Get Lost [on DR Thursday]

“A person who never made a mistake never tried something new.” ~ Albert Einstein

Recently, I revisited Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about schools killing creativity. Among his many points, the central idea was simple and clear: we reinforce knowing answers instead of the pursuit of the question. We reinforce “being right” when the beating heart of learning, the vibrant center of creativity, the foundation of scientific process, is to try-and-see-what-happens. To be “prepared to fail,” as he said, is to remove failure from the equation. A curious mind seeks discovery, not “rightness.” An experiment is meant to test a hypothesis not immediately arrive at the answer.

When Kerri and I stepped onto the trail, new to us, the signage was more than confusing. “It’s a loop,” I said, “What’s the worst that could happen?” We chose the orange trail and started walking. We followed the blazes rather than the signs. A storm or drunken ranger must have erected the signs because they were often out of alignment with the blazes. “If we followed that sign, we’d be in the creek,” Kerri said.

Early on in our hike, a man came crashing out of the woods. “Is this the trail?” he asked. “I think I’m bushwhacking,” he said. This man, I suspect, followed the signs. He was having a great time but was somewhat relieved to be back on the beaten path. He was the first of many. A woman stopped us. She and her husband were having a disagreement about which trail they were taking. “Is this the long or short loop?” she asked. We shrugged, a shadow of concern creeping up in the back of our minds.

There was supposed to be a waterfall somewhere on the trail. We asked more than a few people as we passed and received a marvel of contradictory instructions. “There’s a side path on the left.” “Somewhere ahead you’ll see a side trail on the right.” We took option B and had a lovely trek up the mountain but turned back when it became apparent that our choice did not include the waterfall. “Next time,” we said. It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to be back at the car before sunset.

With tired legs and lack of trust in the signage, we came to a trail crossroads. Orange went in three different directions. The sign that pointed the way to the parking lot did not inspire confidence but we followed it anyway. We passed an older couple, local hikers, that assured us we were on the right path. A couple crashed out of the woods, having lost the trail but were equipped with a GPS app: we were definitely headed in the right direction but had more than a mile to go to get back to the car.

“It does not feel good to feel lost,” we agreed. “Especially when the light is waning.”

Arriving back at the car, breathing a sigh of relief. “That was fun!” we laughed. “And stressful at the end.” We were never actually lost but we were successful at filling ourselves with doubt. We were grateful for the older couple that reassured us, the lost couple with the GPS that broke out of the woods exactly when we needed them.

And, we learned a lesson. Next time we’ll take the time to study the map. And, we’ll be equipped with a better app. Our lostness was always in our minds, in our doubt. The next time we lose ourselves in second guessing – and it is certain to happen – we’ll be better equipped to handle our self-imposed-disorientation.

In the meantime, we’re already whipping it up into a great survival story. I didn’t mention the bears or starting fire with flint and steel. Building a survival shelter from twigs. That version, the real story of our heroic adventure, is certain to come soon. Lostness, it seems, stimulates fabulous creativity.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAIN

Relax And Prime [on KS Friday]

“None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon yesterday drawing cartoons. I had to get away from the computer screen. I’ve learned – relearned – that staring into the screen too long makes me myopic and unimaginative. I’m not certain if this is true for everyone but I am kinesthetic. There’s a necessary balance. Sitting still and staring at a screen without the opposite focus are creative-killers for me. I do my best thinking when I move around, when I stop trying to solve or deconstruct. I’m fortunate that drawing with a #2 pencil at an old-fashioned light table is part of my job.

Greg lives his life in front of a screen – multiple screens – and, to get away, he dives. His underwater photography is gorgeous. In a meeting a few days ago, he said that diving clears his mind. His greatest insights come when he’s underwater or sitting on the beach after a dive. There’s good science behind his insight. Relaxation triggers dopamine: the more dopamine, the more creative. Comfort and relaxation prime the creative pump. Stress and tension unplug the pump.

The best thing to do when trying to squeeze out a revelation is to walk away. Take a drive. Take a shower. Stop thinking so hard. Daydreaming is very productive. I’ve learned that anger and frustration rarely – if ever – lead to creative insight and generally produce the opposite of what’s desired. Anger (like too much time in front of a computer screen to me) is myopic. It narrows. It squeezes off the dopamine. It blinds the mind and heart to possibility.

Kent Nerburn wrote that, “For those of us in the arts, enthusiasm is never outlived. The sun is always rising before us, and our wonder at the world, the true source for all meaningful art, only grows stronger as life slows from passage to moments…” There’s always a next painting to paint. Another song to write. A photograph to take. It’s one of the reasons I love taking walks with Kerri: we rarely get very far before she gasps, and stops to take a photograph of some small miracle. And, while she’s collecting images of small miracles, I look to the sky and let my mind wander, a walking meditation, a creative pump primer.

And, almost always, somewhere on the trail, the dot that refused to connect while I was too-long staring at the screen, takes me by the hand and says, “It’s so simple. Do you see?”

read Kerri’s blog post about EVERGREEN

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Soothe The Storm [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

My favorite early Chicken Marsala sketch was of an angel delivering Chicken to his new assignment on earth. The angel says, “Get in there, champ! You can do it!” And a very resistant Chicken cries in desperation, “But they are BOTH artists!” Kerri and I are artists with all that term implies. Passionate opinions. Quirky (okay…volatile). Often in need of a perspective-giver. What Chicken didn’t know is that the two artists in his assignment, namely Kerri and me, are great soothers of each other’s storms. We have the gift of never ranting at the same time. When one of us becomes a rocket, the other becomes grounded earth. There is a beautiful equal-and-opposite equation, too. When one of us enters into a creative high, it pulls the other up.

Chicken had a great assignment and just needed to look beyond the wrapper. That angel knew what she was doing.

read Kerri’s blog post about RANTS

smack-dab. ©️ 2021 kerrianddavid.com

Pull The Weeds [on KS Friday]

My very first painting teacher offered me some sage advice. I was painting figures while the rest of the class worked on landscapes. Being the odd-child-out I assumed something was wrong with me. She said, “Tree painters are a dime a dozen. Someday, being the only one will seem like a gift so ignore what they are interested in and paint what is interesting to you.” Jospeh Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” It’s the same advice that Jackie Fry gave to the boy-version of me.

I never imagined myself with a back yard. And, now that I have one, I find it a place of rest and peace. This is a confession that I’ll never admit to in the future: weeding is meditative. Each day I find myself taking a few moments to go out and yank the invaders out by the roots. No thought. No other thing to do. I simply tend the garden, knowing I am accomplishing nothing since weeds are good at growing and more will appear tomorrow. We are strange allies, they provide me with a daily meditation.

If I was as an art teacher, I’d send my students into my back yard. Nature is a masterful teacher of color. Orange and green. Highlights of yellow. Barney provides subtle blues, purples, and pinks. The orange and green of the lily pop against the purple and blue of the aging piano. Warm colors come forward. Cool colors recede. It’s all there.

I read somewhere that, as an artist, “to discover” is more potent than “to invent.” See what is there, beyond what you think is there. Everything is fluid so the discoveries are endless. While I weed the sun passes beneath a cloud. Everything changes. The sun reappears and the colors change again. Not the same. Different. I’ll never be able to capture it and that is the best held secret of an artist. Another wisdom from Jackie Fry: you will never succeed. Art is a relationship, not a transaction. So, no pressure. It is a relationship, complex and dynamic. It is not about capturing an image. It is about freeing your sight and possibly freeing the sight of others. Facilitate discovery. Play to play, to become a better player. Open a small door to peek into the vast inner universe.

It’s a paradox. It’s impossible to eradicate the weeds. That is not why I pull them. It’s impossible to capture life in an image. ‘Capturing’ is not why I paint. Relating is why I paint. I do it because I’ll never create anything more beautiful than the Tiger Lily dancing with Barney. I paint so that I might see and share in the dance.

ALWAYS WITH US on the album AS IT IS by KERRI SHERWOOD

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about the TIGER LILY

always with us/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Give So Much [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Sometimes on the trail we find a painted rock. A penguin perched on a tree limb. A sweet sign of peace atop a sign post. Someone took the time to send a ripple of good-feels.

It is a paradox. It really doesn’t take much to bring a positive gesture into the world. Paint a rock. Open a door. A spirit lift. Intend well. But, good intention takes far more energy than reactive anger. Driving on someone’s bumper is easy. Blocking the vote takes infinitely less energy than protecting it. Belittling a child consumes far less energy than nurturing a child. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it, “Any idiot can pull a trigger – taking a life seems so easy,” I said to the boys-in-the-gang. “Bringing life, protecting life, saving life takes some thought, some heart, and effort.”

Tearing down is fast and easy. Building up takes some skill, knowledge, heart. Investment. Said another way: destruction, division…takes very little skill and almost no thought. Obstruction is a mindless, selfish game. Creation, on the other hand, requires a master’s path. Bringing ideas to the table and then into manifest begins with a desire to make things better. For everyone.

After the last 4 years, the world seems to have grown more aggressive. There’s no lack of angry rhetoric. The divisions couldn’t be more pronounced. Every day we are witness to exceptional hostility; a truck roaring through a turn lane, cutting around the line of traffic, bursting through a red light, cars braking to avoid a collision. It was too much to wait. Impossible to participate. All “me” and no “us.” Derogatory social media posts from the privileged, demonizing the less fortunate, fearful, I suppose, of losing their privilege. Making monsters, playing victim.

We were walking our route through the neighborhood, talking about the rising levels of aggression, the latest hostility we’d seen. We were stopped in our tracks by a series of messages chalked on the walk. “I just wanted to say you look awesome.” A few steps later, “You are still looking good!” And more. We laughed. Stopped in our tracks.

“What were we talking about?” Kerri asked, walking toward the next chalk- message.

“I can’t remember.” I looked around to see if the message-chalker was spying on our delight. I hoped so. They’d just changed the arc of our day. I hoped our delight was making their day.

It takes so little. It gives so much.

It creates an entirely different conversation.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHALK MESSAGES

Gather And Share [on DR Thursday]

Back in my Don Quixote days, with the onset of a camera in every phone, one of my favorite exercises to give to groups was to send them out in search of textures. Gather texture. Gather pattern. It was quite literally eye-opening. It was also, quite literally, presence-enabling and life-invigorating.

There is enormous power in the simple phrase, “Stop and look.” See.

In “gather” there is no judgment. Consequently, the photos that came back, rich in texture and collision of texture, patterns revealing themselves everywhere, were gorgeous. Dynamic. But, mostly, they were revealing. Otherwise serious adults, who believed that there was nothing new, that life was less-than-exceptional, came back from their texture-gather with open eyes. Some giggled. These people, claiming that they did not possess an ounce of artistry, would show their photos to the group and say, “I pulled that in so we could see it better.” Or, “Don’t you just love how those two things come together?” Or, my favorite, “You didn’t give us enough time! I couldn’t gather it all!”

Ah. Not enough time to see it all. Not enough time to take it in. Now, isn’t that a statement of the-love-of-life? Isn’t that the epicenter of an artist’s life. Isn’t that a more interesting path than, “Same-old-same-old”?

Dots. Diamonds of dots. Lines. Pattern. Texture. Too much to see. Too much to experience. And the best, most simple way to step into vibrancy is to stop and look.

But, there is one more step, the part that made the exercise powerful. The essential part was and is almost always overlooked. Stopping and looking and gathering is great but only has meaning – only becomes artistry – when it is shared. Without fear or judgment. Stop. Look. Gather. Come back to the center and share what you see.

read Kerri’s blog post about TEXTURE

yoga series: meditation ©️ 2012 david robinson

Find It [on DR Thursday]

Although it probably does not appear this way to you, this photograph is the road back to my easel. It was an immediate inspiration. Kerri did not intend for it to spark the cold coals of my artistic fire, but it did. It was immediate. I couldn’t stop staring at it.

This painting is called Joy. Look at the floral shapes and lines both within and around the figure:

Joy, mixed media, 50x56IN

Many of my paintings of the past several years are floral wonderlands. They infuse the figures, they are bouncing balls of symbolic trees and oversized shrubbery. They remind me to have fun. To play and experiment. I must have forgotten all of that or turned away.

I hit a wall when I painted my red mess. It’s been on my easel for months. Beneath the red mess, the painting that I’d originally sketched on the canvas, is this:

I think I’d had too much of despair-and-comfort and needed to explode my themes. Thus, the red mess.

When Kerri showed me her photograph of tiny pink flowers, I saw the painting, this painting, complete in my imagination. Not despairing, but vibrant and subtle, alive with those amazing floral shapes, five-petal-bursts of life. Contemporary. Huge. Broad strokes. Almost a sculpture.

There is a story from Plato’s Symposium that I’m using as the basis for my script revision for The Creatures of Prometheus , the original human, cleaved by the gods because it was too powerful, searching through life to find its other half. This painting is (or will be) about the search for love, the transcendence of separation. Finding.

And, as you know, once it lives in the imagination, all that remains is the volition to get there.

read Kerri’s blog post about PINK FLOWERS

joy ©️ 2014 david robinson

Go Empty [on DR Thursday]

Readers…will welcome the enlightening description of ’emptiness as a beneficent state before creation.” ~ Anna Freud, forward to ON NOT BEING ABLE TO PAINT by Joanna Field

Kendy gave me the book, On Not Being Able To Paint in 1999. That was the year I burned almost all of my paintings. Let’s just say that I hit a wall. Another interpretation of my 1999 big fire is that I needed to create space. It’s a paradox I very much appreciate: as an artist, the overwhelming need to create space when feeling completely empty. ‘Being empty’ is not in-and-of-itself spacious.

Emptiness before creation is…biblical – it is pre-biblical, Chaos and Abyss are players in the Greek-god-canon. The universe abhors a vacuum but welcomes space.

This painting, lovingly dubbed THE RED MESS, has been on my easel for months. It predates the great basement flood. It’s what I was painting when I entered the void, when my tank went empty. I must have known I was low on creative fuel because I was trying something new. Red. The painting was, before I wiped it, an image of Kerri taking a photograph of a train through the trees on the Des Plaines river trail. She has a series of Trains-Through-Trees and I’ve delighted in watching her race to catch the shot.

Karola, perhaps the wisest AND happiest person I have ever known, encouraged me to allow myself to “go empty.” At the time, I was in my twenties, I feared emptiness. I thought my muse might leave and never come back. I fought her advice while trying to take her advice. One foot on the gas and the other foot on the brakes. “David,” she said in her German accent, “you have to let the glass go empty before it has the space to fill up! Let yourself go empty!” She laughed so hard at the look on my face that tears came to her eyes.

Now, I’ve sorted out my pedals. I descend into the studio every day and stand before this red mess. I don’t want to take it off the easel. It’s helping me embrace-the-space. It’s a loving postcard to myself, a reminder to respect the emptiness. To stand in the void and welcome the spaciousness.

Muses do not leave. People routinely turn their backs on the muse. Mine is right in front of me, sitting on my easel, draped in brilliant red, just like a stop sign. It is not a matter of hitting the gas or the brakes. Sometimes you just have to get out of the car and rest your eyes for a while.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE RED MESS

Use Your Chalk [on Two Artists Tuesday]

There are two words floating around in my universe these days: structured and unstructured. Structured data. Unstructured data. Structured time. Unstructured time.

The world as seen through the Puritan lens gives great preference to structure. Unstructured anything is suspect. “Idle hands,” we are taught, “are the devil’s workshop.” Yikes. Apparently it’s dangerous to take a stroll, to sit and ponder, to clear the day and do nothing.

I suspect it explains why our notion of business is hyper-focused on the bottom line and often misses the value of relationships. Bottom lines are easy structure. Relationships, not so much. It is the same with test scores in education. Easy structure. However, stepping into the unknown – the very definition of learning – is largely eschewed because it begins in an unstructured pursuit. Creating the structure, making the meaning, discovering the connectivity is what our hearts and brains like to do. When learning isn’t merely a factory, when business is more than a bottom line, people prosper. They come alive.

Unstructured time. There was a time when time had no structure. Monks attempted to “keep” time by monitoring water through a bucket or sift sand through an “hour” glass. Sometimes the water froze in the bucket so the structure of evening prayer was disrupted. The sand clumped in the hour glass and the measure of time clumped with it.

There are moment on the stage when the actor forgets their lines. It’s called “going up” or “drying.” It is always, in the re-telling, the moment when everything becomes real, alive. It is the moment when the structure becomes unstructured. Hearts race. Eyes widen. The stakes are suddenly palpable. The actor breathes, stands in the vast unstructured universe, and the words return like a swinging bar to a high-flying aerialist. The play is infused with aliveness. Presence is mostly unstructured.

As is common in the structured and unstructured use of the English language, oppositions are easily constructed. Unstructured simply means the meaning has yet to be made. Structured data, structured time, are the tip of a largely unknown iceberg. Love, joy, despair, awe…the full spectrum of experiences, bubble in the unstructured spaces. Numbers can describe a moment in time, can orient for a moment, but will never “explain” yearning or desire or our fundamental need to tell stories (put structure on unfathomable experiences). Structure & Unstructure: they are dancing partners, not combatants.

Where do we come from? What are we here to do? I am going to die, what then? It takes a good deal of unstructured time to sit in these unanswerable questions. There are, of course, plenty of people who will gladly provide structure to your unanswerable – and therefore uncomfortable – questions. Perhaps that is why we adore our structure and demonize the empty spaces? Comfort. Ease.

Kerri cannot pass a hopscotch template chalked on the street. It’s almost automatic. Step, hop, hop, step, hop. The little girl in her connects to the child who chalked the squares on the sidewalk. A simple game. Play. It’s one of the things people do with unstructured time. Set challenges. Make up obstacles. Seek puzzles. Invent. Dream. Connect to the deeper places. Where’s the structured bottom line watching the little-girl-in-my-wife hop and skip and turn in the game-chalked-on-the-sidewalk? The laughter of remembering? The giggle and freedom of the woman hopping the scotch, just because she can?

read Kerri’s blog post about HOPSCOTCH

Conceal To Reveal [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was tilting at windmills, one of my favorite things to facilitate was mask work. I brought masks to lawyers, to CEOs, to teacher’s, government workers, elementary school students, corporate trainers, business coaches and sometimes to actors. There’s nothing better than a mask to pop open possibilities and challenge petrified thinking.

Masks conceal and reveal. They serve the paradox and, therefore, are tapped into the root of truth.

It’s impossible to work with masks for long before realizing that the faces we wear everyday are also masks. We “put on” a smile. We attempt to hide what we feel by the mask we manufacture. Some faces freeze in masks of indifference or masks of disdain. We perform ourselves, and craft our masks accordingly.

Many cultures around this world believe the mask opens a communication with the gods. Don a mask and something bigger-than-you speaks through you. When I paint I often have that feeling. Artistry sometimes means getting out of the way so the creation can flow.

It’s why I brought masks to lawyers and CEOs and corporate folks and teachers. To introduce them to the fields that bloom beyond their need to control. So much of their lives, so many of their problems and challenges were wrestling matches of control. They were actively creating the obstacles that they desired to remove.

What do we actually control when we harden our faces over what we feel? What do we gain by attempting to control what others see or think or feel? We are makers of our own prisons. We are deluded by our fantasy that we have the capacity to determine what others see. The only control we exert is upon ourselves.

The mask work makes abundantly clear that control is not power. Power – creativity – flows. It is the dance of the artist to master technique, to learn control, and then transcend it. To get out of the way.

My favorite moment, with every group, in every circumstance, came when the masks released the people and they slowly, respectfully said goodbye and removed them. Their faces was also mask-less. It was like seeing infant’s faces. Bright. Open. They would, for a few brief moments, look at each other, unmasked and unprotected. Simply astonished at being alive, together, in the world.

read Kerri’s blog post about MASK