*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.
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?
Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken made some, if not all the difference to me as a developing person. Rarely one to take the easy or expected path, I found Frost’s poem reassuring, even encouraging. But as I ponder now the various roads I’ve taken, I wonder whether I was destined to end up right here. Maybe all the fretting and deciding were superfluous egoistic illusions of control.
At a current crossroads in my life, I’m not surprised to see paintings with path imagery emerge. But I’m intrigued by the evident central path, significant to me in part because none of the paintings began with any thematic intention. Most typically, my paintings evolve organically, meaning they aren’t planned and often change – sometimes dramatically – as they are made.
I’m curious about this repeated theme, the one path. It’s almost as if my subconscious, maybe my higher self, is offering a reminder: “You’re on your path whether or not you can see where you’re going, worry is optional.”
For not the first time, I’m considering whether each of us has a predetermined path, sometimes called a soul path. This possibility doesn’t negate free will, which I believe we have. It’s more like being in a great river. We may choose to swim against the current or even to walk along the banks. But it’s probably easiest to stay in the water and go with the flow.
I am aware of making choices. At the same time, I feel I’m being led in a particular direction, even as I have little certainty about where that is or what waits for me beyond the next bend.
Do you ever feel this way? When you look back on your life, do you understand now where you were being led then?
Make art where you find it. Every day. For YOU and for love. This isn’t a Hallmark card, it’s a way of being.
Don’t wait for Valentine’s Day!
Deliberate creative acts, even small ones, feed your spirit. Do it with heart shaped strawberries or whatever inspires you. Make art – broadly defined- to create your best, most authentic life.
At most, it took an extra minute to decorate my husband’s breakfast plate as shown. The choice to do so made me smile, made him feel special, and added a little extra, out of the green box beauty, to our St. Patrick’s Day morning. Triple win.
Truth in advertising: I’m hardly an apron-clad housewife, looking for all the ways I can please my man. Most days I barely get Cheerios in a bowl for myself. Does he eat breakfast on those days? I don’t know! This post isn’t about being a good partner, at least not directly.
It’s about nurturing your creative spiritand watching your world transform!
When you cultivate a creative mindset, every day offers opportunities to make something new, to see the world with fresh eyes and an open heart. A creative approach to life changes everything.
And that’s not all…
When you find ways to share your art with others, you contribute to the pool of love. In case you hadn’t heard: love is the best antidote to fear. Don’t you want to feel less afraid? More joyful?
Making art (cultivating a creative mindset) is a form of self-love; sharing is how you spread love to others. Not everyone will feel the love, but even if one person does, the ripple effect may create a wave of goodwill. Don’t you think we need more of that?
So often we fail to notice the interesting, potentially inspiring, or beautiful, things around us. We’re busy, tired, distracted. Hardwired to notice threat, we’re more likely to attend to the things that could go wrong, than to appreciate the musical quality of the wind, or an unusual shade of green.
Except when we train ourselves to do otherwise, as artists of all types do.
“But, I’m not artistic!”, at least some of you protest. To which I would suggest you might broaden your definition of art. To make art where you find it.
Have you ever read a sentence that made your toes curl with understanding, so moved you copied and posted it so you’d see it again? Shared a photo of a sunset? Picked and dried a wildflower that reminded you of a trip to the mountains? Kept a rock you found on the seashore and set it on your windowsill, next to the others you couldn’t leave behind?
I could go on. The point is to recognize your role in creating your experience, to look closely beyond the familiar, the easily unnoticed. To discover whether your artful witness can spark joy, no Marie Kondo style tidying up required!
Before I knew anything about painting – only slightly less than I know now, mind you – I was heavy handed with the color purple. For no reason I can really remember, purple (one shade, straight from the tube – ugh!) was my go to color.
Then I learned to avoid it, along with the color red. An unconscious hedge against the inadvertent possibility of making purple, I’d guess.
Blues and greens were safer choices, certainly for the seascapes I’m so fond of capturing. The real problem was that I didn’t understand color mixing, among other things. And dark purple was a good cover for poorly considered brushstrokes and color choices that couldn’t be undone. Hmm… maybe I’m starting to understand why I used it so much!
I cringe to think about some of those paintings now, even as I also see how much I needed to make them. And I’ll almost certainly know this feeling again when I look back at my currently unrecognized shortcomings. So it is with growth, when we’re honest about where we’ve been. Hindsight and all that.
My learning curve as a painter is still on the rise, but I’d rather risk exposing flaws than continue hiding behind a limited palette. Or worse, stop sharing myself as I am.
Progress, not perfection, my friends!
This painting, with all of its transparency, shows a bit better in person. Even so, the color palette soothes me, as I hope it will you.
What do you avoid because you don’t do it well? What colors in your life need to be reclaimed?
Not uncommonly, my perception of a painting changes depending on my proximity to it, not just the viewing distance, but with the passage of time. Sometimes I love a painting more the longer I look at it, sometimes less. Enduring appreciation of a painting might be one definition of merit, I suppose.
And then there is this painting, which I love best in the first moments of looking at it, when the palpable energy shouts to be heard over my notice of the imperfections. This isn’t my favorite painting for a lot of reasons and may not be yours either. But it evokes an approximation of how I felt when I made it.
Mexico is such a colorful country, a place where the warmth of the people matches the strength of the sun. There is evident hustle and work, but also an abundance of playfulness. And not just when the tequila is flowing.
Yes, there a dark places – crime, drugs, and corruption. But I’d venture to guess our impressions of those cultural elements are largely overblown.
I remember watching this painting evolve while hearing the sounds of the ocean. And, as is true with many paintings, a creative backstory is hidden in the final image. This one could be a tale of alternating ground and sky, of keeping perceptions fluid, of going with the playful energy.