Dream [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

When does a dream turn into a goal?

Lately, I’m having conversations that confuse me. Business thinking, engineer minds, make models for creation. Creativity plans as action templates and guides.

Screen writers make plans, too. Step outlines. The difference is in the process. A creative mind makes models and plans with full intent to throw them away. To discover the best story, their plan involves making space for the better idea. Open up by tossing the model. Clear the deck by shuffling the plan. Sketches and rough drafts. It’s a conversation with the muse. Muses are notoriously structure resistant until the story makes an audience sit forward. Movement first. Then, the structure begins.

The engineer mind works in the opposite direction. The dream must wear the mask of a goal or it is considered invalid. Too squishy. Construction begins immediately with targets and tasks. Order. It is, in fact, the same process as the creative mind, only it is less forgiving of space. It forces the muse to move. Time is of the essence. Structure first. Then movement. Efficiency is a tree with shallow roots.

It confuses me. Dreams do not wear ties or leather shoes, yet, scrape the blueprint and you’ll find a dream every time. Perspective requires stepping away from the canvas. Standing too close for too long and loss of vision is the result. Every time. It’s not a mystery or voodoo. It’s physics. Great ideas and idea-break-throughs happen in the shower or walking on the trail. A clear mind. A different focus creates space. Too tight thinking, too close in for too long, sucks energy.

Once upon a time I worked with organizations and educators. They also confused me. Squeezing the air out of their space they’d gasp, “We can’t breathe.” A little bit of space, some play, a refocus on the relationships was good medicine. Fresh air. Step back and see the painting. The point of perspective is to see. The secret: permission to remove the status games and need to be an authority and, for a moment, reconnect the players to their dream.

At the nucleus of every goal beats the wild heart of a dream.

read Kerri’s blog post about DREAM

Reseed [on Merely A Thought Monday]

We pulled everything off the walls of the office. The photographs and posters of plays I’ve directed, Kerri’s first album, framed, a gift. Our poster announcing Beaky’s Books. “I don’t think the office should be about the past,” she said. “It’s time to make this space about our current work and the future.”

She chose a painting, Nap On The Beach, one of many created from our experiences together. She’s making a poster of Smack-Dab, our cartoon. Turning our eyes from what we’ve done, where we’ve been, who we were. We’ve changed. We want different things now. We work in different ways now.

She’s slowly cleaning out the house. I can’t help. This is something she must do by herself. Purging closets, the laundry room, the storage and work rooms. The year of water upended our house. Several times. It continues in the front yard, all the way to the street. When the ground settles, we’ll reseed the lawn. How’s that for a metaphor? When the ground settles, we will reseed.

It takes time for the ground to settle. It can’t be rushed. It should not be rushed. The same is true for cleaning out. We have new piles forming: what goes, what stays. I climb the stairs to the office each morning. When I come down again, she shows me the new space that she’s created from the day’s purge. It’s true on many levels. She’s creating space. Old baggage and burdens are going out with the old clothes and broken appliances. I can see it in her eyes. Space. Light. Like the house, she is beginning to breathe again.

She told me about the dream, her father was setting up microphones. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Working for tomorrow,” he said.

I had to work hard not to weep. She’s had a rough few years. “Your daddy’s talking to you,” I said. “Sage advice.”

She nodded. Her eyes turning from the pain and constraints of the injuries. Letting go of the past. “Work for tomorrow,” she smiled.

read Kerri’s blog post about WORK FOR TOMORROW

Shape The Vessel [on Two Artists Tuesday]

George Ohr was one of the great ceramic artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. Like Van Gogh, he died unknown, never experiencing the success of his work. Robert reminded me of George Ohr’s story and I reminded Robert that Ohr would be a terrific story for him to tell through a one-man play.

What is it to follow your art-call with heart and dedication with nary a hint of financial reward or success on the horizon? Vincent Van Gogh would have been called an amateur during his life since the making-of-money is the flag we plant in the sand marking the line between being a professional and a dilettante. Those lines do not exist for artists with a deeper call. The money does not the artist make.

The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, quite a journey for the unseen work of George Ohr’s life to find so much vibrant admiration after his passing. Had he known it would have changed nothing. He’d have spent his days at the potter’s wheel either way.

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful. Cut out doors and windows from a room; It is the holes that make it useful. Therefore, profit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.” ~Lao-tzu

Profit and usefulness. Shape and space. Mary Oliver asked the question: What will you do with your one wild and precious life? It hits the nail squarely on the head. It was not the pots that George Ohr made or the paintings that Van Gogh painted, it was the space they entered while throwing pots and painting paintings. It was the world they entered through their artistry, more expansive than financial success, more necessary than renown. A wild and precious life lived wildly and with avid appreciation.

Standing amidst the brilliant orchids, some of the flowers were in their last days. Their beauty fading, they cared not a wit. It is not in their nature to stretch their faces and pretend that the cycle of life is more valuable in the early bloom than it is in the late retreat. All is treasured, beguiling. Every last moment, not to be stalled or held onto. The root as necessary as the bloom, the winter as indispensable as the spring.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FIREWORKS

Care For Your Space [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It seems like such a simple concept. Tom taught it. So did Paul. And, since I was one of their students, I taught it, too. How you treat your space is a reflection of what you think of your art. The concept is universal. Replace the word “art” with “work” or “life.” You and your space are not separate. We worked hard at the theatre to become better artists and produce better plays and a significant part of that work was bettering and maintaining our artistic “home.” We were proud of our work and it showed -everywhere. Our “space” included our community and our art was meant to make it better.

Yesterday it was warm so we took a walk on a favorite loop. As we returned to the car we watched a man clean out his truck. He’d come to the park, not to walk or appreciate the quiet. His purpose was to dump his trash onto the paved lot. In an earlier time, pre-gun-gun-everywhere, we might have said something. Instead, we stared in disbelief. His space,I thought, does not extend beyond his truck. Neither does his community.

Yesterday, after the walk I received a text from Mike. He was a big part of my long-ago theatre. He’s realizing a dream and opening his own theatre. He’s led a company for a few decades but they didn’t have their own space. Now, they do. He – the artistic director – was mopping the floor and paused to send me a text. It’s the other part of the lesson from Tom and Paul. And Demarcus. And Quinn. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no above and below. Loving the space, loving the art that happens in the space: no separation. One and the same for everyone involved and everyone needs to be involved.

You and your space are not separate. The care you take of your outer space is equal to the care you give to your inner space. And, vice-versa.

[visit Justin’s to see how a company can make a better world]

read Kerri’s blogpost about NEAT EARTH

Await The Return [on KS Friday]

This time of year I do a lot of staring into the night sky, pondering vastness. Reflecting on the year. It’s what we’re hard-wired to do as we approach the darkest night of the year. And, along with the darkest night of the year, comes the turning point. The return of light. This fact of earth’s orbit has spawned ritual, religious metaphor, and all manner of contemplation, letting go, setting new intentions, since humans first started, as I did last night, looking into the sky. We feel our smallness looking into the face of starry infinity.

This year there’s a delightful serendipity associated with the solstice. We cross the line from darkest night to return of the light on December 21. On December 22nd, as we creep our way back into light, the James Webb telescope will be launched into space and, when it unfurls and points its lens into other star systems, it will be looking for life on other planets. It will be looking for other beings staring into the night sky who might also be pondering their relationship with the universe. I look at you, you look at me.

We are candle people. We light them all the time for various reasons, marking auspicious occasions or simply to lift our spirits. We bought a menorah this fall. Kerri’s clan is religiously complex and we wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with her cousins. I read a bit since I am fond of finding the roots of rituals. I learned that the menorahs with seven branches, among other things, represent the five visible planets plus the sun and the moon. The rounded shape of the branches represents their trajectories across the sky. We lit the candles each night, singing poorly but with love and conviction the prayers. Connecting with her cousins, connecting with the light and pondering our place in a spinning universe.

Sitting at my desk, upstairs, too long staring at a computer screen, I heard her at the piano. I crept halfway down the stairs not wanting to break the spell. She played a carol, quietly. It’s rare these days that she plays. Broken wrists. Resistant fingers. Bruised heart. Yet, the piano calls. The lighting of the candles, the quiet pondering of “what’s it all about”, has made a crack in the darkness. There is a vast inner universe, too. We shoot telescopes into our selves. I look at you, you look at me. Smiling on the steps, I realized that I am anxiously awaiting the return of the light.

read Kerri’s blog post about LIGHT

Attend To The Quiet [on KS Friday]

My studio is a place of quiet. Inside and out. It is the place where I go – where I’ve always gone, when I need to recenter myself of exit the crazy-brain. Lately, my studio has been blown to bits. Water has been a near constant invader, either from the ceiling when the pipe broke in the spring or from the floor when roots clogged the sewer main. Twice. It seems as if water wants me to take a break from painting. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

Each time the water rises, the paintings rise, too. We scramble to move everything up the stairs. Mostly, they are stored on blocks so live protected above the rising tide – but pulling up carpet or clearing space for the plumbers has meant a perpetual studio deconstruction. Kerri stubbed her toe – okay, broke her toe – on one of the bigger paintings that now populate our sitting room. It’s a maze of paintings out there. Yet, she is wise. She’s insisting that we leave the paintings where they are, scattered here and there. At least for now. At least until we can clear out and rethink our space.

Kerri is much more sound sensitive than I am. I am much more spatially sensitive than she is. The sign on our deck, “Shh” addresses her need for sound-quiet. It’s all about space-quiet for me. Space-quiet means open space. It’s been that way all of my life: if there’s too much stuff, I shut down.

The water, as it turns out, is trying to tell me something. Lately, when I go down into the blasted-apart-and-now-empty-studio-space, I can breathe. I feel it every time I descend the stairs. I breathe. My space had become too impacted. Too many paintings, too many tables, too little space. “Shh.”

I’ve often written about the time, after I moved to Seattle, that I burned most of my paintings. I needed space. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was tired of hauling and storing paintings. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed air and fire brought it to me.

And, so, the water pours from the ceiling. It bubbles up through the floors. Again. What feels like a catastrophe comes with a cautionary message. No fire is needed this time. To attend to the space is to attend to the quiet. Stop. “Shh.” Breathe.

SILENT DAYS on Kerri’s album BLUEPRINT FOR MY SOUL, available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about SHH.

silent days/blueprint for my soul ©️ 1997 kerri sherwood

Leave The Studio [on DR Thursday]

Kerri calls this snippet REACH

One day at the farmer’s market we saw a little girl chasing an enormous soap bubble. She was gleeful, squealing with delight. Looking at the faces of the adults watching the little girl, it was clear that they wished they were also racing across the grass, gleefully chasing bubbles. It was clear that they yearned to feel that carefree. In some distant place, they remembered.

These days I occasionally sit in my studio but I do not touch my brushes. There is a canvas on the easel. It’s good and worn and chunky just as I like them. It is waiting. I am waiting.

I believe, as Tom McK. taught me, that “a writer writes and a painter paints.” There is no magic to it. Well, that’s a lie. There’s plenty of magic when the painting begins, when the artist disappears. But first, the paint has to hit the canvas. Before disappearing the artist has to show up.

Yesterday, Skip sent me this lovely reminder. It’s from a tweet:

“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio – the past, your friends, your enemies, the art world, and above all, you own ideas – all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one-by-one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.'”

That little girl chasing bubbles, her glee, is what happens when “even you leave.” All of the ideas of who you are or what you need to do or achieve, the expectations, the burdens and worries, the pandemic, the politics, the notions of success and failure, all leave the room. That’s when the bubble chasing begins. That’s when there is ample space for glee and delight.

Kerri chose this morsel for today and I’m so glad she did. “I want to do another version of this painting,” I said. That little girl, so long ago chasing an enormous soap bubble at a farmer’s market, is calling me back to my easel, she’s pointing to the studio door and asking me to leave.

Chasing Bubbles, mixed media, 33.25 x 48IN

read Kerri’s blog post about REACH

reach/chasing bubbles ©️ 2019 david robinson

Read Marc’s Notes [on DR Thursday]

marc chagall quote copy

One of my most prized possessions is a handmade notebook, stitched together by a young DeMarcus Brown, mentor of my mentor, in a time before corner drugstores and readily available school supplies. It is filled with the fading pencil notes Marc made when he was a student learning about color, probably in 1918 or 1919. It occurred to me as I wrote that guesstimate of time that he was scribbling notes about color during a pandemic.

It reads like an enthusiastic discovery of miracles. On page one the word COLOR is triple underlined. “Light is a form of radiant energy transmitted by wave movement through SPACE and is perceived VISUALLY. Opposite is DARKNESS. Qualities of Light: 1) Physically – Life giving. 2) Mentally – Intelligence. 3) Spiritually – Divine Wisdom.”

From Marc, on page one, on day one of his study of artistry, I learned that color is life giving, intelligent, and a source of divine wisdom.

“Objects reveal light.  All forms and substances REFLECT or ABSORB LIGHT. THINK OF COLOR AS LIGHT REFLECTED.”

There are other words and phrases: vibration, proportion, visual sensation, light is individualized by its contact with substances into color. COLOR is Light PROPORTION.

All of this awe is written in block letters on the first two pages. His enthusiasm is palpable. As you move through Marc’s notebook of discoveries, his writing shifts to cursive, he matures in color and intention. His passion intensifies. He is beginning to see.

Toward the end of his notebook, in his growing sophistication, you’ll read these phrases:  “Train our eyes to DEGREES of Neutrality. Establish relationships of Intensity. Hue. Value”…and a reminder “vibrating surface!”

The stitching that holds the notebook together is impeccable. Beautiful. Careful. Considered. It took him time to make his notebook. It mattered.

I can’t help my metaphor mind from finding a universe of guidance in Marc’s notebook for a nation that perpetually struggles with color – or, ironically, the negation of color. The fear of color relations. A commitment to a narrative of dominance, this or that but never both. A palette of loss. We’ve limited our color study to a polarity and eliminated the infinite shades of possibility in the picture we might paint. Insistent chiaroscuro.

What happens when the door of possibility opens? When change, that big blank canvas, sits on the easel?

In the middle of his 90’s, Marc gave me his paint brushes, his paint box. “Use them!” he said, “Don’t save them for remembrance.” He knew I was sentimental. “Reverence is off limits. These are not meant to collect dust on a shelf.” He laughed, “Use the damn things. Don’t be safe!”

Color. Vibration. Relationship. Proportion. Life Giving. Intelligent. Divinely Wise. Walk into the unknown. Learn to see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLOR

 

their palettes website box copy

 

 

 

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Reach Out. Peer In.

I've yet to title this painting but it seemed right for this post.

I’ve yet to title this painting but it seemed right for this post.

It’s a mid August morning with a hint of fall in the air. The breeze carries that “something” that is indescribable, more of a feeling than a chill or the changing of leaves. Never-the-less it is present. It is the signal and my body knows even as my mind debates. It is too soon for this – but even as I think the thought, I wonder what that means. Too soon based on what? Compared to what? This is my first summer in my new home. Last year I was an occasional visitor. I had glimpses into the cycle of the season so I have little with which to compare.

It has been a surprising summer all the way around. We’ve been traveling almost constantly since early June. The first few weeks of travel was planned, the rest was not. I’m not sure what the summer was like here because I was not present for it. The neighbors tell me it was a wet and cool summer. “Summer never came,” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once. After this summer of travel I will move into autumn with mere glimpses of the season.

I just had a call with Skip. He inspires me and makes me think things I would not ordinarily think. We’ve not talked for many months and our call was about catching up. Since I am writing about glimpses I was aware during our call that the best we can do is offer small windows into our lives. I said, “These past few years have been extraordinary in the changes and transformation I’ve experienced.” I was fundamentally incapable of articulating how profound my experiences have been. “It’s been like peeling off layers,” I said. A simile is the best I can do. Like or as. Glimpses. Events. Metaphor. No one can ever know the full scope of my walk just as I can never know the fullness of another person’s life.

During our call Skip told a story of walking through the woods with his wife when his cell phone rang. It was his daughter and infant granddaughter calling on Facetime. Skip’s granddaughter was taking her first steps. He and his wife peered into their phone and watched the miracle of first steps as their granddaughter, taking her first steps, looked into her mother’s phone at the excited faces of her grandma and grandpa. Glimpses into spaces.

We peer for a moment into a space. We stand in a space for just a moment. We try to share what we see. We try to share the fullness of our experience but can only approximate. Reaching out and peering in. Standing on the deck feeling that indescribable something that my body knows. My mind debates. This is life. Reaching out and peering in. What else?

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