I started this painting on the afternoon of January 6th, while unbeknownst to me violence was unfolding in the U.S. Capitol. I “finished” it the next morning, moving it out of a much uglier stage. Although I’m not sure I’ve moved it far enough out of “ugliness,” I also know it’s good to sit with it all, that the truth of a moment doesn’t always appear beautiful in the ways we’ve known. And also, that ugliness and beauty are mostly ideas and relative to their context. Art is not always visually appealing; movement doesn’t always feel good. My paintings don’t usually name themselves when they aren’t finished, but this one did, so maybe it is.
My friend Diana Peach, a talented and generous writer, offered me a gift the other day. The gift came in the form of an exchange about creativity that added a layer of color to the evolving picture of my creative journey, my purpose for making art. I wanted to share it with you all in case the conversation, along with my associated thoughts, has any relevance for you. Also, you may want to follow Diana’s blog and make her your friend too!
I don’t often know why I feel compelled to write about something in particular. My ‘muse’ often seems to have an agenda beyond my ego’s comprehension. Through painting (and writing too), I often see where I am limited and where there is greater capacity than I recognize (or realize). I’m always looking to connect with others who are thoughtful about the creative journey, which surpasses any particular work of art (painted, written, or otherwise). Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created. But that may simply be a stage in my creative journey. I wonder about yours. How you came to allow yourself to access the stories that live in you. Whether it was effortful (or perhaps still is?) or more like breathing (effortful moments nestled in automaticity/flow).
“Sometimes I think I care more about how we create than what is created.” A lovely musing and one I can relate to. I never tire of learning about the creative impulse and process of other artists. It’s utterly mesmerizing. I still seek that fluid balance of effortless inspiration and effortful craft.
Until Diana quoted me back to myself, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the extent to which process has been more important to me than outcome. My attention to process was the reason I started this blog, but in the making of things I’d almost forgotten that.
I’m not the best painter or writer, nor do I expect myself to be. I am most interested in growth and evolution – my own and others’. I get better when I attend more fully to process, to understand where I am not allowing flow. I wonder how true that may be for others besides Diana and me.
We communicate imperfectly. We make offerings to each other without any certainty about how they will be received, without any sense of what we may get in return. Still, we try. We write. We paint. We share in whatever mediums and by whatever means we have. And I believe it is in the trying and sharing – the willingness to engage in common space – that we get closer to clarity. Sometimes we even get answers to questions we didn’t know we were asking!
By sharing, we allow ourselves the possibility of fresh air, which by definition is a kind of inspiration. In breath, the energy exchange with others, we may find a clearer path to creative flow in the midst of our effortful crafting. If any of this resonates, I’d love to hear from you!
*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!