Stay Fully Alive

a more recent smaller painting: In Quiet Prayer

Horatio issued me this challenge: do something new, something you’ve never done before. Paint something different, something that boggles you.

I love this challenge. In other words, step out of your comfort zone. Dare to not know where you are going. Make a mess with great gusto and intention. Court chaos and wrestle it into something that resembles order for you and no one else.

Horatio might have said, “Dare to see again, purely, with no filters, knowledge, or preconceptions.” He might have added, “What might you see, who might you be, if you stepped beyond the safety of your ideals, your beliefs, and great mass of weighty and important knowledge?”

The child in me, the one not yet accustomed to sitting in a desk or raising my hand or waiting my turn would loudly sing the answer: You’d be fully alive! I’d be fully alive.

from a few years ago, a larger piece: Meditation

I’ve always appreciated how similar are an artist’s path and that of a spiritual seeker. The aim of the exercise is the same. A meditation practice to still a busy mind is identical to an actor’s training to be fully present on the stage or a painter’s pursuit to see purely (to see without the disruption of interpretation). On both paths, truth is a fluid thing. Truth is what is happening right now. What happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow are distractions at best. They are stories that get in the way. They are of no consequence to this moment of living, this moment of aliveness. It is, an actor learns, a fool’s errand to attempt to repeat yesterday’s performance.

Horatio’s challenge is relevant for every human being wrestling with the big questions or trying to stave off or make sense of the chaos. Dare to dance with what’s right in front of you. Dare to drop the questions.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist. The problem is to remain an artist once he or she grows up. He might well have said that every child is fully alive. The problem is to remain fully alive once he or she grows up.

playing around with simplicity. This one is hot off the easel and not yet named.

this is how she looks in a frame. Magic!

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Do Anything Else

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It occurs to me now that all along I’ve been asking irrelevant questions. Or, perhaps framing my questions too narrowly. For instance, years ago I went to graduate school to study systems because I wanted to follow a question that reached deep into my life and identity as an artist: can a mythology be rekindled once it has died? Art, after all, is one of the primary life-keepers of a culture’s story and the beating heart of the story is its mythology. And, according to all indicators, our mythology is mostly dead [as Joseph Campbell said, for evidence of our mythological demise, all you need to do is look at the news]. So, the younger version of myself wanted to understand the purpose of my life as an artist if, indeed, I was in service to a dead mythology. Heady questions, yes? Relevant questions?

In the early 1990’s I was invited to a photographer’s studio to see the “newest thing” in photography. The photographer had a new “program” called Photoshop. Before my eyes he “photoshopped” me into a picture, a place I’d never before visited. Today, all of this seems commonplace. Now, any 5 year old can manipulate an image but at the time a photograph stood for proof that something had actually happened. A photograph could not lie. It was evidence of truth. That day, standing in the photographer’s studio, I realized that the old reliable anchors for truth no longer existed. What was our anchor?

The truly significant events in our lives rarely come in with a roar.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about fake news – as if this was a new phenomenon. It brings to my mind a terrific book written in 1985 by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death. Here’s bit from the first page:

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

I suppose fake news refers to something wholly concocted but I’d argue that when news agencies pander and promote themselves to conservative or liberal viewpoints, when ratings drive content, it’s all fake news. News with an agenda is…not news. It is, however, dangerous to a democracy and no longer free (as in free press, a cornerstone of our democracy). Historically, newspapers have always had a point of view but there was some attention paid to what was printed as news. Opinion was confined to an editorial page. When the line between true and concocted is blurred, when a populace cannot discern between entertainment and substance, it no longer has the capacity to make sound (read, “informed”) judgments. Worse, it is gullible, gossip-eaten and infinitely manipulate-able. It is, as Neil Postman wrote, entertaining itself to death.

I recently wrote about the absence of recognizable communal anchors (mythology) and the dangers of a community with nothing but the soft soil of belief and opinion as its driver. Is planting a personal-truth flag and defending its territory all that is left to us?

What else can we do? Now, there’s a relevant, open-ended question! Roger once told me that he would never be able to understand suicide. He said something like, “In that moment, rather than take your own life, why not do anything else? Why not make any other choice?” Another relevant question!

What else can we do? In the face of our own entertainment-driven suicide, why not do anything else? Turn off the blather, go outside, meet your neighbor, tell stories of your children or your ancestors. If common ground can’t be found it can certainly be created. Inhabit something bigger than opinion. It’s less entertaining but certainly more useful. Great art – no matter the form- lives in those bigger fields.

 

MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF PEACE – GIFTS

to kickstart your peace, listen to this:

for PEACE on iTunes, go here (track 5 on the album AS IT IS)

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The Way You Frame The Question

TODAY’S FEATURED REMINDER FOR HUMANS

The way you frame the possibilities

There is a vast difference between the questions, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “What’s the opportunity in this?” Both questions are frames that we place on our experiences. Both questions determine the range of possibilities and choices we see in our lives. Why not place a frame that opens a vast range of possibilities instead of placing a frame that closes most of the doors?

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FOR TODAY’S FEATURED REMINDER FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Sometimes It Takes More Than A Text

TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS

Sometimes It takes more than a text

In a recent post I wrote that we are often slaves to brevity. We want quick and easy answers to life’s big questions. Peter Block wrote that, in 30 years of consulting with businesses, he was routinely asked “How” but never asked “Why.” Relationship is at the heart of almost every big question (like leadership, management, marriage, self-love, the sacred,…) and, in relationship, there is no shorthand.

FOR TODAY’S FEATURED PRINT FOR HUMANS, GO HERE.

Look To Each Other

my latest work-in-progress

my latest work-in-progress

Josh laughed from the back seat of the car. He read aloud the text that made him laugh: I’m in MoMA (the museum of modern art) and someone dropped a glove. Now, people are walking around it because they don’t know whether it is art or not!

I’ve spent a goodly amount of my time on the planet in museums of contemporary art and know that most folks passing through the museum have the same confusion about the pieces on the walls. What makes something art and something else not-art?

Almost a century ago Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal in an exhibition and gave it the title, “Fountain.” At the time it was scandalous and now represents a major milestone in art history. Today, a urinal in a museum exhibition would get the same treatment as the glove on the floor: confused consideration. Is it or is it not art? The beauty of the glove moment, the thing that binds it to the urinal moment, is that, in both cases, the gallery goers looked to others, perfect strangers, to ascertain a proper response: it is art if they say it is. Art, in this case, is an agreement.

This agreement, looking for approval about how to behave when confronted with the art-or-not-art question may seem superficial until you consider that recently people in Paris lost their lives over a disagreement of what was art and what was not. In recent history (2001), the Taliban destroyed centuries old giant statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. They considered the statues idols (not art) and dynamited them off of the face of the earth (I will leave you to discover and ponder the irony between my Paris and Bamiyan Valley examples).

the words written into my work-in-progress

a close-up: the words written into my work-in-progress

Art is meant to open our perspective, to make us question, to help us see. A society that is capable of seeing is also a society that is capable of questioning; they go hand-in-hand. Questioning is always present when people are growing – so is art. Questioning also begets tolerance – it requires us to doubt our perspective and consider the view from someone else’s shoes. In these times when I hear someone bemoan the end of civility and the horrors in the world, I wonder if they’ve argued to cut art from the schools or  recently attended a concert to hear music to move their soul. Art is dangerous to leaders who like their people blind. Art is offensive to people who want their community thought-less. I delighted that somewhere in the world, in a museum of modern art, a group of people walked around a lost glove and looked to each other for guidance.

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