Yesterday afternoon I decided to try painting again. The experience was... well ... actually painful. I couldn't seem to get the colors I wanted, the brush strokes showed when I wanted them to blend; it felt like I was fighting with the whole experience.
And I found myself thinking, why on earth am I doing this if it isn't even fun? I mean, I already have a skill/gift through which expression flows easily; why attempt to move into another arena when the time between decision and actual faithful expression will be so huge?
I drew some consolation this morning from Wassily Kandinsky's words in Concerning the Spiritual in Art: there is, he says, "this need to move ever upwards and forwards, by sweat of the brow, through sufferings and fears. When one stage has been accomplished, and many evil stones cleared from the road, some unseen and wicked hand scatters new obstacles in the way, so that the path often seems blocked and totally obliterated."
But still there was this question: Why? Why am I doing this? What am I doing? Where is this going?
So when I sat down to meditate more questions kept coming up, things I wanted to ask -- how do I get that color? What colors do you find yourself using most?
Each time I would realize I was consumed by the questions and would then return to the breath, the heavy purring feel of the cat on my chest, the sound of the birds, the hum of the refrigerator, the life force tingling in my hands, chest, and feet; the sense of connectedness -- and then off again my brain would go, trying to solve the problems I'd encountered.
To forestall the questions, I asked myself, what is it that you are trying to achieve? What is it that wants to be created through you? And out of that question there emerged this image. The soft yellows I was trying to find (and hadn't yet found) would dominate the top; the blue I've come to love would dominate the bottom; there would be texture in both; and there would be some excitement, including the red I have not yet found, at their intersection.
And then my husband's shower was done, so I rose from the chair, let the cat out, doused the candle, and came to my computer, fully intending to just check my mail and then head off to Pilates class (it's been two weeks, as my instructor's been on vacation, and my body is seriously missing the stretches).
But some evil genius prompted me to try and express what I'd been seeing using the tools I know. And though progress was minimal, when the moment of departure arrived, I elected to stay and work rather than head off to class.
Even though some part of me questioned the wisdom of that choice (was I just avoiding exercise?) another part of me decided it was now committed to making this work.
Many many steps, images, layers, flips, inverts and adjustments later, I have the image you see here, the image I was seeing in my head -- and I have to say it was a MUCH more satisfying process than painting, and NOT just because I like the end result. It became a problem to be solved, an objective to be reached with tools I know and love -- my hands, my computer, my images, my eyes; all working together for a common goal. And I love it.
My husband and I had a very serious conversation this past weekend about skillsets and comfort zones. It may be a function of age, but at this point in our lives we would each prefer to be doing the things we're good at. There was a time when we were sponges, soaking up as many new skills as we could possibly acquire. But now we prefer to be fountains, spilling out our gifts for others to soak up and use. The trick, of course, is to find a way to make that work, a place that allows, welcomes, and ultimately encourages that sort of overflow. Neither of us is quite there yet. But I'm thinking that just understanding that shift will help us move forward.
Perhaps the function of my excursion into painting has been simply that: to help me better understand and honor the wealth of knowledge and experience I have in my chosen field, and to encourage me to explore that further. Doesn't mean I'll stop exploring painting. But maybe now it won't be quite so excruciating, because I'll understand the function of the exercise is not to paint a masterpiece, but simply to gain a better understanding of what I DO have, and a new perspective on ways to use it.
It's all good.