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.

 

Live According To Your Necessity

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson's arrival on earth

a detail of a painting I did in honor of Dawson’s arrival on earth

“Depending upon the lens you look through, I have been a miserable failure at everything I’ve ever done,” I said. Arnie protested but we both knew it was, to a certain extent, true. And, since our conversation I have been gazing through that certain lens and feeling my failure acutely.

This lens is not new to me. I visit it each year as my birthday rolls around. It is a lens that most artists visit from time to time. To their peril. Recently, Chris, one of the most talented and hardworking actors I know, told me that now that he is far down the road of his career, no longer a beginner, he has surrendered the idea, imperative or illusion of economic success. “I work because I have to,” he said. It makes no sense and is impossible to explain to someone who does not have “that” impossible intrinsic driver. The incentives are internal. The rewards are internal. The achievements are mastery landmarks and not monetary rewards. It looks like insanity through the lens of a profit/loss, money=morality society.

When I look through the failure lens I’ve learned I need to visit Rainier Maria Rilke. I need to seek the advice of a master. “Nobody can counsel you or help you. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And, if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity;….”

...closer in

…closer in

My life is built upon this necessity. No amount of comparing it to others is useful. No other lens is healthy. Since moving to Kenosha from Seattle, I am fond of telling people that in my move I committed economic suicide. That is a statement made looking through the wrong lens. Here is the truth: Since my move I have published my book, The Seer. I produced and performed in what I thought was the greatest heart-project of my life, The Lost Boy. It played to sold out houses and fulfilled a decade long journey and commitment to Tom. Two months later I did what I now think was the the greatest heart-project of my life when I illustrated and Kerri and I published Beaky’s books, The Shayne Trilogy. Beaky had an author’s reading a mere two weeks before her passing. Last year I authored drew and submitted with Kerri over 25 cartoon proposals to syndicates. We are completing work on our next play, The Road Trip. And, in the middle of it all, I’ve done arguably the best paintings of my life. I am meeting my question with a simple and strong “I must.”

What is failure? What is success? They are lenses and they matter not.

I am living and building my life “according to this necessity.”

The whole painting.

The whole painting.

 

Go Slow

Our feet at Montauk

Our feet not rushing at Montauk

 

 

Years ago Quinn gave me a book by George Leonard called Mastery. I revisit it from time to time when I feel, as I do now, that I know nothing. In truth, the older I get, the more experiences I have, the more certain I become that I know nothing at all. If George Leonard was still living I imagine he would approve of my not knowing. “Finally, we are getting somewhere!” he might declare.

Here’s a bit from the book’s introduction:

“The many comments and inquiries that I continue to receive have convinced me more than ever that the quick-fix, fast-temporary-relief, bottom-line mentality doesn’t work in the long run, and is eventually destructive to the individual and the society. If there is any sure route to success and fulfillment in life, it is to be found in the long-term, essentially goalless process of mastery.”

Although in the quarter of a century since Mastery was published the pace of life has, if anything, shifted into hyper-drive, the truth of George Leonard’s assertion remains constant. Fulfillment is found in the long-term. It is found in the goalless processes like friendship or love or a walk in the woods. Fulfillment is a relationship and not an achievement. Learning is a relationship and not an achievement. Spirituality is a relationship and not an achievement. Artistry is a relationship and not an achievement.

All the things we think we know, the things we argue for or against, the righteous territories we claim, the belief flags we plant in the sand, the battle lines we draw, the hills we die on, the idea-wars we wage,.., make muddy the life crackling right before our eyes. After all, what do we really know?

On Sunday I witnessed a baptism. The next day I attended a funeral. These two back-to-back rituals left me with a question: What’s the rush?

I have absolutely no idea.

Laugh More

my idea book for our coming-soon cartoon, Chicken Marsala

my idea book for our coming-soon cartoon, Chicken Marsala

There is laughter coming from the next room. Across the way, a woman bursts into tears and a man with a ponytail leads her away from a group. They whisper. He tries to calm her. He makes her laugh. She wipes her eyes and they walk back to the group and all act as if nothing had happened. And, maybe nothing did happen. I am too far away to know the circumstances of her tears. I know the circumstances of her laughter.

Today it rained. I sat at my drafting table and worked on a cartoon strip. Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog sat at my feet. For the first time in over two years I streamed NPR and listened to the day’s news and some other stories. There was a story of a hunger strike in Chicago over the closure of a school. There was a story on public figures and apologies. There was an age-old story of the division in congress. I felt the same way listening to the news as I just felt watching the woman in tears. I am too far away to know the circumstances. I am too far away to know with certainty the truth of any of it. I’ve developed a healthy distrust of news reports. All I know with certainty is that truth is relative, truth is a point of view. I inked my drawings and listened as I might listen to a book-on-tape.

There is more laughter. It is coming from a meeting. I find comfort knowing that a committee in charge of anything can laugh. I hope that they are laughing at themselves.

Ann once told me that they key to success was to find a need and fill it. This world seems to have no shortage of needs. It does seem to have a shortage of laughter.

Recently, David shared with me his thoughts of Plato’s analogy of the cave. Perception as projection. It’s all shadows. Once I watched a Balinese shadow puppet master perform. The performances always take place in the outer ring of the temple and are meant to remind people that what they see in this life is a shadow, a projection merely. One of the messages: we are too far away to know Truth. Another message: our projections are worthy of our laughter and not much else. The puppet master had us rolling on the ground. His characters were mostly tricksters, stooges, and in their over-serious pursuits they were hysterical in their folly. Another message, perhaps the most important: the quickest route to the divine, to the connective tissue, is through laughter.

 

 

 

Dance With The Fire

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 5.21.46 PMLast night was Duke’s (Richard Kruse’s) memorial art show. There was an abundance of food, wine, laughter and stories. The gallery was literally filled with his paintings, prints, and sculpture. He was prolific. His paint encrusted chair, draped with his paint spattered coat, sat empty before his easel; on the easel was a large sketch pad, a place for notes for Duke and his family. I watched people approach the chair, catching their breath before sitting to compose their thoughts in the very chair he’d occupied for decades to compose the paintings that lined the walls. The chair became sacred space, a bridge between worlds.

I did not know him but I felt an immediate kinship with his work. He was a figurative painter – as am I – and given to the mystic – as am I: he worked the figure to find the soul shining inside – as do I. It was a great treat to thumb through his sketchbook. The energy and freedom of his drawings took my breath away; this was a man who needed to make art. It was an imperative made visible. I found an even deeper kinship in his imperative.

It’s hard to explain to someone who is not filled with the fire, the inner necessity to draw, dance, make music,…. It is more than a want or desire. It can be ignored but withering is the price. If it is not honored it will consume. To someone who does not know this fire the making of art appears as an indulgence. To someone who burns with the fire, anything else is a distraction; they will construct their life patterns according to the necessity of the fire.

The myth of the suffering artist is perpetuated by non-artists. The only artists that suffer are those who ignore their gift. Most people, despite their rhetoric, fear the kind of freedom and energy evident in Duke’s sketchbook. Artists run at the unknown. They develop craft so they might relinquish control in order to dance with the fire. Too much investment in control (of self, of other, of circumstance) smothers the flame. By the stories I heard, by the power of his sketches, by the laughter his life evoked, I can only assume that Duke must have been a master of this fire-dance.

 

Learn To Play

Illustration from Play-to-Play by David Robinson

Illustration from Play-to-Play by David Robinson

This is from a yet-to-be-published children’s book I wrote and illustrated based on concepts from James Carse’s book, Finite And Infinite Games. The girl wants to play but the gorilla is reticent to start a game until he knows what she means by the word, “play.” Are they playing to win or playing to play? The gorilla helps the young girl make the distinction and set an intention to play to play.

At first glance this might seem like a ridiculous distinction until considering that one definition of play (playing to play) leads to mastery and the other definition (playing to win) leads to an outcome that might include a temporary sense of gratification (or despair if you lose). Do you remember the school lesson about angles? At the inception of the angle, a single point, vector variance seems minute but the further the vectors travel from their source the greater the paths diverge. Artists that play to win inevitably stop making art: losing is a painful business. Artists that play to play master their technique; mastery, in James Carse’s terminology, is an infinite game. There is no such thing as losing if mastery is the aim. If mastery is the aim, how an artist creates is as important as what they create. A life of mastery is a simple matter of where the focus is placed at the beginning of the journey.

This distinction is at the core of what ails many organizations. When the focus drops to the bottom line and stays there, organizations play to win and lose their reason for being. In fact, in today’s world, the rules of the game modify every few months amidst the rapid pace of change; playing to win is a great strategy for losing everything. Playing to play makes an organization nimble enough to survive and thrive amidst ever changing circumstances. Business, like learning, like art, is primarily centered on relationship and gets lost at sea when the focus becomes achievement. Relationship is an infinite game.

The power is in a choice made before the game begins. Are you going to play to win? Or, will you walk a mastery path and play to become a better and better player?

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, title_pageSeeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.

 

Truly Powerful People (452)

452.
Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

In mid-form today, Saul-the-Chi-Lantern swirled from the practice and into a tale. We were midway through class and midway through the form and apparently being on the midway inspired a story in him that reminded me of old masters and why our ideas of learning are so far off the rails.

His tale was of a certain school of thought in Tai Chi in which a newcomer will practice the form for 2 years before being allowed to do exercises with another person (he called them circle exercises). After practicing circle exercises for 13 years a student might advance to the status of beginner and be allowed to actually touch another person in the practice; to work with the energy of another. 15 years of continual practice to consider yourself a beginner. That’s akin to a college senior saying, “Now, I am ready to begin.” Imagine a diploma, not as a completion, a marker for arrival, but as an acknowledgment of readiness to begin.

When I was young the only thing I wanted to do was paint. I used to dream about being shipped off the to the master, to learn by apprenticeship. I’d sleep under the bench, I’d spend the first few years learning to clean the brushes and mix the paint and watch. I might, at age 9 be allowed to hold a brush, to do exercises on used canvas. I might at 12 be allowed to gesso the canvas, to prepare the ground and glue and perhaps paint the under-layer. I’d be drawing all along and learning color and technique and perhaps at 15 I’d be allowed to paint the sky or the clouds in the master’s paintings. And, if I started at 7 years old I might, by the time I was 25, be accepted into the guild. I might be ready to begin. And if I continued to grow, to paint everyday, when I was 50 I could take students of my own. This was my little kid ideal. Learning by doing has always made more sense to me than incarceration in a desk and abstractions. I’ve always understood mastery was so much more interesting and rewarding than arrival.

At the end of his tale Saul-the-Chi-Lantern stepped back into the form as if he’d never left it. He is a master. He was a beginner 40 years ago after 15 years of practice. He is poetry and power and humor and lighthearted. At 70 he could throw me across a room using my own aggression. He assumes nothing. He reminds me each week what a human being can be when they give up the idea that the wealth is in the acquisition; Saul knows the wealth is in having a story to tell.