Skip The Handbook

We walked some great beaches this summer. In this post are my three most recent paintings. Kerri calls them the start of my Beach Series. This one is called, They Draw The Sunset In The Sand

I just made myself laugh out loud. “Lol!” I’d have texted to myself had I not been breathless from my guffaw. No one can accuse me of needing to be entertained.

I was writing about my history with curators, galleries and their consistent criticism of my work: I am stylistically all over the map. And, it’s a valid criticism! I am stylistically schizophrenic. I was overcome with laughter by what I wrote after using the words ‘stylistically schizophrenic:’ If I didn’t know myself (and, most of the time I am the last person to see in myself what is obvious to all – so it is a solid argument to make that I do not know myself)…. Wow. I might have made a good lawyer had I not been so dedicated to seeing things from multiple points of view. My paintings reflect my dedication (as it should be).

When I was younger I tried repeatedly to squeeze myself into a stylistic box. I thought that the advice and feedback I was receiving from gallery representatives meant that I was somehow lacking or out of control. In the handbook of real artists it must say in bold print something about possessing a consistent style. The youthful me looked all over creation for a copy of the handbook but could find it nowhere. How could I call myself an artist if I had not first read the handbook?

This one is titled, A Day At The Beach

My attempts ‘to fit’ into the single style rule made me miserable and, worse, made my work stale. In my mind, achieving real-artist-status meant I must learn to contort myself yet the price of contortion was very high. Twice in my life I took a year long hiatus because my attempt to fit into a single-style-box left me with deep aches and no creative fire. Once, so burdened was I by the pain of my contortion, I burned most of my paintings.

Fire is cleansing. Creative fire is clarifying. I have learned through my fire that the real handbook is internal and uniquely personal. As John once said to me, “Your job is to paint the paintings not to determine how or where they fit.” The painters I admire and feel a kinship with are stylistic pantheists. They are more visual explorers than technical geniuses.

There is a bridge that every artist must cross. It comes in the moment when the inner compass is no longer at odds with the necessities of learning technique, when the well-meaning comments of teachers and mentors and agents and representatives are just that: well-meaning comments. The compass, your internal rulebook, will let you know without doubt whether the comment needs to be considered or discarded. Growth happens either way.

This one is untitled at the moment…

visit www.davidrobinsoncreative.com to see the full extent of my stylistic pantheism.

 

 

 

Cut A New Path

ComfortNow

The latest in my Held In Grace series. This is Comfort Now

It seems to me that most of our days on this earth are spent moving through patterns, conscious or unconscious. These patterns are the rituals of our lives. Some of the rituals are easy to see. For instance, what is the sequence of actions you perform before going to bed each night? What about your ritual of rising each day? The care and feeding of Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog and Babycat are central to my rising and retreating rituals each day. We move through the same actions every morning and evening and I delight in the warmth of the ritual.

Some of the rituals are not so easy to see. Researchers tell us that most of the thoughts we think every day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. We mostly think in patterns (it makes sense once you recognize that language is constructed of category and pattern). We talk to ourselves, cutting paths through the forest of our minds and, once we’ve established a trail, we like to stay on it. Easy is often unconscious. There’s nothing wrong with staying on the easy trail if the path you’ve cut, your repetitious thought-ritual, is self-loving. The rub: ritual paths of self-loathing and self-limitation are also easy, well-worn paths and that makes them both unconscious and hard to leave.

Cutting a new path through the mind forest begins with recognizing that new paths are always available. They just aren’t easy to establish. They require new practices. They require surrender and the first bit of surrender necessary for cutting a new path is the ritual giving-over of needing-to-know-anything; new paths, by definition are unknown.

New paths are not comfortable precisely because they require attention, consciousness.

My teachers taught me that all stories worth telling are stories of transformation. The main character or characters will know something at the end of the story that they did not know at the beginning and the new knowledge will be hard-won. That’s what makes the story worth engaging. Hamlet is a much different character in Act 5 than he was in Act 1. His peace was difficult to come by. He had to learn to surrender. To cut a new path he had to make a practice of peace.

The same ideal applies to the stories we live off the stage.

 

Be An Avid Catcher Of Your Thoughts

TODAY’S FEATURED IDEA FOR HUMANS

Be an avid catcher of your thoughts

This notion is the heart of change. It is the practice of self-awareness. Listen to the story you tell yourself about your self.  It is ripe with ideas, dreams, and yearnings. It is also ripe with fears, doubts, and comparisons. Capture the ideas. Listen to the dreams. Follow the yearnings. It’s a muscle. Develop a focus for the creative. Capture what’s useful and let the other jabber go.

Screen Shot Avid Catcher

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Step Into The Unknown

Step Into Unknown with Sig

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Doubt

Pidgeon Pier - acrylic on canvas

Pigeon Pier – acrylic on canvas

It’s been months since I had a good chat with the stained glass window. I hadn’t realized that the conversations had stopped. The summer was a blur of unplanned travel and I suspect during the chaos of coming and going that I simply stopped asking questions.

This morning we awoke to snow, the first of the season. Snow arrives silently and inspires inner silence. Steeped in the snow’s quiet I heard the window’s greeting. “Ah, Welcome back.” And so began our conversation about doubt.

Doubt is a double-edged sword, it has two distinct faces. The first face, unlike the snow, is noisy. Doubt does not arrive in silence. It demands to be heard. In the middle of my conversation with the window I heard P-Tom say, “Fear makes us doubt our belief and believe our doubts.” This face of doubt is a crazy maker. It makes muddy the inner waters. It makes all fears come true.

There is another face of doubt, not born of fear but arising from love. The 5th Agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz is this: doubt everything that you think. To doubt what you think makes little sense without the preceding agreements, the most powerful (to me) is this – Be impeccable to your word: speak your truth and nothing else; do not blame or accuse or make others responsible for your pain (your thoughts and actions); own your thoughts; own your actions. Or, better said, love yourself enough to express your love and nothing else. Don Miguel writes that impeccability to your word requires self-love. In this context, this other face of doubt is a step forward. Coming from love, to doubt what you think is akin to cleaning up the dirty dishes. It is to not take anything too seriously. Thought is nothing more than storytelling and to doubt the story births detachment from investment in the story. Detaching from the story-investment brings quiet, like the snow.

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Tend The Root

The moon over Benziger Winery

The moon over Benziger Winery

I am not and have never been a landscape painter. I paint the figure. Yet, my current sketchbook is filled with fanciful landscapes, sketches from places I have been and places in my mind. Great scribbles, cross hatches, and curly cues carve rolling hills and midnight skies. I started drawing these landscapes just before I stepped off the reservation and went on my walk-about. They are meditations.

When I was very young, over and over again, I drew a cabin in the woods. There was a tree in the foreground and beyond, across a meadow, stood a rough cabin. It was as if I knew the place and I was drawing it to remember. I must have drawn it hundreds of times, the leaves on the trees, the door and windows calling for a visit. The quiet. Even today, forty years later, I can feel the quiet when I remember drawing my cabin.

Doodles and Dwight notes

Doodles and Dwight notes

The other night while on the phone with my long lost friend, Dwight, I needed to write a note – he was sparking such great insights – and all I had within reach was my sketchbook. I wrote the notes and also started to doodle as we talked. My doodles went the way of the landscape. Shapes and swirls and squiggles. Drawing is also a form of note-taking.

Dwight talked about going through the crush and coming out the other side as something – someone – wholly new, simpler. The crush refers to the process of grapes becoming wine. Life can crush us. Life does crush us. We change form, grapes to wine, children to adults to ancestors.

I told Dwight of the gift Skip gave me: lessons in wine and a few days with Barney who walked me though a vineyard and taught me about the roots and the vine. Trying to rush the grape with fertilizers and pesticides will perhaps provide short-term gain but will kill the vine in the long term. It makes the vine weak and incapable of drinking the nutrient. Health, true health, requires respect for the root and an understanding of the natural pace of things. This simple respect for the root, care and attention to the whole plant, the seen and unseen, and not a blind focus on production or the test score or the bank account, creates health. It is a meditation.

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Leave Your Ghost

from the archives. I call this painting "Demeter."

from the archives. I call this painting “Demeter.”

As Alan said, this year for me is a year of departures. First Tom, then Kathy, Bob, and Doug passed; mentors all. Earlier this month Casey, who lived a long season and once told me that heaven didn’t want him and hell wouldn’t have him, finally found his way out of this life and into his proper place in the mystery.

When I was a boy my favorite book was an old college text of my father’s on comparative religions. It was moldering on a shelf in the basement with other long forgotten books. Finding it was like uncovering buried treasure. I fell into it, reading and rereading it. Among other things, it helped me understand that religion was not fact but a cultural expression of universal experiences. Human beings have to deal with the enormity of existence (who am I?), birth (where do I come from), death (where am I going?), and everything in between (what’s my purpose?). Human beings deal with the enormity of existence like they deal with everything in life: they story it.

Since there has been so many significant departures this year I’ve been doing some reading about death and dying. Lately, I’m reading Deepak Chopra’s book, Life After Death. He weaves the book around a parable of a young woman who must confront Death. The woman seeks the help of rishi, a wise contemplative who lives in the forest. In one of my favorite sections of the parable, the rishi introduces the young woman to ghosts. The first is a toddler; the second is young girl. The woman soon recognizes that the ghosts are her past; they are the phantoms of various stages of her own life. The rishi tells her, “Every former self you have left behind is a ghost. Your body is no longer the body of a child. Your thoughts, desires, fears, and hopes have changed. It would be terrible to walk around with all your dead selves holding on.”

He teaches her that death has been with her every moment of her life. “You have survived thousands of deaths every day as your old thoughts, your old cells, your old emotions, and even your old identity passed away. Everyone is living in the afterlife right now. What is there to fear and doubt?”

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Let Yourself Go

I have no idea how, but I'm making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele.

I have no idea how, but I’m making a mess of sound and will one day play the ukulele. Kerri says that I already am…

My meditation on the word “how” continues.

At our recent Summit in Holland, Alan and I asked the question, “What would you do if you didn’t have to know how?” It is a great question. The short answer is this: you’d figure it out. You’d try things. And if your first attempts led nowhere you’d try something else.

In this musing I have often written that “how” is something that is known at the end of the journey. We can’t answer “how” with any honesty until the story is played. Today I recognize that there are two distinctly different “hows:” 1) the explanation, “This is how I did it. This is how you do it. This is the “how” that presumes a path or a prescription. When dealing with this version of “how” I ask groups or clients to consider their life story and tell me how they got to this day in this place doing this job, etc.. The answer is mostly, “A clear path with a lot of happy accidents,” or something like, “I have no idea. I didn’t try.” Yes. Ask me how to paint a painting and I will tell you that I have no idea. I’ve painted a thousand of them and I can teach color theory or composition but I cannot tell you how to open to the muse, how to become a channel for something greater to come through. To paint a painting, to act in the play, to write the book, there is something akin to letting go. There is a divine surrender. So, how did you get to this place in your life? Divine surrender. Happy accident. Unstoppable forces.

If the first form of “how” is an explanation, the second is akin to giving permission. I have worked with a legion of blocked artists who set up studios, buy musical instruments, sign up for improv class,…, and then sit in their studio, stare at their musical instrument, and forget to go to class. When they call me, they tell me their story and always finish the telling with, “I don’t know how….” For my fee, I could say a single, simple word: start. Instead, what we usually do in our work together is find their internal permission. When they realize that their block has nothing to do with “how” and everything to do with the fear of being judged (“how” is an internal braking system meant to prevent starting), when they are ready to, as Saul would say, “Orient to their own concern,” they allow that their opinion of their work trumps all others, they give themselves permission. They start. They play.

Recently, a brilliant woman, an attendee of the Summit, a maker of incredible mandalas, sent me an email with a photo of the start of a painting. She asked for my advice. I wrote: make a mess. Paint on top of the mess. Then repeat. Today in my inbox I received her beautiful mess with a note that their would be more messes to follow. She started. She picked up a brush. She splashed some paint. She splashed some more paint in response to her first splashes. That is how art is made. That is how light bulbs were invented.

This morning I laughed when I realized the double definition of the phrase, “Let yourself go.” In common parlance, it is used as a negative, when people give up, when they stop trying to maintain their health or their appearance, “He really let himself go.” The second possible meaning is to start. To go. The next time someone is sitting in their studio and asks me the question “how,” I will respond like this: let yourself go.

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Unlearn And Step

Helping Hands.

Helping Hands.

I revisited an old journal this morning. I’ve been thinking much about power these past few days and I have a mountain of writing about power. This blog began as an exploration of personal power, the creation of power (power-with), confusing control with power (power-over), grasping power (fulfilling potential) or vampiring (drinking power from others).

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the question “how?” is a form of learned powerlessness. Most people (adults) are reticent to do something until they know how to do it. That’s backwards; no one knows how to do anything until they actually do it. Doing is a prerequisite of knowing how. As a coach I often hear the fear beneath the phrase, “But, I don’t know how…” Needing to know “how” stops all motion.

Children do not have this problem. The firewall-from-life called “how” is learned. Or, more accurately, it is installed. For instance, the other day when Craig and I walked passed the batting cages, he said, “Those things make me shudder. I totally, I have PTSD from those.” He was joking in the way that means, “I’m not joking.”  Shame is a lousy teacher. So is bullying. The message: there is a right way to do it and you better know the right way before you swing. Or else. Shame is a powerful action inhibitor. It is the tool of the powerless teacher. It develops in the student the necessity of knowing “how” prior to taking action. No one willingly steps toward shame or a bully.

The question, “How?” often functions as a form of premature cognitive commitment. It is how elephants are held captive by the weakest of strings. As infants, a strong chain is attached to one of the elephant’s legs and the other end of the chain is secured to a strong tree or stake in the ground. The young elephants pull and pull until they learn that pulling does no good. They stop testing the chain. They make a premature cognitive commitment to their restraint. They will never pull again. A simple string is all that is required to contain the elephant once it believes it has no power. The question, “How?” works just like the elephant’s premature cognitive commitment. Needing to know “how” before taking the step is a commitment to non-action. It is a belief in powerlessness.

On the other hand, to step without needing to know “how” is the equivalent of pulling on the chain. Pull, and see what happens. Transcending “how” is an act of power reclamation. The ability to step without knowing how is central to all vital artistic and, as it turns out, scientific, processes. Discovery precedes the necessity of “How?”

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Embrace The Mess

circa 2011

circa 2011

I did not intend for this post to be a continuation of yesterday’s but when Amy climbed the stairs into the choir loft and said, “I don’t do change very well,” I laughed. It was word-for-word the same phrase that Kerri had just spoken.

For some reason, we’ve come to expect change to be comfortable and breezy. We expect ourselves to be paragons of reason in the face of imbalance. I find this ridiculous expectation of centered-off-centeredness to be suspiciously corporate. Apparently all change needs management and if it is not managed smoothly and without feeling or emotion then it is not well done.

Emotion is messy. Change is hard. The seed cracks before the tender shoot finds its way to the sun. The seed needs to crack in order for the new form to emerge. Hearts are broken, like seeds, to allow new forms to emerge. Even the “right” relationship is dynamic, messy, surprising, joyful, disappointing, filled with fear, the heights of elation, tenderness, quiet, and at the core is this volatile thing called love. Love burns hot during transformation; love is snuffed when excessively managed. Love is transformative when not unduly controlled.

Everyone does change well because change is the nature of our existence. Energy is always in motion. If humans are expert at anything it is change. We do change well because we can’t avoid it. What we do not do well is afford ourselves the grace of feeling the grief, the insecurity, the frustration, the anger, the joy, the exhilaration, and the dizziness that comes with change. We limit our emotional color palate when we confuse change with control. We do not allow ourselves the mess, the unpredictability, and the loss of balance that necessarily comes with this rolling vibrant transformation called life.

Amy would have been more accurate had she said, “I don’t do control very well.” I didn’t tell her the secret: no one who experiences the fullness of life does control well. In the face of her messy, volatile, change process, she wouldn’t have appreciated my counterpoint. When someone is standing in the middle of the muck it is cold comfort to tell them that they are in the right spot. So, I simply laughed, nodded my head, and said, ‘I know….”

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

 

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