Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Zen And The Art of Creating

I am thinking about the artistic process this evening.  Partly because I spent a somewhat frustrating afternoon in the studio.  I'm doing a postmortem, in the hope of saving myself a toe tag tomorrow.  So the question is who died, what was the cause of death and what are the recommendations for improving studio security?  Okay , so who appointed me coroner?

I went in to work feeling reasonably grounded and peaceful.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon.  I had no other obligations.  I was looking forward to this.   But somehow I got all wound up in wanting things to turn out beautiful and wanting it to be easy and I lost my way.  As the afternoon light waned  I never did find my way home.  (This is my police statement if they come looking for me.)

I have found over the years that mostly I work in a way best described by Malcolm Gladwell in a fabulous article he wrote for the New Yorker, called  "Late Bloomers".  I seldom start with a  a plan.  I apply some paint and see where it goes. Maybe take it off if I don't like it.  There is nothing exacting about my process.  I don't envision the painting and then execute, which is apparently how "early bloomers" work.  Us late bloomers are more process oriented, haphazard and experimental. 

The little Buddha painting shown here is one of a threesome I did several years ago.  It was in doing these paintings I first became aware of "my process" and  how it reflected the Dharma.   I could see my  attachment to the results as I worked on this little group.  I kept looking at each painting in a value oriented kind of way.  Did I like it, was it going well, was it turning out how I wanted it to?  It was subtle and underground and took place in the blink of an eye but it was all going on below the surface.  There it was the suffering which existed in the space between how things were and how I wanted them to be (the second noble truth).   Not only did I want things my way, I assumed I was in control.

At some point in the process I deemed these paintings beyond help.  This released them (poor little guffers) from having to meet my expectations and me from having to be in control.   Finally I could have some fun.  I used sandpaper and steel wool.  On one of the paintings I turned my frustration into black paint.  What at one point seemed ready for the garbage in the end was quite pleasing. .... after my little self gave up all its judging and wanting and fight for control.  In the Gladwell article he refers to a famous painter (I forget who it was) who used to fling his paintings out the windows and people would find them in trees.  Ah, a man after my own heart.  My only saving grace is that I hate to part with a canvas.   I have learned that frustration is sometimes part of the process.  Sometimes I just need to be there with it as a friendly companion.  Welcome to the studio, frustration.  Stuffy in here?   Shall I open a window for  you?

And there are some days when I can come in and just be there with the canvas and wait for the paint or bits of paper to lead the way.  And some magic happens.  Hours go by.  And there is an unconscious doing that comes from deep inside. The mind is quiet.

And it is interesting that the best work sometimes comes from the process that involves going through the frustration and suffering to the letting go.  And there are days like today where I never get to the "letting go" point for one reason or another.

But it is all good Dharma.  It is all just like the rest of life.  If I work with it long enough I get more skillful at seeing what I'm up to.  Where am I clinging?  When do I think I'm in control?  

In one of my favourite books on the creative process, "The Zen of Creativity" by  John Daido Loori, he says: "If I was asked to get rid of the Zen aesthetic and just keep one quality necessary to create art, I would say it's trust.  When you learn to trust yourself implicitly, you no longer need to prove something through your art.  You simply allow it to come out, to be as it is.  This is when creating art becomes effortless.  It happens just as you grow your hair.  It grows." 

Ah, Daido Loori has just helped put the finishing touches on my post mortem.  Really in the end it's about trust, how much do we trust, how completely are we willing to give ourselves over and believe that everything is in it's right place and things are always unfolding as they should.  Quiet the busy mind and trust.  We don't need to be checking on it, weighing and measuring, fretting and doubting.  We just need to get on with what needs to be done and remember to use a really good shampoo.


  1. Yesterday, I was going through some modern designs on Canvas Art and I found amazing collection.

  2. Thanks, Susan, went and had a quick look. Looks like some good inspiration at this site. It always amazes me the plethora of talent thats out there!