|Zen & Now 24"x30" Mixed Media on Canvas|
It was interesting to work day after day and have nothing to show for it. It was good for a goal oriented monkey like me. I could feel frustration rise, disappointment crest and disappear. I could feel hope tugging at the corners of my mouth as something promising looked to be materializing. But then, no, false alarm, a wet rag in hand, I watched tears of water rolling down the fresh paint. And the ever onward, marching soldiers of thought kept me company, sometimes dour and mean spirited and sometimes upward looking and encouraging.
In a strange way it was like a puzzle that needed solving. I was wrestling with abstract composition on this landscape shaped canvas. In the end I never really felt like I solved the puzzle but was reasonably happy to stop where I did. No knives came out, no canvases were flung into far corners of the garden.
I am always just as interested in what the mind is doing, as in what the paint is doing. For me the way I work, how that process shakes down is like a little home movie. How can I reach down into the inner landscape and excavate something, something raw and real, thats the little koan that calls to my curious self. To understand the "how" in some way seems important to me, like I might crack some code. Or is it always a matter of groping around in the dark? Always down a different corridor, bumping into different walls?
I am reading a fabulous book right now called "No More Secondhand Art" subtitled "Awakening The Artist Within" by Peter London. His premise is that in the modern world we create art for the wrong reasons. But here, I will let him speak for himself, instead of stand in danger of misrepresenting him: "The making and teaching of much art today is a fraudulent affair, devoid of large, deep purposes. Art today seems primarily in the service of decoration, innovation, or self-expression. At the same time, we seem to have lost contact with the earlier, more profound functions of art, which have always had to do with personal and collective empowerment, personal growth, communion with this world, and the search for what lies beneath and above this world." His premise is that this was the original function of art and that somehow we have become lost, that we have mistaken the product (beauty) with the intent and aim of the art. For me, this resonates so deeply. Yes, this is what I am trying to do but somewhere along the way I get confused and think it's about making "the pretty thing." Someone has now put a finger on why this isn't working for me.
London suggests this is what we need to do: " In order for us to engage in image making with the fullness of power that this primary act of creation has to offer, we must remove the barrier that otherwise keeps us at a harmless distance from any authentic creative encounter. The barrier may be characterized as a densely woven thicket of everything we have ever been told about art. If we are to engage in the act of creation directly and fully, we must set aside all that is secondhand news and bear witness to our direct encounter with the world as if for the first time."
And for fear that I might type his whole book into this blog post, I will end with his comment on the function of art, "... first it is to become personally enlightened, wise, and whole. Then and as a consequence of the former function, the purpose of this wisdom, the purpose of art, is to make the community enlightened wise and whole.... If art is much more than beauty and novelty, if it is truly to be a source of renewal, a celebration of life, a means of awakening we have to start rethinking the whole creative enterprise." And really the aim of art and spiritual practice, well it sounds like pretty much the same thing when I read London's words. Art, practice, meditation, really we're traveling the same parallel roads, don't you think? Paint brush, meditation cushion, walk, sit, run a brush across a canvas....