Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Blood And Bones Of Art

The Archeology of Clouds
If part of an athlete's success resides in the realm of the mind, then an aspect of our art practice must rest on how we use our minds when we do our art, no? This makes a lot of sense to me and my mind and yet the pull of habit is strong, that unconscious part made up of synapses and neural pathways, transmitters and receptors. Somewhere inside I know better but here's the pattern I fall into.  I look at work I love and feel inspired. It feels like pointing myself in the right direction to immerse myself in what I find beautiful, what I'd like to create, right?

Well it's not working for me.  It never has, really.  In looking at my frustration and how things are going I realize it's not this pre-painting activity that's the problem, it's what my mind does with it.   It's like the car isn't the problem when you get a speeding ticket, it's the driver. Somehow the focus for me becomes (perhaps always has been) on the outcome of the painting process.  I am looking for something; something that resonates, something that fits my idea of pleasing.  And that very act of wanting stands in the way of actually getting what I'm looking for, if that makes any sense.  It's like building a wall when you want a doorway and then wondering why you can't get out of that dark little room. It's a good thing I'm not a building contractor.

Imagining The Wind 12"x12"
And it's not that I haven't heard the part about focusing on the "process".  My friend Jeane, of ART IT embodies this idea of learning from your painting, of diving deeply into "just working", of finding it exciting and exploratory. She discovers whole continents of interest and delight in her studio. To spend time with her, as I did last year (here's the blog post I wrote about that) is not only a joy but an education for the heart.  But then there's the return to habit.

I understand all this in my head about process vs product and that often is the very first place we understand things, in the head. But as my old Zen teacher used to say, "we need to understand it in our blood and bones", whatever it is, to really integrate it at a functional level.  It's become so painfully obvious to me lately that I am heading off to the blood and bones department right now.  I am setting my "intention", a big word in Buddhist circles.  I am turning this sinking ship and paint brush around. I am choosing to turn my mind in the direction of process and learning from the painting, of having a conversation with the work.  I have witnesses now.  You heard me, didn't you?

The Secret Life of Moss 11"x14"
I do a lot of "imposing" on the canvas, rather than conversing "with".  In fact I'm quite surprised my canvases haven't filed for divorce or just walked out on me.  But they're a patient lot.  My old Zen teacher used to say another thing, "the eternal can wait for as long as you need, how long can you wait?"  I used to hate that word eternal, so churchy, but I forgive the cleric language now.  Whatever it is you need to do, whatever change you want to make in your life, the universe is patient, like my canvas. It just stands there looking at you without judgment, "did you get that?" I won't say it's never rude or harsh, but it always just stands by waiting for us to get the message.  If not, the message will be broadcast again, perhaps at louder volume or closer intervals.

So here I am, all bloody and boney, standing at the temple door of life (or is that a wall?) in the company of some of my estranged canvases (oh, oh I hear the call to the lawyer going out now).  I'll keep you posted on how it all works out for me.