing you do, that the box might be a symbol for something important, something I want you to remember long after we stop working together.
We’ve seen each other once or twice a month for almost 7 years. More than half your life. We matter to each other in ways we both feel, even as we honor the boundaries of our professional relationship.
You’ve grown taller and more articulate about your feelings, the scared kindergartener who threatened to hurt me with his arm cast a now distant memory, even as the old fear of being hurt lingers in your bones. We sometimes talk about the day we met, about how you still want to lash out when you don’t feel safe. We talk a lot about taking space and creating safety inside yourself.
You say you trust me now, the reason you no longer want to hit me. You’re matter-of-fact about this, as if it’s a simple equation. Maybe it is. Simple, but not easy.
When we talk about safety, you invariably focus on what I’ve done to earn your trust. I, on the other hand, urge you to consider the risks you’ve taken, the work you’ve done. I don’t want the credit.
But I do want you to remember feeling held, of being safely contained by me for a time. And then, as you recall how that feels, even when your heart pounds with fear, I want you to remember to hold yourself in love. Because, strange as it may sound, love is the best antidote to fear, the most powerful weapon you have to manage all that scares you.
Yes, more than anything else, I want you to remember to love. That you are always, always worthy of love.
After thanking me for the Uno, you said, “Maybe I should leave it here so other kids can play with it too.” We’ve worked on empathy, talked a lot about sharing and being a good friend. You’ve learned well.
“No,” I replied. “There are other things for other kids. This is for you.”
Although this piece was inspired by some real events, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. I share it here because, despite how I’ve chosen to end the piece and our individual and varied needs for external containers, the gifts of love are meant for all of us. Whatever our history and however deep our wounds may be, I suspect we all need these reminders at different times. Consider yourself reminded and loved ❤️
Both the painting and the prose piece were coincidentally finished this morning. The title of the prose piece preceded the making of the painting, but a shared title and pairing for this post seemed just right.
Gift giving in a therapeutic context is a risk and one I’ve only carefully done as part of a deliberate transition/goodbye plan. I can neither encourage nor discourage this practice as a general rule. But I will say, in my experience, true healing of attachment-related wounds happens only from real exchanges that are both safe and heartfelt.
Sometimes the notes
Without effort, other times
Fingers sore from repetition
With gnashing teeth
The Buddha said (maybe)
You must become empty, before
And that is harder than it sounds
In this time when, doing more
Means doing well
But what if being well
Means simply being?
Allowing, the melody to emerge
©Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019
*Note: I shared this particular painting with this poem because it was a painting that evolved easily, which isn’t exactly typical of my experience. As a painter (and writer), I am guilty of teeth gnashing effort and that is usually evident in the work, at least to me. To have a goal that is about not trying seems both counterintuitive and impossible, but I know this is a goal worth allowing, if not pursuing.
What say you?
I’d wager to bet our perceptions differ, even as we may imagine we’re looking at the same thing. This is a truism. But it’s curious, isn’t it? By default, we assume we have a shared reality, when that is only partially true.
I recently posted to Facebook a photograph of a painting I made, my primary intention being to share what seemed like an amusing interchange between me and my husband. He said he liked the painting; I was less impressed and responded with something like, “If you really like it, you better take it to work with you, otherwise I might not be able to resist painting over it.” I’m known for painting over my work, for ruining a decent painting by changing “just one more little thing.”
The encounter was meant to highlight my struggles as a painter, possibly to invoke a chuckle or two. I can be guilty of taking myself too seriously. This exchange, and the telling of it, was meant to be an antidote.
What happened next was puzzling to me, but not really surprising when one considers how varied our individual perceptions of the same object can really be. In short, many people – many more than usual – responded positively to the painting. Some folks suggested the painting might be my best work.
I was stunned. Really?
You might imagine I’d be pleased to have my work well-received, which was true to a degree. It feels good to be liked and I always appreciate when people take the time to acknowledge me in some way.
But more predominantly, I was aware of feeling dysphoric, confused. What am I not seeing here?
Have you ever created something you didn’t personally like very much?
Of course you have!
Have you ever had other people like that thing more than other things? Things you’ve liked better yourself? Worked harder on, been more proud of?
It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it?
In some ways it’s a bit like going to a costume party and having people say you’ve never looked better. Really? Do you not like the real me?
But who is the real me? Who is the real you? Would you know your true self if you saw it reflected back to you? If your art reveals something about you, do you know what that is?
In a world where wearing masks is a social custom, is it any wonder we get confused about what is real, true, and good?
Wait, are we talking about a painting or about being authentic? Well, I think they’re connected, at least in this example. Because I know it’s possible to hide the truth of who we are, even when we think we’re being open. Just as it’s possible to truly reveal ourselves without noticing, without seeing ourselves. For better and worse.
None of this may be relevant to the painting. Art is subjective; perceptions vary. But when the groundswell of something you’ve created differs so widely from your own opinion, the problem likely lives in your perception of self.
Perhaps it’s time for you to broaden your self perception, to expand the expressed range of who you’ve allowed yourself to be?
I know that time has come for me.
I came to painting unconventionally, with no memories of childhood painting aptitude and little painting experience outside of my elementary school art classes. I’ve always liked to draw, but my ability to render what I saw was never remarkable. Playing sports and being a good student were more my things.
There is some photographic evidence that hints of my early interest in painting, but being an artist was never part of my identity. I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that identity at age 50. Nor do I really feel I must do so, at least not any more than I’ve defined myself in other ways. Am I a painter? Someone who likes to paint? Is there really a difference?
I don’t know. I’m just curious about these sorts of things, most especially how each of us develops and claims aspects of ourselves that have been unknown or previously dormant.Continue reading