Welcome to my ideas on art and life...
Back In Black
Australian rock band ACDC began in the 1970s and were emerging as an energetic popular band on a global basis when lead singer Bon Scott died in 1980. Scott’s harsh voice and charismatic performances were a keystone of the group and his death spelled the potential end for the group.
Over the succeeding year, the group tried to reinvent themselves, with no clear avenue to success. Then, two things happened: the found Brian Johnson, whose voice lent itself perfectly to the signature ACDC sound and they wrote and recorded Back In Black.
Not only was the band launched to super star status, Back In Black is the seventh best selling album – of any genre – of all time.
The band went from almost certain failure to becoming rock music icons.
What’s this got to do with art and life?
Well…it shows that even when success looks improbable, anything is possible. In our own lives, we give up way too soon. We allow our rational minds to convince us that something we wanted to do was ‘impractical, a stupid idea, never going to work anyway, blah blah blah’.
Sometimes we need to turn the rational mind off long enough to make sure all reasonable alternatives have been considered.
The attached painting is an example. I started with a black canvas – something I had never done before – and explored the possibilities. Working dark to light was backwards from my normal procedure but the result showed me new possibilities and I am excited to see where this will go.
Our life experience is defined by opposites. For us to truly grasp and feel what is happening, we need a reference point, a comparison. Without sadness, there is no joy; without anxiety, there is no peace; without hate, there is no love.
The important factor is to recognize negativity without holding on to it.
One aspect of many lives today is the drive for accomplishment and the need to get stuff done covers every part of our daily existence. Keeping the pressure on for an extended period can exact a significant price on a person’s balance and wellness. No one is meant to stay ‘on’ all the time. The myriad of difficulties facing our troops when they return from combat is a real life illustration of this reality.
Intentionally letting your mind out to play is an example of counter acting the need for accomplishment. As an artist, I often feel compelled to produce ‘finished’ work. The reality is that most paintings I start end up in the ‘to be reworked’ pile. Knowing that I have ‘paint over’ as an options removes a huge amount of pressure while doing something I love.
And then, every once in a while… The attached painting is the result of ‘play’ that turned out kind of cool. I call it “I Forgot My PIN’…
As we live…and age…we gather life experiences, which collectively become our wisdom. The wisdom we have and, more importantly, how we choose to use it, directly influences the life experiences we gather.
One thing that is often lost in this rich process is our comfort with, and willingness to start fresh. To start with no preconceptions, no judgments and no expectations opens us to new and potentially radical ways of expanding our wisdom.
This may seem reckless but the reality is that regardless of our radical beginning, our wisdom will always keep us from a permanent trip to the ditch.
In art, the beginner’s mind is the source of complete freedom of expression. In my experience, the most inspired creations started with the question ‘I wonder where this will end up?’. There is little risk in this approach because as you move forward, the sum of your skillset will keep your art adventure between the ditches.
The beauty here is that you may learn something you could not learn any other way!
I’ve called the piece to the left ‘Equanimity’. The term equanimity refers to the state of being at peace with whatever is going on now.
Much is made today about mindfulness, staying present, focusing on what is happening now. While these concepts may come across as media hype, there are some fundamental principles at work here – principles that can significantly affect your quality of life.
Everything you do in your life can only be done now. Consequently, if you are thinking about where you will be, what you might do next week, or regretting what you did yesterday, you are not truly aware of what you are doing now. You can only learn in the present, you can only listen in the present, you can only love in the present.
No one can stay continually focused – nor should they. The important aspect is to know when to focus and when to let your mind out to play. That’s where mindful awareness comes in.
This practice pays off in most areas of your life. In art, for example, the creative process evolves from expansive imagination through preparation and finally into execution. Two of the most critical aspects of art is knowing when to take a break and when to stop. Without awareness of the process, you can blow right through an important step…and your art project becomes a renovation.
Just Enough Oct 2018
Oryoki is a Japanese term associated with the Soto tradition in Zen and translates to ‘just enough’. Awareness of the boundary for ‘just enough’ is a valuable state of mind because it allows us to know when to stop…and check in with ourselves.
Why is this a good thing? Well…how often have we been ‘on a roll’ doing something and gone past the point when it was no longer a positive experience. The second piece of cheese cake, the third glass of wine, the extra application of Golden heavy gel…you get the picture.
As an abstract artist, I am confronted with the principle of oryoki regularly. As I progress through a painting, I can become attracted to something that is going on and push it to the point that it has lost its impact on the painting. Pleasure turns into a learning experience...most often a learning that can't be undone!
In life there is a point beyond which virtually anything begins to lose its value and may even become harmful. Awareness of what is happening at any point in the journey allows us to stay closer to the principle of oryoki.
The painting beside this is a recent effort in my journey to discover ‘just enough’.
Living a meaningful life is a worthwhile aspiration and yet the possibility eludes so many people. The potential is all around us and yet we are blind to it or resist the pull of it.
For example, an Australian palliative care nurse interviewed several hundred patients in hospice, with the question “looking back of your life, what do you regret the most?”
The top answer:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
With that truth in mind, I came across this powerful short piece by Leo Babuta, whose insightful blog ‘Zen Habits’ has become one of the key sources of inspiration in my life. The blog was titled ‘When Fear Is Stopping You From Meaningful Work’ and it offers a practical path to a more meaningful life.
Check it out here: https://zenhabits.net/fearful/ .
As an artist, more meaningful work definitely includes a more open minded approach to creativity!
Easy Is Boring
In art and life, there is a point at which repetition drives complacency, becomes stale, inspiration and energy decline. One of the ways to course correct when the doldrums set in is to investigate your relationship with the concept of flow.
Most people can recall times when they were so immersed in an activity that they lost all sense of time yet enjoyed a heightened level of awareness and focus. In athletic terms, this is ‘the zone’.
Renowned psychologist Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi developed the concept of flow to describe it. He defines flow as the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
In simple terms, flow occurs when the degree of challenge balances with the outcome of the activity. If the challenge is too hard, you become disheartened, discouraged, frustrated; too easy, you become disheartened, discouraged and bored.
The flow zone is always moving and it’s important to be aware of where you are in relationship to it.
If your art – or your life – no longer inspires you, perhaps you have lost touch with the flow zone. Perhaps it’s time to look for new ways to test yourself and get back in the flow…
In art and in life, building expectations into an activity is a natural and very tempting process. So many of the activities that make up our lives are driven by what we expect will be the result when we are done. The reality is that often, in spite of our best efforts, the activity turns our differently than what we expected. Result? Disappointment, self criticism, doubt, regret, wishing we could have a do over.
What is lost in the flurry of self recrimination is the learning. So many important things in our lives could not be learned any other way than ‘failing’.
Art is a perfect venue for failed expectations or learning. The difference is the perspective we bring to the canvas.
It’s very good practice to plan an art project and bring all your technical skills and knowledge to the easel. The key is to avoid the trap of expecting a particular outcome.
Regardless of the result of anything you try, a simple review of your work by asking these three questions will guarantee growth, learning, and no bruises from beating yourself up!