Bits of zen flotsam & jetsam from the daily practice of a zen fool with shards of modern Buddhist art from my studio. Sometimes cranky, sometimes inspiring, mostly entertaining.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The word encounter makes me think of extraterrestrials or those infamous groups of the soul baring sort from the '60's. But I had an encounter the other evening that didn't involve aliens or confessions. It was a simple event at my own kitchen table where I hung out with some paper and a few drawing tools. In the final chapter of "No More Second Hand Art", Peter London offers up 12 creative encounters and I chose one called "Going To The Infinite Well". You peruse your home for an object that speaks to you, look at it until you feel acquainted with it and then draw it from memory in 60 seconds. That's not too interesting is it, really? But the interesting part is what happens next. You assemble another 59 sheets of paper, a timer and every 60 seconds you draw another picture, but always based on the previous drawing, not on your ideas about the object. It's a bit like riffing off the chords of the previous image.
It's a long, slightly tiring exercise (and London has a few more steps he does after this but I omitted them, partly because it was late by the time I'd finished this). During the drawing process London invites us to look at our reactions, both body and mind. Did we run out of ideas, get stuck, feel frustrated, get a second wind, get fresh inspirations? When we examine our 60 drawings and look back at the process he asks: "did you uncover some very old ways of working? new ways of working? How did you handle fatigue? Did you make time into an enemy an ally, or an opportunity?" He invites us to look at the evolution of our work, did it get more or less detailed, more abstract? What was our mood and attitude like? So much richness to consider. And as always how we work in our art-life is a lot like how we operate in our everyday life of the family and greater world.
This is an exercise to help us unearth some things we may not know about how we work and what we are drawn to to in terms of image and material. We can make unexpected discoveries about our art and ourselves in a process that zips along quickly with its aims to disengage or tire the thinking mind. And the thinking mind gets in the way of what we know somewhere deep inside, in some authentic way. The thinking mind likes to play it safe and clever. In art we aim for the eternal, that which comes from deep inside us and speaks to that same place in others. This is what makes great art great.
Now it's confession time. In the instructions he asks the reader to assemble 100 sheets of paper. So um, for the person who doesn't always read the, umm, instructions carefully, well they might have made 100 drawings. So this imaginary person was pretty tired by the end of the not-so- imaginary 100 minutes. But it was an insightful experience. I found there were materials I preferred. The black conte crayon was the filthy hands down favourite. And I found I liked the irregular marks made by using my non dominant hand. My body decided I should change hands when my left, dominant hand got sore. I also resorted to larger sweeping movements when my back and arm felt fatigued. So it was interesting to see how the body entered into the equation with its own suggestions which actually resulted in some of my favorite marks.
It also reinforced my feeling that both in paint and mark I don't like the predictable rounded or squared marks that I often choose with my head. I like something that looks a bit freer, more haphazard than my tidy mind would often produce. The mind occasionally gave up, but mostly it was busy checking the timer, watching to see if anything interesting showed up on the page, always thinking that it didn't know what it was doing. It's a tough customer that doesn't like to take a vacation on short notice. It seemed like midway some of the marks were more interesting, like a little crescendo, after the initial predictable marks and before tiredness set in.
So if you are curious, all it costs is 60 sheets of paper and an hour of your time. You might discover some things you already knew about yourself or some that might surprise you.
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.