Begin

my studio and all of my current messes-in-progress

“Where I create I am true, and I want to find the strength to build my life wholly upon this truth, this infinite simplicity and joy that is sometimes given me… But how shall I begin…?” Rainier Maria Rilke

But how shall I begin? It is a great and ubiquitous question. I have, in my life, worked with many, many people who passionately and at last created beautiful studios for themselves and then, in horror, sat frozen in their dream creative space blankly staring at a canvas. Or a blank sheet of paper. Or an incessant cursor on an all-white screen. Or an instrument. Their first question for me (for themselves): but how shall I begin?

A friend once told me that artists’ studios can sometimes be terrifying places. “You have to show up,” he said. “And what if, when I show up, I find I have nothing of value in me? What if I have nothing to say?” Ah. There’s the rub. Inner judges delight in confusing creative spaces with torture chambers. No one, in their right mind, will willingly step into a torture chamber. Even the hardiest creative impulse goes into hiding when judgment is on the menu.

In the category of things you can say to friends but not to clients: What if you have lots to say but are simply too afraid to say it? What if within you lives an entire universe of unique perspectives and you have created a monster at the door to ensure your silence? Who’s this judge that you fear?

Rilke wrote, “Where I create I am true….” Truth is not a frozen, fixed thing. It is alive and dynamic. Artistry is an exploration into truth (personal truth), not an answer. It is a living dynamic process, not a finished product. This same sentiment applies to all of life.

my favorite recent spontaneous art installation by 20

Tom had a mantra: a writer writes and a painter paints. He might have answered the question this way: begin. Simply show up. Begin. Make messes. Make offers. Make strong offers. See what happens. Learn. Choose. Make mistakes. Make big mistakes. Decide. Fall down. Go too far. Rip it up. Stop too soon. Use the torn pages. Learn. Play. Surprise yourself. Bore yourself. Learn. Play. Choose. No judge, inner or outer, can survive in such a vibrant creative truth-space.

An actual studio is nothing more than an expression of an artist’s internal life. How do you begin? Value your truth. Allow it to live. Knowing how to begin requires an understanding of why you stopped in the first place.

And then, as someone wise once said to me: make all the world your studio.

 

Clear The Static

'John's Secret' by David Robinson

‘John’s Secret’ by David Robinson. I’ve used this image before but this painting came to mind while writing so I’m using it again.

So many of my conversations with the stained glass window have to do with returns. For instance, the first conversation was about the return to silence. Over the year, we’ve had lengthy chats about the return to the sacred, a return to light, gratitude, alignment, unity, presence and love. Today our conversation was about the return to voice.

When people talk about voice they generally associate the verb “to give.” Give voice to your thoughts. Give voice to your ideas. Giving voice implies that you have something inside that is unexpressed. It implies that your inner editor has run amok and has a choke hold on your communication. Release the grip and give rein to your voice.

Free expression is all well and good but giving voice also comes with a caveat. Someone I once knew told a great story of a woman who grew tired of hearing her associates complain about not having a voice. This woman, in a fit of frustration, asked, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” It is a potent caveat: it is not enough to have a voice. In addition to the capacity to give voice you also need something meaningful to say. The 24-hour news cycle is rife with great examples of voice sans content.

My conversation with the window had nothing to do with giving voice to the unexpressed or to the necessity of useful content. The window surprised me. The window reminded me of a favorite quote by Vincent Van Gogh: If you hear a voice within you say, “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. Oddly, my discussion with the window about the return to voice had to do more with with silence than with sound. It had to do with the quieting the static. In other words, full expression is available when the inner radio station is properly tuned. Clear the noise and the channel opens. Clear the noise and act: paint the paintings, write the next book, create the Be-A-Ray performances, give life to my play, The Lost Boy. The return to voice is a path that leads through quiet. It is a paradox and to my great delight it is a paradox that loops back to my very first conversation with the window. Silence and voice, voice and silence: they are dynamic and intimately connected.

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Allow The Silence

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“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Aldous Huxley

There are few things more satisfying to me than closing the studio door, picking up a large brush, turning the up the volume on the music, and giving over to the forces that want to find expression through me. The night before my latest trip, without really meaning to do it, I turned from my computer, saw the canvas stapled on the wall, and the next thing I knew several hours had passed, the music was rattling the windows, and both the canvas and I were covered in paint (it’s why I stopped buying new clothes…). It had been too long since I gave myself over to the call.

I used to draw everyday. It was my practice, my imperative. In recent years I’ve moved on to other practices. I write. I facilitate. I walk. I find the quiet. And then, like a starving man who stumbles into a feast, I disappear without warning into a painting gluttony. It is a different kind of quiet, ferocious, vibrant, and necessary. There is no thought; my body takes over and the painting comes through: silence in the center of a hurricane of movement and sound. When finally I step away from the canvas and come back into my body, I discover an image in front of me. It is less correct to say, “I did that,” and more correct to ask, “What just happened?” I’ve spent hours of my life standing in front of paintings that I just painted, thinking, “Whoa. Look at that!”

Once, many years ago, Jim looked through all of my recent work and asked, “What is the significance of the three balls in your paintings?” I had no idea what he was talking about so he pulled out of the rack ten paintings, lined them up, and showed me that each had three balls as if some unseen figure was juggling them. I was gob-smacked. I studied the paintings for a few minutes and said, “Whoa. Look at that!” Jim laughed.

The silence is not empty; it is full. It is rich and vibrant. The silence is what happens when we get out of our own way, open to the forces, and let them come through. Words like “art” or “transformation” or “perspective” or any other word can’t contain all the meaning that becomes available when we learn to step out of the way and allow the silence.