Choose Your Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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One of the ideas behind the melange was to invite you into our studio, to offer a peek behind the curtain into the messy art piles and chaotic processes that spark and give fuel to our creative lives.

We make it a practice to walk through life noticing things, appreciating moments. It is a muscle we consciously exercise. It is the reason we write. It is the reason we take photographs of the food arranged on our plates or the evening sunlight topping the trees or the funny sign posts on the paths we walk. Kerri recently said – and I think it is true – we are inspiring ourselves and perhaps, through our art, words, and designs, helping others live appreciative lives.

In a past incarnation, when working with teachers or corporate types or artists, I said again and again, “See what is there, not what you think is there.” Try and see beyond what you think. A full spectrum of beauty bubbles brightly right in front of our noses but largely goes unnoticed through the mind chatter that dulls our perceptions. It renders us sense-blind.

On this Two Artists Tuesday, a not-so-subtle reminder to slow down, choose a piece of quiet, open your eyes and appreciate your moment. Take a stab at seeing what is bubbling out there just beyond your oh-so-important-thinking. It just might take your breath away. Or, more to the point, it might bring you a deep creative breath. It just might give fuel to your creative life.

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Chicken Marsala Monday

thismomentunique WITH EYES jpeg copy 2“What do I see?” It is, perhaps, the most important and fundamental question any person can ask. Seeing is never passive. It is never pure. Interpretation begins the moment you open your eyes. The ‘see-er’ stories – gives meaning to – what is seen. It is a simple truth: the very act of opening your eyes is a creative act.

Every moment of our lives is new. What else? You have never lived this moment before. You will never live it again. We blunt ourselves when we tell ourselves the story of ‘same-old-same-old.’ We dull ourselves when we weave the belief that this day is routine, that this moment of life is nothing new.

We blur our seeing and muddle our moments by asking the wrong question(s): how do they see me? what do they think of me? These are impossible crazy-making questions to answer. They generate a directional challenge. It is not your superpower to determine what the world sees when IT looks at YOU – mostly because you can’t. The world is not looking at you. You are seeing it.  IT is not giving meaning to you. You are giving meaning to IT. That is your genuine superpower.

The thought for today from the melange: open your eyes. See the new-ness. Create this moment as unique in every way.

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DR Thursday

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Kerri calls them “morsels”: snapshots of a portion of one of my paintings. May You Be Peace is a morsel. I love watching her take the shots. I delight in how she helps me see my work anew. I appreciate how each morsel is a complete work of art in itself.

Shift the focus. Pull in the frame of reference. We live in a world of cameras and microscopes and telescopes and compartments; what we see and believe is very much determined by where we place our focus. Georgia O’Keeffe knew it; she was a master of the close-up.

A few years ago I began taking photographs of my paintings-in-process. The camera helps me sees aspects of the painting that would otherwise remain invisible. It’s odd. I stand before a canvas stapled to the wall and see one thing. I aim a camera at the canvas stapled to the wall and see a wholly different painting. Just imagine the infinite perceptions and perspectives at play in our world!

My photo-painting-practice is a constant reminder that my perspective, my perception is mine alone. You are most certainly looking through a different set of lenses.

Peace, I think, has nothing to do with sameness and everything to do with the celebration of  difference, the capacity to help each other see our lives anew.

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Look For The Two Points Of View

My latest. As yet untitled. It’s about dreams and angels.

It is the time of thanks giving in these United States and this week when I say my quiet thanks I will include Horatio in my list. Our conversations are life-giving and art-inspiring. And, best of all, tracking Horatio’s thought path is an utter delight. He is an expansive thinker! Here’s an example from our recent call:

“I’m the last person to really see my work,” I said. “Kerri routinely stops me from ruining paintings. She forces me to leave them alone until I can actually see what I’ve painted.”

Horatio said, “You have a parallax problem.”

I thought to myself (who else would I think to?): Parallax is a great word! The last time he flung that word at me I looked it up. In essence, divergent perspectives when looking at the same thing from two different points of view. You might say our political parties have a parallax problem.

Horatio continued, “All religions say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ All religions say it. Love your neighbor.”

What!? I thought. How did we get to neighbor-love from parallax? Grab the reins and hold on!

“The fundamental human problem is to know yourself.” Horatio said. “And artists confront that problem every moment that they stand in front of the canvas or sit down at the piano. Every moment is an exploration of the self, what you see, what you believe.”

From parallax to loving your neighbor to knowing yourself.

“Self. Other. That’s it!” Horatio continued: “That’s all there is! Isaac Bashevis Singer said that the purpose of literature [he was a writer but you can insert any art form] is to 1) entertain and 2) to educate. IN THAT ORDER! You cannot educate first! Playing matters! Fun matters! You must engage the heart first. It opens the path to the other thing.” [take note all ye test makers and proponents of head-driven education].

Parallax: differing points of view. Love your neighbor: a universal aspiration amidst the raging parallax. Know yourself: the fundamental human problem and the singular pursuit necessary to approach the universal aspiration. Heart first: the only route to all of the above.

“An artist has to play. Experiment. Step across the knowns into the unknowns. Question all of those assumptions. Doubt what they see,” he said.

It’s a beautiful paradox, isn’t it? The route to knowing yourself, the route to loving your neighbor, is to doubt what you think. In fact, it is to realize that the river of nonsense incessantly running through your mind is nothing more than a deflection from actually coming to know your self. It is not to be believed. It is the ultimate fake news. It is a great day when you recognize that your inner monologue is entertainment and not education! It’s a great day when you recognize that you need another person’s perspective in order to know your self. You need it precisely because it differs from what you see. Clear vision requires two points of view. It’s called perspective.  Having two points of view opens the door to questioning. It makes probable the birth of a possibility.

“It’s all about relationship.” Horatio concluded, “Now, the only real question surrounding the artist is, in the midst of all of this navel gazing, in the thick of all of this dedicated pursuit of the self, boundary-crossing-questioning, will your neighbors want anything to do with you? Will they want to have you around at all?!”

Oh, yes. Parallax.

Dance With Parallax

My favorite word of the week is ‘parallax.’ Horatio pulled it out of the word bin during our latest conversation about art and artistry. We were discussing the difference between what an artist sees in their work and what others see – and how artistic “sight” changes over time. I scribbled the word along with the phrase, “the difference in what you see and what others see. Perspective over time.” After our call I looked up the word in my dictionary:

paral-lax (noun) 1. Apparent change of position. 2. Angle measuring star’s distance from Earth.

Many years ago in a fit of vulnerability I showed my mentor, a great theatre and visual artist, my paintings. I lined them all up for him to see. I followed him around the room as he quietly studied each piece. Finally, after taking in all of my work, he asked, “What’s the meaning of the spheres?” I was dumbfounded and had no idea what he was asking. “Spheres? What spheres?” So he led me back around the room, revisiting each painting, showing me the three spheres that appeared in EVERY single painting.

“What’s with the spheres?” he repeated, knowing that there wasn’t an answer but there was certainly a vast new question. My universe spun a bit that day so astounded was I at my inability to see the unifying principle in my own paintings.

I needed his eyes to see my work. Isn’t that the point?

When I think back on that day, on that younger version of my self, I revisit the fear, the raging vulnerability I felt in sharing my paintings. I feel again the deep doubt I held against myself. I recall the nausea of inviting someone I admired into my house of doubt. I somehow believed that, to be an artist, I had “to know” what I was doing – yet knew with certainty that I had no idea what I was doing. I knew with certainty that he would see through me to my lack of knowing.

And, he did. Thank goodness. “What’s with the spheres?” Such a simple question yet it spun my universe and pitched me through the portal of a new perspective.

I learned that day that artistry has nothing to do with knowing. Life has nothing to do with knowing. Knowing is an illusion, temporary at best. Knowing has everything to do with hiding.

Making a life, as Master Marsh just reminded me, is an engagement with the unknown. It is to have experiences. It is to make meaning of the experiences. If you are lucky, you learn to have the experiences first, and make the meaning second. It is to understand that, in this dance of knowing and not-knowing, sight and blindness, chaos and order, consciousness and unconsciousness, there are no fixed points. There is dance:

dance (noun) 1. An act of stepping or moving through a series of movements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Held In Grace

Grace (noun): 1. Simple elegance or refinement of movement. 2. Unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

The first time it happened Kathleen, my landlady, stepped between me and the canvas shouting, “You can’t do it!” I was about to wipe off the image and start anew. “I love this one!” she said. “I love it.” Baffled by Kathleen’s wild-eyed heroics I granted the painting a stay of execution. I let it live. I faced the canvas to the wall so I couldn’t see it. After a few days I put it back on the easel. I saw it anew. I saw what Kathleen saw. It was a good painting and ultimately birthed an entire series of paintings.

One of the great paradoxes of being a visual artist is to lose sight en route to seeing. Becoming mired in the thoughts of the painting blinds an artist to the painting. Stare at anything long enough and you will stop seeing it (you will only see what you think about it). The only antidote is to turn it around. Forget about it so you can see it anew.

A few weeks ago it happened again. Kerri was coming down the stairs to the studio just as I was about the wipe an image off the canvas. It wasn’t working for me. Like Kathleen a decade earlier, Kerri threw herself over the painting and pleaded for its life. This time I asked her to tell me what she saw that I clearly was not seeing. I asked her to make a case for clemency. She saw something new. She saw Grace. And, she convinced me that I was blind to the painting. I took it off the easel and turned it to face the wall.

I’m learning again lessons that were pounded into me when I was younger but am now finding deeper levels. Step away. Forget. Clear your vision by looking away. Tom called this “closing the building for a spell.” Understand that seeing and thinking are intertwined. It is a sword with two edges that can illuminate or limit. The skill is never found in the thinking, the interpretation. The great skill is to see beyond the thinking. To see. Artistry happens when thought serves sight and not the other way around. The mastery of art and the mastery of life are, after all, one and the same thing.

When I turned the painting around I saw it anew. And, like the reprieved painting of a decade ago, this one, too, is inspiring a series. In a fit of intentional spontaneity (one of my new favorite descriptions of artistry), the second in the series jumped off my brush. I’m preparing surfaces for the third, fourth, and fifth. They are asking me to follow them – no thought required. They are asking me to take a walk with Grace.

 

Answer The Question With A Question

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram

carrying on the tradition (and my heroes): mike and sabrina bartram at Changing Faces Theatre Company

Many years ago at the start of my career I bumbled into running a summer theatre company. It would become one of the great gifts of my life. At the time I decided that it would be my laboratory. I’d be able to experiment with directing processes and actor training techniques. What I didn’t realize until much later was that I would also be running an experiment in business and, more importantly, how to create a community mindset of support and empowerment (and, therefore, achievement). I was free to succeed because I gave myself permission to focus on the quality of the process instead of worrying about hard and abstract words like ‘achievement.’ My bottom line was the inner growth of everyone in the company, the inner growth of the community that we served.

When the company was up and running, when it was mature, company members swept the parking lot because they knew it would make the play better (improving the audience experience always impacts the performance). The people running the box office prided themselves on their kind service and efficiency because they knew that it would make the play better. The actors understood that they were in service to the play and not themselves. In fact, everyone in the company was in service to something bigger than themselves. That was the culture of the company. When pushed to articulate the success of what we created together, I’d say, “We’re focusing on the important stuff.”

Yesterday with great intention I sent that phrase (focus on the important stuff) out into the e-stratosphere. I lobbed it in association with the company that Kerri and I are in the process of creating to see what would come back at me. Like the summer theatre company, this new venture is our laboratory. What came back was the question, “What’s the important stuff?”

Sometimes the only way to answer a question is with another question. Take a look around your world. Take a moment to look at the difference between what you say and what you do. What do you see? What do you want to see? Big power comes to people when, like my company members (students) of so long ago, they realize that their “seeing” isn’t passive. The greatest single power any human being has is to choose where they place their focus. The greatest single revelation any human being has is to recognize that what they see impacts everyone around them. No one does this walk alone.

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It's also about being alone

the very first painting in the Yoga series. It was an experiment, a walk of discovery. It’s also about being alone.

It’s easy to place a focus on an obstacle. It’s very easy to fix a gaze on the problems. It’s easy because, left alone, believing we are alone, that’s where most people default. Place yourself in a community that knows there is something bigger, something more important to see and serve, and the field of possibilities becomes easy. My company members of so long ago didn’t know what they couldn’t do so they did everything they imagined. That was only possible because they imagined it together. So, answering a question with a question, to you, what’s the important stuff?