In Beauty I Walk [it’s Two Artists Tuesday]

flower experiment jpeg copy 3

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“I am only so beautiful as the character of my relationships, only so rich as I enrich those around me, only so alive as I enliven those I greet.” ~ Derrick Jensen

I know many many artists who do what they do for love; their motivation is intrinsic. Their work is beautiful. I don’t mean their finished pieces (although they, too, are beautiful). I’m referencing their relationship to their work. It is lively, mysterious, expansive and generous. And, in order to stay healthy, they’ve long ago abandoned the notion that they might make a living through their artwork. Some do. Most do not.

I know many many artists who no longer do what they used to love to do. In the absence of an extrinsic reward (money), they began to see their love-work as worthless. They reduced themselves to a monetary equation and found themselves lacking. Considering their love without value, their well went dry. Their muse withered.

In our confused times it is the fortunate person who understands value as something greater than dollars and cents. Love, beauty, joy, family, generosity, learning, community, surprise, mystery…all words of relationship, all valuable beyond measure. All defy easy quantification.

From studio melange on Two Artists Tuesday, a gentle reminder to look to the space between, to value the process of living, the right-now-relationships where beauty is always to be found. Walk there.

IN BEAUTY I WALK gifts and cool stuff

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read Kerri’s blog post about IN BEAUTY I WALK

www.kerrianddavid.com

‘in beauty i walk’ image & products ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

See Art Everywhere

50% OFF ALL PAINTINGS THROUGH APRIL 22nd

Together we read the local paper every morning. Yesterday there was an essay from the executive director of a new ‘creative space’ making a case, financial and otherwise, for why the community should value and support the arts. Everything he wrote was true. Everything he wrote has already, as Kerri likes to say, fallen into the moat.

Fifteen years ago I might have written that essay. I am an artist and need no case made for the necessity and essential nature of “the arts.” However…. In a past life I consulted with schools and many times found myself in the position of lobbying the school board to support arts programs. I jumped up and down making a case for the arts and rarely achieved my desired result. Until, one day, a word-angel grabbed my tongue and instead of using that mystical word “arts,” I replaced it with the phrase “experiential learning.” Doors blew opened. Angels sang. Kids made movies, painted paintings, held poetry slams, wrote musicals, made plays…came alive. And learned.

Our mistake is “to make a case” for the arts. Our mistake is to define it narrowly, relegate it to museums. It is not a separate thing. It is everything. It is everywhere. The design of our cars and blenders is an aesthetic as well as an engineering process. The apps on our phones (the very design of our phones) requires artistic as well as technical skill. Every piece of marketing that clogs our streams requires an artistic sensibility. We live in age of narrative, of artificial intelligence, of imagination run rampant. We story ourselves on Facebook and Instagram and share our pins on Pinterest. Step back and listen to the competing narratives we call The News. Listen not to the content of the question but how it is asked; these things are not accidental, they are designed, targeted to influence and move our imaginations. The “arts” are not lofty nor dusty, they are throbbing, vibrant, and central to every nuance of our lives. Why do we insist on  keeping them in such a tiny little box?

Stephen asked me more than once, “Why don’t people value the arts?”  He is a prolific painter, brilliant, and exhausted from living on the margins. “They do,” I’d say, “they just don’t know it.”

Kerri and I said goodbye to a few more paintings yesterday. They found their right home and that is more than gratifying.  It is the moment of completion of the painting (or the play or the composition…or the car, couch, and coffee mug) when it finds an audience or its home. It’s a life cycle, deeply connected. It is everything. It is everywhere.

Notice The World

my latest painting. another addition to The Beach Series.

It’s a constant source of the giggles for me now. So many things that used to seem so complex and unknowable, so serious and weighty, have morphed into utter simplicities. And, I’ve unwittingly accumulated or created shorthand phrases, adages, that encapsulate the simplicities.

Stephen used to ask me, “Why don’t people see how important art is? Why don’t people value the arts?” He is a prolific and gifted painter and, like most artists, was struggling financially. I used to sit around with other artists and actors asking the same type of questions. Why don’t they value us. Our conversations made us into a frustration-club, so certain were we that we carried in our art pouch the cure for the worlds’ ills. But the world, they, were not noticing us. No matter how great our play or heartfelt our paintings or how loudly we proclaimed and marketed our work or trumpeted our capacity to help people to think or feel more deeply – to change the world! – the community (they) seemed mostly inattentive (to us).

Art as castor oil. Non-profit non-prophet.

Wearing my corporate consulting hat, I taught this core principle for years: you can never determine what other people think or feel or see. And, it took years for this simple adage to penetrated my life – especially my artist life (we do, in fact, teach what we most need to learn…).

I still believe in the importance and great power of the arts but not in the same way I did all those many years ago. I actually believe in it more than I once did only now it seems so simple: ‘Do what you love…,’ so the saying goes. Do what you love because you love to do it. That’s all. The world (how’s that for a sweeping generality!) does not need to be saved or changed. Mostly, it needs less frustrated artists waving to be noticed while perpetuating the narrative that they are undervalued. The world could do with a wee bit less of ‘us and them.’

The simplicity: I would much rather root my energies, my focus, my creative powers in the love of it all. Frustration makes the well run dry. There is no us and them when standing solidly in the love of creating. The real power of the arts – the only real power of the arts – is to open access to the commons, the shared space beyond separations (real or imagined). At best, artists reach across boundaries, not create them. In the end, artists (I believe) are mirrors, not medics.

Kerri gave me this new adage for my collection (and I giggled): It’s not about the world noticing you. It’s about you noticing the world.

Ask Why

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a detail of my painting, Know That You Are Waiting.

Marilyn told me that she spent the day with her 3 year-old granddaughter. The little girl, like most children her age, peppered Marilyn with the question, “Why?” In her reenactment, after trying to answer the multitude of “Why?” questions, she laughed and said, “I don’t know! That’s the way it’s always been done!” It’s a perfect loop! Sometimes there is no answer to the question, “Why?”

Many years ago Peter Block wrote a great little book called The Answer To How Is Yes. A lifetime of corporate consulting left him perplexed by the pervasive leading question, “How should we do it?” None of his clients ever asked, “Why should we do it?” “Why” was nowhere in the equation.

Asking “Why?” takes time. It slows things down and often requires some soul searching. It lives on the vertical axis of experience, the axis that reaches into the depths and knows no black and white answer. Also, asking “Why?” sometimes leads to the scary profit-challenging twin question, “Why shouldn’t we do it?” The question, “Why?” moves a business and the people that populate it out of reactionary practices and into intentionality. With intentionality comes ownership of action, responsibility. The legal department is dedicated to keeping the conversation away from “Why?” Responsibility can be costly.

People are no different than the organizations they create. We avoid the same questions for much the same reason.

In my life I’ve sat through countless meetings while boards-of-directors asking, “How do we get more people to buy/attend/support our art/business/cause?” I finally made it a practice to stop asking the troubling questions, “Why should people buy/attend/support you?” and “Why are you doing what you are doing?” Usually those questions invoked embarrassed silence or worse, a regurgitation of the company’s value statement. We are valuable because we say we are.

Skip used to tell me that a company isn’t valuable until it serves the customer’s customer. I liked that sentiment a lot: value is service as expressed through two degrees of separation. It is also an orientation according to what is given, not what is received. Serve. It’s a loop with a natural answer to the question, “Why?”

Artists of all stripes, churches, politicians, etc. might find a different understanding of value if they (we) applied Skip’s rule to their (our) plays/symphonies/paintings/dances/businesses. Why? To Serve.

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a detail from my painting May You

Maybe we all just need to be three-year-olds and ask “why?” more often. Maybe the best questions, the ones that make the most sense, are the ones that can’t be easily answered but require us to slow down and challenge doing what we’ve always done.

Save

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Reach Out Of Inner Space

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68

Several days ago on a muddy trek through the state park, the dials in my brain spun ever so slightly and I had an epiphany. It was an epiphany that I’ve had before which, to some, might disqualify it as an epiphany but for me the important stuff seems to occur repeatedly, a new layer falls off, and I see a bit more each time. Clarity is movement to a core, a simplicity emerging from what used to seem complex. So, I had a repeating epiphany.

Last year I attended The Chicago Art Expo. To my shock and surprise, rather than being challenged and energized, I ran screaming from the building. It was disconcerting. It was disorienting. Rather than having direct experiences with art that opened my eyes or challenged my world, I had experiences with curators who were compelled to tell me why the work had merit. They felt the need to locate the meaning and value for me. There was, in each booth, an art-high- priest standing between me and the experience. In fairness, I often felt that, without the interpreter, there was no experience to be had. It was a mental exercise.

In the grand scheme of things, Art serves a purpose. It carries the common story, the cultural identity. It is necessary, not luxury. In that sense, for it to serve its purpose, it requires no interpreter. When it no longer serves its intrinsic purpose – or there no longer exists a common center – an interpreter (marketer) is inevitable.

As Quinn once told me, “If someone has to tell you that they are good, they probably aren’t.”

Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. Art (theatre, visual, dance, music), for me, has deep value when it serves the outer reaches of inner space. It is immediately accessible, touching a universal nerve. It has to reach. Standing in the mud and muck of the park, we took a break by the shore of a lake and listened. The wind moved the trees, the limbs clacked and groaned. Crows chased an owl. The sun warmed my face. A layer fell off and a core came closer to focus.

This is not a diatribe against abstraction. We recently saw a Sam Francis exhibit at The Milwaukee Art Museum that left me in tears. I’ve spent hours in front of a Diebenkorn, one of his Ocean Park series, and I can’t get enough of it. I visit it often, like a pilgrim on a pilgrimage. It moves something deep within me. It speaks to something bigger than me and makes me want to be better and better. Standing before it I feel a part of a conversation of hearts and imaginations and deep space calls. I feel a part of a bigger story.

Make Art So.

at one time even this was considered a new technology

at one time even this was considered new technology. numbers, too!

Chet said, “But where’s the human in all of it?” His question took me by surprise. It is a question that often puzzles me. I was telling him about my recent inner earthquake, the moment that the train of technology jumped the tracks and collided with my art engine. Both exploded.

For weeks I’d been looking forward to a full day of exploration at the Chicago Art Expo. Hundreds of contemporary galleries from around the world assembled in one place, each showing their premiere work. As an artist these events have always fed my soul. This time, with the exception of a few older masters (a Chagall, a Picasso), a Hockney that made me smile, and few pieces from The San Francisco Figurative painters, I was unmoved. Worse, I was uninterested. As I wandered through the exhibits I listened to curators over and over again working hard to give context to the art. The viewers had no immediate access to it. They (like me) needed an explanation to access its relevance. I felt as if I was watching art-priests interpreting god for parishioners who had no expectation of direct access to the divine. The art needed a middleman. It required an explanation.

Just before going to the Expo, Skip shared a link with me. It was a video of animator Glen Keane drawing in virtual space. He was literally drawing from within the image. It took my breath away. Glen Keane called the technology a new tool but, like many new tools – so many new technologies, this one has the capacity to change our relationship with life and, therefore, with art because it could change our relationship with time and space. At one point in time, electric light was a new technology. The automobile, the airplane, the telephone, the camera and the phonograph were once new technologies. Each changed our relationship with sound, light, distance, the planet…each other. They changed how we see and experience possibilities. And, at the time of their invention, the community, at first, did not understand the power being introduced into their lives. They, like we, were stepping into the future with their eyes in the rearview mirror. What we know as art changed with the introduction of each of these technologies.

I couldn’t help but see the work at the Expo through the lens of this most contemporary tool. My eyes, for a moment, were wrenched from the rearview mirror and forced to look straight ahead through the windshield. Relative to the tool, the work at the Expo seemed abstract to the point of inaccessibility. It felt academic and I felt distant from it (lots of head, little heart). The tool although incomprehensible, was exhilarating, approachable, and inspiring. It made me want to play. It made me want to create. With this tool, Jackson Pollock would have danced and splashed in 3-D space. Picasso would have explored Cubism from within the cube. And, with this tool, I could see them doing it; I could sit in the same space and get paint on my face. In the video, Glen Keane says, “When an artist makes a line, it is a seismograph to their soul.” This tool, this technology, is a 4 dimensional seismograph.

Eve Ensler wrote, “Art has the power to explode the heart and open up other energetic capacities to re-perceive it. It defies boundaries and leaps tall buildings. It transports, it translates, it transcends. Transcendence is so important right now because our lives are so mechanized, controlled, and commodified; art has the capacity to open our souls and could be our revolutionary, evolutionary salvation.”

Yes. And, yes again. I can draw in the dirt with a stick. I can draw in virtual space. The verb remains the same. The access to others – the reach of the art – changes.

To Chet I wanted to say that humans create technology. And, in turn, technology informs humans and, therefore, art. Our very short attention spans are the result of our relationship with technology –  800 word blog posts are now too long, and 140 character tweets are desirable. Much of the Expo was digital photography or digitally altered images. It was mental and cold and abstract – certainly expressions of our time – expediency allows for little depth of experience. The technology did not make it cold; the way it is wielded by human beings makes it so.

Open Your Eyes

a detail from the painting on the chopping block. It's called "The Stillness Must Be Immense."

a detail from the painting on the chopping block. It’s called “The Stillness Must Be Immense.”

There is a debate raging in my house. Yesterday I was about to wipe a painting off my canvas and begin anew when Kerri intervened. “I love it!” she declared. “I hate it,” I replied. “Truly,” she said, “I love it.” When I wrinkled my brow she restated, “I love it.”

Many years ago I was stepping toward a canvas to wipe it clean. The painting wasn’t working for me and I’d given up. I wanted to start anew. My landlady, Kathleen, came into the studio at just that moment and hurled herself in front of the canvas. “You can’t erase it!” she declared! “This is one of my favorites!” She had the look of a desperate woman begging for the life of her child. I relented. I couldn’t wipe it clean. She confessed to coming into the studio the previous evening and admiring the painting. “I spent a long time with it!” I made a deal with her. I promised to show the painting – to include it in one show – and let the public decide. If it was roundly reviled, as I KNEW it would be (as I was actively roundly reviling it), I’d paint over it without drama or interference. If it was appreciated by anyone, by a single person, Kathleen could say, “I told you so,” and I’d never paint over it.

the painting Kathleen saved

the painting Kathleen saved.

A few months later I hung the painting in my solo show at Rock/Dement studio gallery in

Seattle. At the opening a woman came into the gallery, stood before the painting, and burst into tears. She looked at me with tears rolling down her face and said, “I love it.” Kathleen waited a few days before allowing words to break through her smug smile, “Well,” she sighed, “I told you so.”

That painting is the reason I made the same deal with Kerri yesterday. I will let it remain long enough to show one time. If it is roundly reviled and ignored, then I will paint over the canvas without protest. If a single person likes it or expresses appreciation for it, she can bury me in a mountain of, “I told you so,” and the painting will live on long after I’m gone.

The Stillness Must Be Immense.

The Stillness Must Be Immense.

This morning I posted an image, a print that reads, “CROSS THE BOUNDARY OF ELEMENTS.” In the short blurb associated with the image I wrote that sometimes we have to stand in other people’s shoes. We have to see what they see. I am an artist and am convinced that artistry is all about opening new visions for others. It is about helping people see what is there, not what they think is there – and I’m certain that I fall into a thought eddy while painting. It is, perhaps impossible for me to see what others see in my paintings. What I judge to be worthless has often proven to be magnetic to others. And so, I am willing to make this bet, I delight in the moments when my understanding of life turns back on me, flings itself in front of me and screams, “Open your eyes!”

another detail of the painting.

another detail of the painting.