Listen Well [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

act well 2 copy

When I wore my life/business coaching hat, many of my clients secretly wanted to be painters or writers. After wading around in the depths of their dissatisfaction, they’d finally say something like, “What I really want to do is write a book.” And then, they’d divert their eyes and say, “I just don’t know how to get there.”

The path was always simple to say but difficult to execute. Write. Write everyday. There is no magic path. As Tom would say, “A writer writes. A painter paints.” The action is rarely difficult to do; the story wrapped around it is…well, another story altogether.

The difficulty comes in the form of a many headed monster called vulnerability. “If I write (paint, dance, act…) people will judge what I write (paint, dance, act…).” It’s a heavy cloak to wrap around the creative heart. Yes. They will judge. Some will diminish you and some will praise you to the sky. However, that has little or nothing to do with being a writer or painter, with becoming a better writer or painter. Neither the praise nor the derision is truth or accurate or meaningful.

Both accolades and critiques can pull an artist off-center. To listen to either is to ignore  the quiet prompting of the muse. The essential will be lost in the chatter.

My mind is a tumble of truism. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” etc. There is no other way to be a writer than to sit down and write. There is no way to become a better painter than to stand at the easel and paint. And, while writing and painting and acting, there is a necessary skill for an artist to develop: learn to let the opinions and judgments of others pass through. They have nothing to do with creating and everything to do with what others are seeing. The artist’s job is not to determine what others see. The job is to write and paint, to create what the muse whispers in your ear.

There is no other way. Artistry is not an achievement. It is an action, a relationship.

Act well your part. Paint well your painting. Write well your novel. Listen well to your muse.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ACT WELL YOUR PART…

 

roadtrip reading website box copy

Turn And Open [on Two Artists Tuesday]

canoe and dock copy

Real education is understanding the significance of life, not just cramming to pass examinations. ~ Krishnamurti

Tom used to call it The Little Green Bottle theory. The illusion of learning at the expense of real learning. It is the worst fate for a curious mind to confuse active pursuit with passing the test.

The worst fate for an artist is to be revered. Artists who are revered regardless of what they do, stop growing – or worse – they twist. They confuse themselves with their art. And, because they are lauded for any and everything thing they do, they lose their muse. They no longer need to listen or seek or try.  They insulate and turn in on themselves. Knowing that their feedback loop – called an audience – will give them a perfect score no matter what they do, oddly makes their work not matter at all. They – and their work – and their audience – become an energy eddy, an empty bottle with no substance. The circle closes.

Long ago, I guest-directed a play at a college. There was a student, an extraordinarily talented young man, who was coddled by his professor. She heaped praise on him. He was cast as the lead in all productions. In fact, I was (hush-hush-nod-nod) required to cast him. He was protected from the rules and rigors his peers were required to follow. He simply needed to show up.  I crossed his path again a few years later and he was a very sad and empty young man. He left his small pond and didn’t have the skills or work ethic to swim in the ocean. He wondered why no casting director would work with him, why no masters program would admit him. He expected reverence. His talent collapsed on itself. Many of his peers, those who had to work, to grapple, to reach, to struggle, had solid and thriving careers. Rather than helping him grow, his professor, his college community, stunted his artistry. His circle closed.

The waters are so calm this morning. Hog Island seems to float in the air. Sitting on the dock, I feel perplexed. Lately, the world so often feels upside-down, in service to the opposite of what it professes. Islands feigning connection. Closed circles working hard to stay closed even awash in the knowing that they can only breathe when opened. They can only grow when challenged, when they open the gates. They can only thrive when they turn, open the circle, paddle toward the limitless horizon and face the unknown.

The muse is out there, waiting.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THE DOCK

 

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photograph: on the dock of the bay ©️ 2019 kerri sherwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feel The Mountains [on Two Artists Tuesday]

 

mountains in the distance CO copy

Look carefully. In the distance you will see the mountains. “It kills me, “Kerri said, staring out the window as we drove east out of Colorado. She craned her neck and watched as the mountains faded into the distance. She took a picture more to reach than record them.

The mountains make her weep. Seriously. Driving up the canyon, leaving the flats of Denver behind, she catches her breath and then the tears roll down her cheeks. “It’s so beautiful.” she utters, wide-eyed, incapable of taking it all in.

Leaving them is harder still. I watch her writhe in her seat, growing more agitated the further away that we get. “Damn it,” she fumes. These mountains are her holy land. They inspire songs and poems and musing. Leaving is not a geographic equation. She feels the separation.

In every corner of our home you will find a pile of rocks, mementos from our travels. And, in each pile, among all the other treasures, there is always a special rock, a mountain rock. She surrounds herself with mountains, even living on this great plain, a block away from a great lake. An artist knows where her power comes from.

She sits at her piano. She opens her computer to write. Surrounded by mountains, she composes. She feels the connection and it fills her with inspiration. Going home is not a geographic equation.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about MOUNTAIN IN THE DISTANCE

 

 

roadtrip website box copy

 

 

 

 

Pace And Shed [on DR Thursday]

underpainting copy

underpainting

Like all artists I pass through periods of discontent with my paintings. They become like ill-fitting clothes. I want to shed them. I’m embarrassed to claim them. I start poking around for something new. Something that fits.

It took me more than a few cycles of discomfort to realize that discontent was actually a gift. It is the leading edge of curiosity, the fire storm that makes way for rejuvenation. Artists are not immune to holding on tightly to the safety and comfort of what they know and need a good dose of discontent to loosen their grip. At least I do.

Discontent makes me range around. Try stuff. Tear things up. Scribble furiously. Wonder if my muse has abandoned me (feel sorry for myself). Make really bad art (not on purpose). Make really bad art (on purpose). Take walks.

Discontent allows my empty well to refill. It pops any illusion I might carry of perfection. It turns my ship and hoists full-sail toward the edge of the world. And, it is always when I sail into uncharted waters that I find my muse waiting. She drums her fingers and says, “I thought you’d never get here.”

Ten years ago, when becalmed in the middle of my artistic ocean, I saw a pile of tissue paper in the corner of my studio. In a fit of why-not-nothing-else-is-working, I tore pieces of tissue and slapped them onto the painting-of-my-discontent. There sat my long missing muse, fingers drumming. “Texture,” she yawned. “You might want to see where this takes you.”

It’s taken me a long way. And, to my surprise, just a few weeks ago, I woke up and my paintings, like ill-fitting clothes, no longer fit me. I look at them as if someone else painted them. “Yikes,” I thought, “I hope no one saw these…” My muse packed her bags. She is nowhere in sight. I paced a little. Discontent like fog descended.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about UNDERPAINTING

 

buffalo adirondack chair website box copy

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sometimes the underpainting becomes the painting…this is a slice of Newborn

 

newborn ©️ 2019 david robinson

 

 

Experience The Miracle

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

From the archives: Pidgeon Pier. This painting is about paying attention

“It has become my view–my faith–that all elements of nature have that power to produce peace. It is surely why so many are drawn away from their urban lives and back to natural places. But those places need not be grand scenic vistas. The same peace can be found in the dandelion growing in the nearest vacant city lot.

It is, in the end, a choice either to “shut up and listen” to these sources of strength–no matter how great or humble or where we encounter them–or to hurry on by.”

~Master Jim Marsh in a comment about my post, Sit By The River

There was a cool breeze off the lake this morning that slowed the mounting humidity. We were a mile into our usual morning walk, rounding the path to the rocky lakeshore, when we entered the storm of dragonflies. There were hundreds of them, hovering just above our heads, occupying a narrow band that stretched as far as the eye could see!

I gasped and stopped! Never in my life had I seen so many dragonflies. Kerri said, “They come out when the weather has been hot and without rain.” Before continuing on our way, we stood for a few moments appreciating the hovering, the methodical zigging-and-zagging. Until our path deviated from the coast, they were with us, green and purple spirits, riding the air-line where earth meets water. For me it was pure magic.

Many years ago, as a way of ending our relationship, a woman told me that it was too hard to be with a mystic. I’d never before (or since) thought of myself as a mystic so I looked it up to make sure I understood why a mystic might not be easy to live with:

Mystic (noun): a follower of mysticism.
Mysticism (noun):
1. Belief in intuitive spiritual revelation,
2. Spiritual system,
3. Confused and vague ideas.

I laughed aloud when I read the three definitions of mysticism; the third definition applied to the previous two! I left my dictionary with two beliefs:

  1. All human beings are mystics if they simply slow down and pay attention. There’s no trick to it. And, that was certainly the problem in my relationship: I have always liked walking slowly in a world drunk on racing to the next big thing. That is hard to live with!
  2. The line between a spiritual revelation, a cathartic experience, a scientific eureka, or an artistic visit from the muse, seems to me, to be semantic. In our age of the intellect we generally run from the word intuition unless we apply a label like “gut instinct” (transforming a feminine energy to a masculine gut) or “I just knew it!” (transforming the scary clarity of an intuitive feeling into a safe clarity of an intellectual experience). It’s all wordplay.

Hearts know. Thoughts babble. And the only way to sort it all out is to stand still, stop the babbling, and see the miracle.

Walk With Your Ally

another painting in the Yoga series

the latest painting in the Yoga series

David is among my chief muses. He was the first person I met in my spontaneous-no-plan-move-to-Seattle over 15 years ago. We sat next to each other at a conference and he asked me if I wanted to be in a play. When I said yes he said, “Great. Can you be at rehearsal tonight?” Like me, he is a painter as well as a theatre artist. He steps through life with his eyes firmly focused on the possibilities. He reminds me that obstacles are nothing more than interesting process steps. When I wander through museums or galleries David goes with me whether he is there or not. When I see a play that inspires me, I wish that he might see it, too, so we might talk about it.

Recently, he sent this quote: “My intention has been, often, to say what I had to say in a way that would exemplify it; that would, conceivably, permit the listener to experience what I had to say rather than just hear about it.” – John Cage, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

When I was in college studying acting I had a professor who would say, “You will always know a good play from a bad play because a bad play wants to tell you what happens. A good play wants to include you in what happens.” He also used this rule to define good acting from bad acting. His shorthand phrase was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” It is the artistic equivalent of, “Give a man a fish and he will have a meal; teach a man to fish and he will eat forever.” Art, regardless of the form it takes, is meant to teach people to fish.

Art is not a “thing,” it is a relationship. It is a dynamic orientation to life. It is an experience (not a possession). My interpretation of my professor’s rule goes something like this: a good play/performance/painting includes; a bad play/performance/painting excludes. Vital art reaches for others. Empty art rejects or attempts to elevate itself above others.

The best artists I know have learned to get out of their own way. They have essentially, let go of all investment in self-importance. They serve the art and, so, are not terribly invested in whether a critic or a friend likes or dislikes their work. They have grown beyond attempting to control the perceptions of others (control is an act of exclusion); they are attempting to reach the soul of the matter, touch the soul of the other.

finally finished: May You Be

finally finished: May You Be

It is also true that great artists are constantly learning. And, since growth is always in the direction of the unknown, it is terribly important to have allies to walk with you. Stepping into the unknown is best done in the company of others, those special few wanderers who you can turn to and say, “Whoa! Did you just see that?” David, who is always there with me, laughs in response to my awe, and says, “Tell me! What did you see?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seek Solitude

from my Yoga series of paintings

from my Yoga series of paintings

It is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being alone. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I remember watching a documentary of the painter Lucien Freud. He said he couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to be a painter because the choice meant living a solitary life. His comment struck me as odd because, for me, solitude was necessary for the muse to come through. I often yearned for solitude. I always looked forward to my time with the muse.

More than twenty years ago, for a period of time, I was painting exclusively. I had an abundance of solitude. Each evening my dear friend Albert would show up at my door, force me out of the studio and take me to a coffeehouse. He told me that he feared my isolation, that without human contact and conversation, I might twist. His fear, although probably valid, also struck me as odd.

A solitary life can be quiet, prayerful; it can be full. A solitary life can also be lonely and empty. The difference, of course, is in the presence of a relationship. Most painters that I know, most artists, feel as if they are a “channel to something bigger.” Something comes through and it is in the solitary moments that the channel opens. It is in the solitary moments that the relationship becomes available. The relationship with the muse can be full, rich, and three-dimensional. I imagine monks, nuns and ascetics of all spiritual traditions know this relationship, too. Solitary need not be lonely just as, paradoxically, the loneliest place on earth can be in the middle of city teeming with people.

The exploration of the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one’s being is the province of the artist. The relationship with “something bigger,” with the muse, is the seed from which all art forms grow. The seed is visible in the adornments found in pyramids, in the harp of Orpheus, and in the paintings of Marc Chagall. It is present when children with gusto run their fingers through paint or dance all alone in the grass just because it feels good.