The trouble with art -- as with life -- is that it's so irrational, so unpredictable. Who could predict that a photographer whose subjects are commonly boats and barns would be so drawn to a gas museum? Why would a seasoned photographer suddenly switch to abstract painting? Why does a daily blogger and poet suddenly choose to write a play? Unpredictability makes people uncomfortable, wary. People who follow their instincts, who listen to some voice larger or more deep-seated than the crowd might prove dangerous...
So. How will that unpredictable creativity of yours take flight today?
The greatest struggle of both the spiritual life and the creative life is integration: finding a way to be both active and receptive, both logical and intuitive, both organized and spontaneous.
The primal challenge in both spheres is about reconciling opposites: learning to see from both the left and right brain perspectives; coming into relationship with both the Divine Without and the Divine Within; accepting yourself and your foibles while at the same time always striving to become a better person.
Our finest moments arise, therefore, when we are able, however briefly, to hold those opposites in creative tension -- just as the most beautiful part of the day is that moment, at sunrise or sunset, when dark and light, day and night are held in perfect opposition...
I rarely set out to paint a specific thing; it's more a matter of turning the brushes and colors loose and watching where it takes me -- which is almost always a surprise, though not always a pleasant one.
What I hadn't understood until this morning, when I began reading David Bayles and Ted Orland's excellent little book, Art & Fear, is why this process is sometimes so frightening.
As a child I loved the stories of Scheherazade, and loved listening to Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem by the same name. What I hadn't realized until this morning is how powerful that metaphor is: that as long as Scheherazade continues to weave her magical stories, she will remain alive. But if that well of fable runs dry, she will die. Which explains why, when my well of art runs dry -- as it inevitably must at times, for any artist -- it can awaken so much fear. Something in me begins to wonder: if I am not creating, do I in fact have any right to exist?
My rational mind tells me otherwise, of course. But fear is not always easily swayed by our rational minds. And so I find it vastly reassuring to be reminded by the authors of Art & Fear that "the seed for your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece. Such imperfections are your guides -- valuable, reliable, objective, non-judgmental guides -- to matters you need to reconsider or to develop further. It is precisely this interaction between the real and the ideal that locks your art into the real world and gives meaning to both."
After several weeks of truly non-productive work, this one painted itself yesterday. I'm not thrilled with it, but it's certainly superior to what's been happening lately. And it triggers a lovely memory from our years worshiping at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church when our daughters were little -- a quote from Eucharistic Prayer C:
"At your command all things came to be:
the vast expanse of interstellar space,
galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home."
In David Lynch's book, Catching the Big Fish, he quotes a friend's dad as saying, "If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time."
Which might explain why, for the last few weeks, painting hasn't been going well at all for me -- too many interruptions. I'm trying to be sanguine about it, but it's hard not to get discouraged, so I decided to document the stages of what I'm working on, so I can maybe figure out where I'm going wrong.
The blue piece here, for example, was a very promising beginning -- pretty much ruined now because of what I put on top of it -- but it makes a lovely background for the eagle who perched on my roof yesterday morning. And I can be content with that, I think -- for now, anyway. Perhaps this means I should consider quitting when I'm ahead and using all those promising beginnings as part of photo montages? Who knows -- but it's all a fun experiment. And he really was an incredibly handsome bird; he deserved more than a pale blue sky, I think.
This is a long post about coping with rejection. If you're not interested in that subject, my feelings won't be hurt if you skip this one...
Back in November of last year my gallery held a show of abstract art. I was invited early last year to be a part of it, and, as the time drew near, I submitted several pieces -- some paintings, some photos -- for consideration by the curator. He chose the ones he wanted to see in the show, I mounted them as suggested, and I delivered them a week early because I was going out of town.
My husband attended the opening for that show, and when I called later that evening to learn how it went, he informed me that none of the work I'd submitted made it in. I was devastated -- I'd been working all year toward that show, and had been delighted to be invited to participate. But I didn't say anything to the gallery, or ask what had gone wrong; I just assumed that because I'd submitted early they'd put the pieces away and forgotten about them. (Lesson number 1: Don't assume, ask.)
And then, this spring (as mentioned in an earlier piece) I offered some very summery paintings to the gallery -- not for a show, just to hang in the shop. The curator seemed to like them, but in the end he sent an email saying the director had rejected them, saying "why doesn't she bring us those nice boat pictures she was juried in for." Of course, those boat pictures had been juried in some 12 years earlier, and the gallery only has boat shows every 3 years or so; it was inevitable that I would have found some other outlets for my creativity in the intervening years.
But the real problem was that, with the advent of digital cameras and cellphone cameras, photographs have become much harder to sell: as the cost of framing continued to rise it had become almost impossible to make money on the photos -- which didn't matter when my husband was employed; I could just see this as a hobby. But when he was laid off I could no longer afford to spend more on framing than I could get back from the gallery -- which was part of what impelled me into painting in the first place.
So I wrote back to the curator to say, yes, I would bring him some boat pictures; what format would he like? He didn't write back, and the next day I got a card in the mail from the gallery announcing their July Boat Show -- to which I hadn't even been invited. So I decided to get creative: the gallery likes to feature little art books in their shows, and our local museum has a whole room devoted to art books, so I created a darling little art book with some of my best boat pictures and took it in.
The curator loved it, we priced it, I signed an inventory form, and he asked if I could make another one, so I went home and created the one shown here, with ferries (always a winner in an island gallery). And here's the meat of this story: I took the ferry book into the gallery yesterday, and the curator's face fell when he saw me. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news," he said, but apparently the director had rejected my boat book "because it has words." (Don't art books often have words? I thought). And again the message was "why can't she just bring in those nice photos she was juried in for?
So now I have to deal with those feelings of rejection -- and my question is: what do I do with that? The temptation, of course, is to assign blame: the gallery director hates me, or maybe, why can't they get their act together: it's cruel for one person to accept artists and then for another to reject them. Or I can turn it inward: they're right, my work is crap and doesn't deserve to be shown there.
Or I can say, wow, that's three rejections in a row: the handwriting is on the wall and it's time for me to look elsewhere -- except I've made more money through this gallery this last year, selling the paintings they DID let me sell through them, than I've made in the last 4 years with my photos. So it doesn't make any sense at all to sever my connection with them.
This is good meaty stuff -- once you get past the tears, the hurt, and the anger, right? So here's what I think needs to happen -- which is the same advice I offer my kids when they bump up against hard stuff.
1. Don't run away from the hurt feelings. Sit with them, listen to them, figure out what echoes they strike in you, and be tender with that part of you that has been made to feel small and unwanted.
2. Don't give in to the temptation to assign blame. People generally operate out a space that seems perfectly rational to them, even if it doesn't seem so to you.
3. Evaluate the larger picture: is there something that happened here that indicates some larger problem that needs to be addressed, that affects more people than just yourself, and is this something you're willing to follow up on without any benefit to yourself? Because unless you can approach it selflessly you need to let it go.
4. Make a list: what are ten things you can do to take control of this situation? And this includes things you may have learned AND new opportunities that may result if you expand your view of the options available to you.
So. That's where I sit now. I've got my work cut out for me, and a lot to chew on.
... and it's all good. Really. Not easy, but good.
Some images just seem to render better in black and white, especially lonely, serene shots like this one, that seem rather simple in color but become infinitely more complex in black and white.
It's a bit like the difference between looking at something and really taking the time to see it, or between just going about the daily grind and taking the time to meditate: by reducing the distraction of color you discover the complexity of things...
Yesterday, when I was out walking the dog on the beach, we disturbed a family of killdeer. Apparently we were too close to the nest, because both parents began cheeping frantically and trying to draw us away from the area.
One of the adults then performed this trick, which I'd heard of but never seen: in desperation she sank down onto the sand, spread her tail and cocked her wings to an uncomfortable angle, as if she were hurt, cheeping plaintively the whole time.
If I were a cat, I'm certain I'd have been enchanted at the thought of an easy meal. But as a human, and a photographer, I could only marvel at the creativity of her strategy -- and rush, of course, for my camera. I know -- it's just a record shot, not great photography. But isn't she clever? What an extraordinary actress! (And yes, of course, as soon as I drew close she flew away...)
The cost of success is that it can block our ability to see that what has worked well in the past might no longer prove effective. Reason alone may not be enough to get us past the obstacles we face: sometimes the only solutions are rest and play -- or perhaps an aesthetic encounter. So if you're feeling blocked today -- in whatever arena -- try exposing yourself to art! Sometimes seeing familiar subjects presented in a completely different way can lift us out of old patterns and help us to expand outdated visions of self and possibility...
Our cat, who's not quite 10 years old, has been diagnosed with a salivary tumor, and is apparently not long for this world. Because his favorite place to be is in my lap (and because our time together now is infinitely precious to me) I've been spending a lot of time sitting with him in our living room, in my favorite meditation chair.
Which means also I get to spend more time observing what goes on outside our windows, on our beach and beyond -- and what we see is often vastly amusing!
Yesterday, for example, there was a deer who sauntered up our neighbor's boardwalk, and then an otter ran up onto our beach, chased by these dogs. Their owner quickly beached his paddleboard and ran after the dogs hoping to leash them up before they tangled with the otter (those otter claws are huge and vicious).
Once he caught up with the dogs and leashed them, he took the board back into the water, allowing them to pull him along (what a great way to travel!), but of course they had to chase away the heron who'd been fishing happily in the nearby shallows...
It's amazing, really, what goes on around us all the time, if we only take the time to look. But we tend to get so caught up in our own busyness that we fail to see...
How simple it is,
this pleasure we call form:
those moments please us so
when labor and love collide --
some balance struck,
some dance between
the edges of work and play
that causes us to stop,
and see the wonder
that is all creation --
also now create
and raising to new heights
we house, we entertain,
and we inspire.
I started reading Sarah Lewis's book, The Rise, this morning (subtitle: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery).
My husband found it at the library and thought I might appreciate it --
and, given yesterday's revelation -- the timing is just about perfect.
My favorite quote, so far, is this: "It
is a cliche to say simply that we learn the most from failure. It is
also not exactly true. Transformation comes from how we choose to speak
about it in the context of story, whether self-stated or aloud."
You might remember I was feeling a bit disheartened, a couple of weeks ago,
when my gallery rejected my paintings and asked for boat pictures
instead. It was only after that that I learned they were staging
another Boat Show for July, and for the first time in all the years I've
been showing there I wasn't invited to participate -- which saddened me
Luckily I had signed up for a book-making
workshop at the new Art Museum on the island, so at some point, as I was
thinking over the odd circumstance of being asked for boat photos yet
not invited to the show, I thought -- what the heck? I'll make a book!
What you see here is the result of my labors -- a delightful (if I do
say so myself) rendition of Kenneth Grahame's wonderful quote from Wind in the Willows: "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
would like to thank one of my facebook followers, David Ore, for
responding to that discouraged post with the following words: "Diane-
they're but one gallery, and my sense is that this isn't so much
small-thinking rejection as it an indication you're about to expand your
reach..... thrive dear Diane... the wind is gathering under your wings."
opening my heart to the possibility/reminder that there is a larger
world out there, David triggered a series of applications to a number of
other galleries as well as this entertaining approach to the conundrum
posed by my own gallery -- all of which, to me, bears out the truth of
the Lewis quote cited above. By choosing to look at the story, not as
rejection but as opportunity, I feel like I've opened new doors for my
work. So -- let that be a lesson for us all! ... all of which makes me think of these lyrics from a wonderful Anne Murray tune called "I know too much":
This is a style of painting I've been working to replicate for some time now, so I was very pleased with this one when I finished it. It's not a perfect specimen of the breed, and the colors aren't rendering particularly well on the computer, but I felt I'd finally been able to achieve the balance I was looking for -- a large, meditative, light space, some strong darks to balance it, and some light touches of color and texture to give it impact.
But here's the problem: when I went to hang it in my dining room, in the spot I like to place my current favorites, I hated the way it looked. And that's the first time that's happened, for me: that a painting I liked on the easel didn't work on the wall. Which means, I think, that I must have been painting with my head, not my heart.
Oh, well. Back to the drawing board! I'm tempted to paint over this, but maybe I'll keep it around as a reminder to paint what I feel, not what I think...
Both the day and week
are drawing to a close,
and I am on the ferry,
Alchemical fluorescent lights
turn tired railings into gold
while distant islands
slide into the blue
and I am caught between:
not quite here, no longer there,
and not yet where I truly long to be.
Sweet harbingers of Spring,
the rhododendrons bud and glow
and then begin to bloom
Rejoicing in the sudden burst of color
how brief this span of light
until one morning,
the shock of crimson
underneath our feet
will trip us up
reminding us --
"Summer is icumin in."
Though our island features some significant graffiti down at the bunkers (these giant cement fortresses left over from WWII) the town itself has a pretty upscale look to it, so I was delighted to see this charming creation on what appears to be a junction box outside one of our local coffee shops.
Perhaps if this sort of gray scrawliness were everywhere, as it is in many cities I've visited, I wouldn't appreciate it so much -- or even notice it -- but here it definitely stands out, and for some reason I find it very appealing. Go figure!
Perhaps that's because we humans are engineered to notice differences -- the single red tulip in a field of daffodils, the one deciduous tree glowing in a forest of evergreens... Whatever the reason, I'm inclined to appreciate things that are unique.
I've been a little under the weather this week: the combination of minor dental surgery, an initially mild cold that's left me with a persistent cough, and learning that our relatively young cat may only have a few months to live.
It's the stuff of life, really -- none of it enough to loom all that large given the magnitude of the problems facing so many other people on the planet. But I don't seem to have my usual resilience, and I'm finding the longing to curl up in familiar chair and retreat from the world is really strong.
Which is why this old boat appealed to me: it has a look of being familiar, and well-loved; sort of a marine version of a favorite teddy bear. When I see it, I think of Dorothy's chant in the Wizard of Oz: "There's no place like home, there's no place like home..." Be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home...
I'm still reading Cynthia Bourgeault's Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, and I'm realizing that all the times I've felt really blocked and helpless in my life have been resolved by stepping outside the box to find a resolution.
At first this could look like running away, but I'm coming to understand the two actions are not the same; that stepping outside the box is a way of opening things up and allowing in more possibilities.
... which is not to say that any box is bad, but only that we can outgrow them, and that once that happens we can choose to run around in circles howling, like a dog that's been fenced in too long, or we can take a leap, crawl under the fence, push out the walls -- whatever it takes to enlarge our previous conception of what the world could be.
I'm not sure where this is going, but it's fun to think about...
when it comes,
may not arrive
The source might not be
what you thought it was;
it might not even
or look like anything
you ever thought of doing --
none of which means
you shouldn't answer.
Drop what you're doing,
pick up that receiver,
This painting is entitled Hoboken Memories: the photos are of my paternal grandparents, and the shapes are reminiscent of the view from the roof outside their apartment where my grandmother hung her laundry. The dulcimer I remember most from those days (the site is now a parking lot) is the early morning clatter and grinding rumble of the garbage trucks and the mournful blast of the ship's horns in the distant harbor...