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

Make It Flexible Again [on Two Artists Tuesday]

This is a tale of two quotes. They collided in my brain while I pondered this wacky year, diverging realities, repeated historical patterns, and why I have yet to rake the leaves. You might conclude that I need to relax or that I have too much stuff wafting through my noggin and, as Thom taught me to say, “you might-could” be correct on both counts. Quote #1:

“Sometimes the best way of caring for you soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” ~ John O’Donohue

Kerri is a series photographer. She has dozens of photos of heart shapes found in nature. Heart rocks, heart leaves, heart water stains. Lately she has started two new series: 1) Trains through trees, and 2) Horse poop on the trail. I rarely bring my phone on our walks or I’d inundate you with images of my artist-wife kneeling to get the best poop shot [I’ve been instructed to tell you that the horse poop series is for use in commentary and not merely aesthetic].

I am an artist and given to looking at my world, but Kerri constantly surprises me with what she sees. She opens my eyes to what I might miss: the beauty all around me. If I could give a gift to the world it would be what she gives me: to see beyond what I think I see. We see what we believe – often without question. There is no better way to atrophy the mind/heart/soul than to see only what you believe. “To make flexible again some of the views that harden or crystalize in your mind.” Can you imagine better medicine for what ails our angry, divisive nation?

Quote #2: “Creativeness is finding patterns where none exist.” ~ Thomas Disch

We stopped at IKEA for 20 to pick up some furniture. In the few moments that it took us to run in, pull the boxes, move through the register line, and run out, Kerri took a series of series photographs. IKEA is a gold mine of pattern. There are patterns within patterns. Her love of shooting photos set up for me a dichotomy, a social observation. She came alive finding patterns, capturing patterns, breaking patterns. She climbed over ropes, into shelves, crawled into tight spaces, and wriggled between stacks to get the shot she wanted. The rest of the people in the check-out line were either bored, impatient, or otherwise lost in their minds. For them, waiting-in-line was the only pattern that existed. I laughed at the contrast, the utter vitality of Kerri’s enthusiasm played against the dulled-cart-pushing of the crowd.

Sometimes there is a sea of pattern dancing right before our eyes. It exists. It surprises. It inspires and challenges. Creativeness, the vitality of living, requires nothing more than opening our eyes and engaging the world that sparkles beyond our burdened minds and worn-out belief.

read Kerri’s blog post about PATTERN

Draw A Blank [on DR Thursday]

canvas copy

A white canvas. Or is it a blank canvas? This could be a finished piece of art or a scary beginning. Having the 20th century of art firmly in the books, art historians weigh in, saying “yes,” it could be complete. It could also be inception. As confusing or clarifying as it might sound, the determining factor is the artist’s intention.

In 1918, the Russian artist Kazmir Malevich painted Suprematist Composition: White On White. White, he believed, was the color of infinity. It recently sold at auction for $15 million dollars.

In 1963, Ad Reinhardt painted his Abstract Painting, at first glance a black canvas that reveals itself as a symphony of shades and tones. He called his canvases “pure, timeless, ideal, transcendent.” His paintings sell at auction for millions.

Yasmina Reza wrote a play, Art, that explores the question “What is art? In it, friends debate and debase the $200,000.00 purchase of a completely white painting.

Does this sound crazy? The artist decides the reality? Beginning or end? Is it the artist’s intention or the eye of the beholder that gives meaning and value to art? Both?

It is breathtaking when you recognize that artists do not create from thin air. Artists reflect the society in which they live and work. 1918 was the end of a world war. It was the beginning of a global pandemic. Who could blame Kazmir Malevich for exploring infinity? Of wanting to reach beyond an external reality that was horrific?

I stare at my blank canvas. It is an invitation. A call.

I/We live in a time of absurdity – farcical abstraction from observable reality. Angry bubbles. Insulated information tribes. Data collection more valuable than gold. We are reducing ourselves to so many numbers. What’s your credit score? Your personality rating? Perhaps I should fill my canvas with zeros and ones? What would you see?

Mostly, we constantly weigh our interests against values and values lose every time. Weird calculations creating ludicrous reality. Yesterday, for instance, 3000 young people packed into a mega church during a pandemic – in a virus hotspot – to cheer a demagogue; they were told they were safe because there was a new and special corona virus killing air system.  The pile of farces grows higher and higher. The propaganda machine grows louder and louder. How rich a field for an artist to explore! The most individualistic nation on earth creating lemmings who will believe anything.

What should I paint? Do I want to comment on the ridiculous? The obscene?

I find myself understanding Kazmir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt as I never have before. Look beyond the angry horror story. I do not want to spend my precious few years on this earth meditating on the ugly abstractions, the made-up-in-the-moment divisions. The blank surface of my canvas calls me to look beyond the noise. There is so much to love in this passing moment. Change, real change, is always in this direction.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on BLANK CANVASES

 

 

 

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all my loves/the draw sunsets ©️ 2020/2017 david robinson

 

 

Learn It Again and Again [on DR Thursday]

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“I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.” ~ Pablo Picasso

This trail of images, all on the same canvas, is an idea trying hard not to become something else. It is a series of fitful starts and dissatisfied restarts.  It is not uncommon, when I feel that my well is dry, to start a painting and shove it through many phases of discontent. I pull on it and push on it like so much taffy.

I’ve learned (or I am making it up at this very moment) that this exercise of discontent is important. It is a necessary skill to develop – not to get too attached to an idea or invested in how it “should” be. When my well is empty, I generally stumble into this old mistake: I try to force a result. I try to make it happen. I somehow forget that the best work is a relationship, a process that has very little to do with muscle and everything to do with heart. And so, I roll through a series of forced images.

And then, one day, I throw up my hands and all thoughts of my precious idea go out the window. I let go. And that is the exact moment that the idea becomes something else and the painting can finally begin.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE STORY OF A MISS

 

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Turn Around [on Two Artists Tuesday]

stump copy

Jen suggested green. So, throughout the day, to keep us sane in our home-stay-life, we shared pictures of green things, surprising and ordinary, that we found around the house or in our walks. The next day was lines. Then circles. We use our seclusion to open our eyes and see what is beautiful and striking – and mostly unnoticed until now.

Late the other night, 20 and Kerri spent an hour on the phone. 20 is among the those at highest risk and has self-quarantined. There is a park close to his house and, once a day, when it is likely that few other people will be out, he walks the paths in the park. He takes amazing photographs and each day sends us his latest pictures. On the phone, he introduced Kerri to the app he uses to tweak his gorgeous photos. “This opens a whole world of possibilities!” she exclaimed.

Have you noticed the hysterical songs, art, games, mock-challenges (the is-it-a chihuahua-or-a-blueberry-muffin? challenge is my current favorite). Creativity flourishes within constraints. It is a form of paradox-magic that I’ve always appreciated. A good constraint has the power to yank people out of their daily problem solving morass and turn them around into the creative.

Robert Fritz has the best definition for this magic: problem solving is trying to eliminate what you don’t want. Creating is trying to bring into being what you do want. It is a matter of direction (wink, wink: the direction of intention). At first glance these challenges and games might seem frivolous but a deeper look always reveals something more profound. We are opening our eyes to what is right in front of us. We are sharing, trying to help each other through a difficult time. Our natural capacity for play and whimsy rises to the top. Possibilities rise to the top. Instead of asking “why?” we begin asking “why not?” We create.

Idealistic blather or pattern? Problem solving has a way of creating more problems – it is a myopic. Turn around and consider the world you want to create. Walk at that. You’ll find that your eyes open, your thoughts expand. Playing-to-play will be valued and necessary. You’ll note, with gratitude, that you are not in this creative ride alone.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIRCLES

 

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