Friday, April 18, 2014

Art Is Not For Control Freaks

Kimono Threads 11"x 14" Cold Wax on Panel
For a long time my painting life operated on the Ira Glass principle which you can read about here.  I can't say it any better than he did so I won't bother to try.  Okay, I lied I'll sum it up in case you don't feel like following the link.  Basically Glass says that early in our artistic life our standards are higher than our artistic outcomes and so we feel frustrated. We are kabobed on a skewer between our own good taste and our unskilled hand.

 Along with this I wonder how much "belief" plays a role in this perceived distance between what we love and aspire to and what we create. A study I read years ago suggested that the only variable that set creative people apart from non creative people was (get this) that the creative people believed they were creative. Another study  suggests that "belief" is such an important aspect of mind that it can influence whether food acts as if it has lots of calories or few calories when it hits our metabolic system.  So what beliefs do you hold about your work, your process, your life?  How do they influence (unconsciously or consciously) how you work and what shows up in your work (or life)?  Don't get me wrong, I am a big believer in the fact that sustained practice or the repeated engagement with our medium, whatever it is, pulls us forward in our work.  I think it was Picasso that said "inspiration finds us working." But what is the role of trust and faith in ourselves and our process?

The Secret Life of Dirt 10"x 10"

These questions interest me because I have experienced a lot of frustration with my process.  I think in part it was because I wanted something that wasn't showing up on my canvas (commonly known in Buddhist circles as rejecting what is and recognized as a source of suffering). But curiously that frustration seems to have burned itself up, for reasons I don't fully understand.  It mostly is just not present anymore.  Maybe it was a state I just had to pass through after sustained hours, like the seemingly endless fields of Montana, but I digress into geographical insults.

As I look back on this state of frustration I realize that there is an aspect of "pride" in it.  When I am beseiged by the unconscious thought, "I am better than this ugly painting in front of me, I should be able to create something more pleasing than this" I am not only rejecting what is, but claiming superiority over it.  Ouch.

A Body of Thought 10"x10"

There were many times I thought of just packing it all up and taking those art supplies to the thrift store, kind of like a friend of mine who threw his golf clubs in the lake after a really bad game and never golfed again.  But there is something that keeps me going, a sense that I am looking for something, and that something is just around the corner, kind of like tracking an animal or fishing, to use a carnivorous analogy.  I used to joke with my Zen teacher that there was something very pure in pursuing a goal that I felt I was not very good at.  William Vollman says it this way, " The most important and enjoyable thing in life is doing something that's a complicated, tricky problem that you don't know how to solve."  Wendell Berry says "it's the impeded stream that knows how to sing." (full poem here)

How To Read The News 10"x10"


I am reading "Free Play" by Stephen Nachmanovitch.  He's a musician but his exploration of the creative process spills over into all of life, because isn't life the ultimate creative pursuit?  I like what he has to say about our relationship with our work. This is the growing edge I am exploring these days. "We arrive at this effortless way not by mastering the instrument but by playing with it as a living partner. If I think of the ... paintbrush ...as an object to be controlled then by definition it is outside of me... Unless I surrender my identity, the instrument's identity and the illusion of control, I can never become one with my own process, and the blocks will remain.  Without surrender and trust -- nothing."

Nachmanovitch winds down the chapter on surrender by saying " Unconditional surrender comes when I fully realize -- not in my brain but in my bones -- that what my life or art has handed me is bigger than my hands, bigger than any conscious understanding I can have of it, bigger than any capacity that is mine alone."  Apparently art is not for control freaks.  Or is it that art, if we let it, slowly works away at dissolving the control freak in us?  Really it's all about the mystery of the process, the mystery of life, just the mystery, really.





30 comments:

  1. whoa, carole! these paintings! dare i say that your control freak has completely melted?!! i think it *has*! these paintings speak with such a clear and honest voice.

    i think that continued practice forces us to see the control freak for what it really is: a big 'ol fat *nothing*!

    xoxo

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    1. ah, a puddle of control freak! that can only be a good thing! Thanks lynne for your kind encouragement. yes, the illusory control freak....like the nightmare under the bed.

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  2. Oh goodness! And that is exactly who you are, my friend. This is a heart-opening post that gives me so much guidance for some decisions I have to make. Art, life, difficult people. Thank you, Carole!

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  3. surrender, partnership, that's it, isn't it Lynette? Everywhere we turn. Not always easy, but always the way to go. sometimes it feels like we need it tatooed backwards on our forehead so we can remember!

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  4. You are truly a wordsmith. You nail this idea with laser perfection. And the work - truly wonderful. Xo

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  5. Thanks, Jeane, your kind comments always bring a smile to my face.

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    1. thanks, Bernard a compliment from a poet like yourself!

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  7. Excellent post, Carole! And thanks for the book rec. Hugs.

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  8. thanks, Connie. I think you will enjoy the book. I took it out from the library to check it out. Not quite finished it yet, but enjoying it.

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  9. Thank-you for the beautiful post and the wonderful paintings. Surrender is the word that will follow me.

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    1. surrender is an awesome thing to have following you around. good company!

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  10. Great new pieces ...especially love the one title "The secret life of dirt"!
    I think I might have come to a clear spot in my art practice about the way I care about outcome. Critical voices don't last long in the studio as it is more important that I keep moving the piece along until I know and it knows: its done.

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  11. Thanks, Mary Anne. I like your description.The movement is so important, it keeps the conceptual mind from getting too busy. And I find this too, that there is simply a knowing when something is done (or not).

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  12. Lynn says it best when she refers to a 'clear and honest voice'. What comes out in our paintings is a clear and honest reflection of where we are at this moment in time. We may not LIKE it....but it is what it is. And there is value in that. If we stick with it, like you state, our need to control melts away and we enter a new place. And that new place reflects in our work. Thanks again for a very reflective post. I need to put more of my ideas in writing on my blog. Meet you there.

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  13. When I asked a Buddhist monk once about my frustration with process. He said to me, "if you want to paint peace on your canvas, you need to be peace." I hear you saying this too. Yes, see you at your next post!

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  14. I visited this post the other day and got caught up in the links, but your words and paintings stayed with me. Oh Carole these paintings are beautiful! Kimono Threads and Body of Thought particularly. I'm learning to surrender and trust. It's an exciting adventure. The mystery of the art process never ceases to thrill me.

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  15. Hi Robyn, it's true, surrender is an adventure and an uncommon one at that, fueled by curiosity. Enjoy the journey!

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  16. Art is definietly not for control freaks, Carole. I had to find ways of working that deliberately took some of the control away from me; I found that my truest work lay somewhere at the intersection of control and no control. I don't know if that makes sense or not.

    I'm also very impressed by your paintings - you have obviously been playing around at that intersection!

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  17. We all find our sweet spot, if we look long enough! It would bee fun to hear you write about what you did to circumvent that control. Thanks, Sharmon for the kind words.

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  18. Beautifully expressed in painting and in words !

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  19. I am loving these paintings and I relate to the post very much. Thank you for leaving such a nice comment on my blog. xoxo

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  20. Hi Annie, Jeane shared your site with me after discovering you. Always great to have others pass on the treasures that they find! Thanks for stopping by. xox

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  21. *I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.
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    1. I am so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for your kind words.

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  22. You are right of course... We may be filled with self doubts and frustration but some sort of belief in ourselves keeps us going - that never ending search for "what" we do not know but we keep going

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  23. It's just part of the territory, isn't it, Donna?

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  24. These paintings are very meditative and enlightening. I love the simplicity and serenity of them. Fascinating and beautiful work.

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    1. thanks for popping in, Shelley! and for your kind comments!

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