Honor All Perspectives

my latest painting. Hope asks, “What do you see?”

Hope Hughes, Kerri’s longtime assistant and voice of reason in all-things-business, passed through my studio and flung herself in front of the painting I was working on. “Stop!” she cried. “Don’t touch it! It’s finished!”

“Finished? I just started,” I whined. She laughed at the perplexed look on my face.

“Put down your brushes,” she smiled, “and listen for a minute.”

Over time I’ve learned to listen to Hope. She makes sense of the world through her feelings which comes in handy to an over-cerebral artist like me. She has no inner-editor in the early stages of communication so I’ve learned her heroics are pure. She sees something that I do not. This is not the first time Hope has thrust herself between me and the painting I am about to destroy, so when she asks me to ‘look’ there is usually a good reason. I set down my brushes, cross my arms, and huff as if to say, “I’m listening but make it fast.”

Each time she begs me to stop work on a painting, a great debate rages in the household. This time was no exception. I sit in my chair and listen to what she sees. It is always diametrically opposed to what I see so I pretend to pout (I secretly love this process because it is EXACTLY what I adore about art in general and painting in particular). She tries to get me to tell her what I intended to paint, coaxing me to talk about what I see but I refuse. As Joseph Campbell once said, “If an artist respects you, s/he will not tell you what a painting means. ” Art is always about a relationship between the piece and the viewer and the artist needs to stay out of the way. If the artist has no respect for you (or themself), s/he will tell you what the painting means to them. I respect Hope so I stay out of the way.

In this painting, Hope sees deep humility in dual fatherhood.

My refusal drags other people into the fray. She snaps a photo of the painting and then shares it with others, asking what they see in the painting, what descriptors they would use. As is always the case, the replies sometimes align with her perception and sometimes not which further fuels the debate. 20 had the misfortune of coming over for dinner and he was subjected to the photograph test.

In this painting, 20 sees grief and loss. In this aspect he agreed with Hope: the painting is finished.

When I first started showing paintings I would follow patrons through the gallery (they did not know I was the artist) and listen to their perceptions. They rarely saw what I intended but what they saw was marvelous – almost miraculous to me. It was an advanced course in understanding the futility of trying to determine what another person perceives. Art, I learned in those days, is a living relationship. Perception is personal. No one is a blank slate. Paintings evoke. The meaning is made between the patron and the painting.

I enter into the studio to drop out of my many descriptors and over-cerebral tendencies. I go to the studio to engage in a pure relationship with…my muse(?) I am never more alive than when I am painting. I am never more quiet than when I am painting. The images that emerge from my quiet are sometimes incidental, always surprising, and are sometimes just a map of a moment in the greater relationship of my life. Only a moment. I feel that I have never finished a painting because the paintings themselves are not distinct, separate from each other. They are living things. They change over time. They are moments, marks in the sand in a greater ongoing relationship in the long-body of my life.

What do I see in this painting? It is not important to know. Is it finished? For me, never. And, and for Hope, yes.

Every artist needs a Hope Hughes. Someone they trust, someone they respect to step in front of their work and without editor, tell them what they see. Hope reminds me that the true value/purpose of art is to create a commons capable of affording multiple perspectives and the rich opportunity to discuss the differences in what we perceive.

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.

 

 

 

JFGI!

I had to use this painting for this post. I call it Eve

I had to use this painting from the archive  for this post. I call it Eve

Notes at the crossroads of The New World Order:

1. Betsi was disappointed in the low attendance at church. She told us that everything had changed in the last decade. Churches that were once thriving were now struggling. It is a trend. It is happening everywhere. It’s true. A few months ago I saw the statistics of church membership in America and the numbers are plummeting.

“What changed,” I asked.

Without hesitation she said, “People don’t need God anymore. They think they know everything.”

I quipped, “Who needs God when you have Google?”

She laughed and said, “Right! JFGI!”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled, “Just f*cking Google it.”

It is probably true for believers and non-believers alike that God is slower than Google, especially if the notion of God is uncannily human, (i.e., a rule-maker, judgmental, angry one minute and loving the next, assigns ‘chosen’ status to one team but not the other, etc.). Such a god might easily be confused with a search engine or a legal system.

I thought, but did not say, perhaps people are looking for something that neither technology nor a search-engine-god can deliver. Perhaps they are looking for something less volatile. Information is readily available. So is judgment. Wisdom is a bit harder to come by.

2. After band rehearsal we went to a bar. Jim grew up Catholic and we were talking about the revolution of thought that Pope Francis is inspiring. Jim said, “I really like that guy!” Suddenly, he pulled out his phone. “I wonder if The Pope is on Facebook?” We laughed when he found and “liked” The Pope. Facebook showed us a gallery of others who’d “liked” The Pope. The top of the list was The Dali Llama. “I’m going to like him, too!” Jim cheered and added, “I wonder if he’ll like me back?” We laughed.

I remember when a photograph was absolute proof that something happened. I remember the day that a photographer showed me a new “software” (at the time I had to ask what that meant) that could alter a photograph. He showed me and erased someone from a shot. I remember wondering what would be the new standard of proof? Sitting at the bar the other night with Jim, nearly 30 years later, I finally received my answer: it doesn’t exist if it isn’t on Facebook.

This brought me to what will be my next late night bar conversation topic with Jim: When did all of life become marketing and data collection? Have you checked your “likes” lately?

This inspired a glance at the fast moving river that is Facebook. I read:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

That raises an obvious question: Is hell an experience or a place? JFGI!

Follow The Thread

My work in progress.

My work in progress.

I spent the morning in the studio fanning the flame of a painting I started weeks ago. It’s hard for me to leave a painting once I start it. Once started, there is a thread that I must follow through the maze of developing imagery that will eventually bring me to completion. If I drop the thread, I lose my way. When I find myself thinking too much I know I’ve lost the thread and it is best to do nothing. It is best to sit in the maze and be lost. Moving from the intellect alone will always create mud or worse, it will kill the painting. The thread, to be useful, is intuitive, a guide of feeling. I’ve learned that sitting still is a necessary and useful skill.

To return to the painting requires finding a wholly new thread. It requires sitting with the existing image until the new thread appears. Sometimes the new thread presents itself when I stare at the painting. Sometimes the new thread jumps me in an alley or while having coffee with a friend. That’s what happened with this painting.

The new thread mugged me. I was miles from the studio and heard someone recite a portion of The Prayer of Saint Francis; the painting was suddenly smacking my inner eye. I knew exactly what I needed to do. It felt right. It felt vital. It would not leave me alone – and that’s how I know I’ve found the thread again. The prayer wanted to be in the painting. This thread would not lead to the same outcome. This thread would lead to a completely different painting.

More and more, words are showing up in my paintings. As I walk deeper into specific symbolism, I’m discovering the word as image. Using words as design elements, shaping a word as I shape a drawing, letters as visual symbol (they are symbols referential to sound). These words that do so much to shape our perception and either put locks on our experiences or set us free – they are calling to me as pure visual forms. Letters are simple lines and shapes sequenced and given meaning as words. Just so, words are lovely shapes sequenced and given meaning as sentences. The meaning is not carried in the words (the symbols) but in the reader. The shapes are visual statements before they are infused with symbolic meaning. Open a book written in a language that you do not read and you’ll see what I mean. You can’t make meaning of the symbols but you can appreciate the visual – in fact, once your brain ceases attempting to assign meaning to the symbols you can actually see the pure form (this is a good rule of thumb for cultivating presence, too).

Here’s the prayer in its symbol form for you to interpret and an image of how it currently exists in the painting:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

A detail of the prayer.

A detail of the prayer.

O’ Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.

 

Be The Detail

I took photo and used this image in The Seer.

I took photo and used this image in The Seer.

When I shared the early chapters of The Seer with friends, their feedback was universal: I was trying to say too much. They asked me to break it down into smaller bites. At first I resisted because I couldn’t see the path to smaller bites! In time I was able to step back and see what they were telling me. All of the necessary connective tissue was in my mind; I was filling in the thought-gaps. My wise-eyed readers had no access to my mental filler and saw a story riddled with gaps.

It was a valuable lesson for me. What I see is never what others see. Even when we share an experience, it is false to suppose that we had the same experience. We share. That is a much different thing than assuming sameness. When I think I am being clear, when I think that my point of view is right, I remember the gaps. I am projecting content and context filler onto every experience and so are all the other people in the room.

Perception is at best a moving target. This simple principle is what makes art so necessary and science so exciting. Newton thought he was dealing in absolutes. He was describing a universe based on uncontestable fixed principles. And then came Einstein. We see from and through a context that we like to call “truth” but, it is at best relative. Is it a particle or a wave? Well, it depends…

I used to facilitate an exercise called Mask Mingle. It is a powerful way to open eyes and hearts to the grace that we grant ourselves but rarely grant to others: specificity of story. We cannot walk through our days without carrying the specificity of our experiences and the rolling, roiling interpretations and re-interpretations of those experiences that we call ‘memory.’ No one can see what we’ve done and where we’ve been. No one sees the joy, the hurt, the dreams, the losses, the fears, the perseverance. They cannot see the detail. The best they can do is interpret us through their lens. We will always be a generality in the eyes of others.

I find that central to much of what I write about and coach about is the surrender of what other people might think. It is a fallacy to think that you can determine what others think of you. You will never see through their eyes. You will never know their lens. It is a powerful moment when an artist (or anyone) realizes that they have no control over the perception of others. The best they can do is offer their gift from their unique, unknowable, rich, point of view. That moment is called artistic freedom.

title_pageGo here to buy hard copies (and Kindle) of my latest book: The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Innovator, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator,…You.