to hell with solemnity and proper art

Artwork by Michael Leunig

 

In his scrumptious essay Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool, Michael Leunig  – Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet – speaks about the way our brilliant ideas often act to sabotage true creativity, leading us into frustration and disillusionment. But all is not lost, he suggests, for our temper tantrums can be the portal to the domain of the holy fool, and that’s the source of our authentic creative expression. The following is a short extract from the essay, which I posted recently at the awakened eye blog.  

It could go something like this: the painter might begin a piece of work with high hopes and set forth with an interesting or brilliant idea in mind, but all too soon the painting begins to fail, the idea collapses and ambition starts to sour.  The transcription from the intellect to the canvas is looking lifeless and artless, and the painter is starting to feel despondent.  It’s not working!  How often it is that the mind and the hand have lost touch with each other.

The painter redoubles all efforts but this only makes things worse and regression is happening as dismay and disillusionment set in.  Soon enough the painting is in a miserable mess and everything is in disarray. It looks awful and the painter is emotionally heavy with self-doubt and disappointment.  The worst has happened, the situation is lost and the painter’s ego is peeling away.

Little is it understood but at last the painter is breaking free, albeit a free fall – into a disturbing state of not knowing.  The regression deepens, reason has fled while tantalizing and delinquent infantile impulses are felt: the petulant desire to destroy the painting and get rid of the evidence; the painful reminder of inability and failure.

At this point one of the noble truths of creativity may begin to emerge: ‘disillusionment precedes inspiration and growth’.  So instead of abandoning the failure as many would, the artist recognizes an opportunity to be free and play about casually or recklessly in the ruins; to experiment and throw all cautious technique, all self criticism and high standards to the wind because now there is nothing to lose and nobody is watching.  Before long the painter has forgotten the failure and becomes absorbed in the anarchy of spontaneous gestures and spirited whimsical play.  The holy fool and originality are at hand. The artist is painting unselfconsciously and with happy abandon – and somewhat like a child.

To hell with solemnity and proper art; the joy of discovery is all that matters now; the unprecedented textures, the way the colours have by chance smeared into each other: beautiful startling subtleties and unimagined miracles small and large to delight or shock the eye.  And so it proceeds until the painter is staring in fascination at this revelation that the hands and impulses have created in a state of regression; a state that could not have been planned or organized – but simply happened when ego and ambition had sufficiently crumbled.

– Michael Leunig, Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool


I realise that many readers of this blog also subscribe to the awakened eye (nods and waves to you) and have probably read Michael’s essay.  But for those of you who haven’t, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in his writing about creativity, authenticity, playfulness, wonderment, beauty, the holy fool, plus a selection of his whimsical artworks. Here’s the link:

on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

A couple more quotes – I can’t help myself, these are so cool…

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


A Leunig post from the archives, 2010

artist, leave the world of art!


Michael Leunig, Holy Fool - Artworks

Holy Fool, Artworks, by Michael Leunig


 

a hunger for eternity

Mary Oliver articulates to perfection the way everything in the world appears to stand between the artist and his or her commitment to their passion – creative engagement with they-know-not-what. Don’t we all experience this: the expectation from our N&D, or our colleagues – and ourselves as well – that we can simply blink and materialise in the silent, open, receptive posture that invites our muse? That we can zip from chore to chore, demand to demand, and fit our engagement with creativity into time-slots in a diary? But it doesn’t work that way. And this, we find, is what those whose allegiance is to a tick-tock, product-driven, left-brain interpretation of creativity can never understand.

For our muse is a jealous lover; she demands sustained attention and even, dare I say – devotion. She isn’t easily coerced into our studio – or whatever creative playground we inhabit. She doesn’t respond to invitations but turns up willy-nilly. She seems averse to any kind of expectation that she will show up merely because we do… yet we must show up, regardless. We must show up and we must stay. And sooner or later, in our dedication, passion and sincerity, and with our “hunger for eternity” we will realise that our engagement is not just with some mythical muse, but with the ceaseless primordial creativity that is powering the whole glorious show.


This offering is reblogged from voxpopulisphere where it was posted with the title “The Artist’s Task”; the content was originally featured on brainpickings.  I’m sharing it here because Mary’s observations cause my head to nod (and their expression in her unmistakably poetic voice is a treat), and because I have a feeling that you – yes, wondrously creative you – will appreciate it too.


 

Illustration by Kris Di Giacomo

 

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

The world sheds, in the energetic way of an open and communal place, its many greetings, as a world should. What quarrel can there be with that? But that the self can interrupt the self — and does — is a darker and more curious matter.

Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.

Say you have bought a ticket on an airplane and you intend to fly from New York to San Francisco. What do you ask of the pilot when you climb aboard and take your seat next to the little window, which you cannot open but through which you see the dizzying heights to which you are lifted from the secure and friendly earth?

Most assuredly you want the pilot to be his regular and ordinary self. You want him to approach and undertake his work with no more than a calm pleasure. You want nothing fancy, nothing new. You ask him to do, routinely, what he knows how to do — fly an airplane. You hope he will not daydream. You hope he will not drift into some interesting meander of thought. You want this flight to be ordinary, not extraordinary. So, too, with the surgeon, and the ambulance driver, and the captain of the ship. Let all of them work, as ordinarily they do, in confident familiarity with whatever the work requires, and no more. Their ordinariness is the surety of the world. Their ordinariness makes the world go round.

In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. Which is something altogether different from the ordinary. Such work does not refute the ordinary. It is, simply, something else. Its labor requires a different outlook — a different set of priorities.

No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts, or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.

Of this there can be no question — creative work requires a loyalty as complete as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity. A person trudging through the wilderness of creation who does not know this — who does not swallow this — is lost. He who does not crave that roofless place eternity should stay at home. Such a person is perfectly worthy, and useful, and even beautiful, but is not an artist. Such a person had better live with timely ambitions and finished work formed for the sparkle of the moment only. Such a person had better go off and fly an airplane.

The working, concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work — who is thus responsible to the work… Serious interruptions to work, therefore, are never the inopportune, cheerful, even loving interruptions which come to us from another.

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.

From: Upstream, Selected Essays, by Mary Oliver.  Copyright 2016.


Illustration by Kris Di Giacomo. Source: brainpickings.org


In a similar vein:

the alchemy of creativity

wider wonderment; deepening devotion


 

arting happens

 

Art[ing] happens.
No hovel is safe from it, no prince may depend upon it,
the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about.
– James McNeill Whistler

 
Arting Happens: brush and book
 


 

Arting Happens

Statement

(1)
Art is a verb and I believe arting ought to be included in the dictionary.

I art.
I am often arting.
That’s some fabulous arting.

(2)
A focus on arting also indicates that the process, the doing, the journey,
is much more important
than the end result.

For some it means arting is enough and sales are irrelevant.
For others it might mean making cash out of art is great but will never ‘sell out’
by creating just for the audience.

(3)
Sharing the process, techniques, ‘mistakes’, and WIPs (works in process,)
are the best initiators of dialogue,
rather than simply showcasing the finished product.

 


Source – ‘ink and chai’ blog. [Update – this beautiful blog has now morphed into something else, so I have deleted the link.]


My footnote:

Art is a verb.  And in my experience, so is the artist.

In fact, the self – in all its guises – is probably the busiest verb in the business.

Have you noticed?

 

The noun of self becomes a verb.
This flashpoint of creation in the present moment
is where work and play merge.
– Stephen Nachmanovitch in Free Play

 


Image sourced from Pinterest; artist unknown.


curiosity and wonderment

 

If you asked me to choose a couple of keywords to sum up the dynamic that drives my creative practice, I’d pick these two:

curiosity and wonderment

When, on the first day of August, I dreamed up the little project called the daily details, I was just as curious to see whether I’d have the tenacity to stick with it, day after day, as I was to see how far my work would take me – would there be enough images to last the month?

Considering that a large portion of my works-in-hand has never been documented, I was amazed to find that not only were there plenty of details to last the month, there were enough to take me through three months. It transpired that the details themselves ended up driving the project – they wanted OUT. They grew grumpy if I pleaded for a break.

But after three months – 92 postings in all – they let me off the hook, satisfied that a decent overview of the many tracks I’ve explored so far on the via creativa had been gathered together. Followers and friends of this blog have had a break for over a week now; I’m sure they’re as relieved as I am!

Yet curiosity lingers. Now it wants to know which of those 92 posts were the most popular with you, my valued readers. I’m not sure how accurate this selection is – given that I’m aware of friends who followed each posting with enthusiasm but never hit the *like* button, being averse to signing up with WP for their own reasons – but I’ve gathered together the posts that, according to WP stats, received the most *likes*.

August
daily details 27.08.12 daily details 23.08.12 12.08.12 09.08.12
September
07.09.12 19.09.12 18.09.12 30.09.12 21.09.12
October
31.10.12 29.10.12 24.10.12 16.10.12 12.10.12

And now that second little keyword – wonderment – pipes up. It wants me to choose the posts that gave me the most personal satisfaction – the ones that made me think, “Did I do that? Cool.” The ones that have set off little lightning flashes in my mind and generated ideas for new work. The ones that made me remember how much I adore color, texture and making things for no good reason other than it keeps me sane and intimate with something so much larger than the mundane and mediocre. The ones that remind me that, as Frederick Franck told us “The inexpressible is the only thing worth expressing” and urge that I have a lot of expressing to do … and that my time is brief …

01.10.12 18.08.12 27.10.12 22.09.12 03.08.12

Color, curves, edges … and interestingly, painting is the predominant medium. Perhaps there’s a painter in here struggling to have more of a say?


No breathscribe works made it to my grand final. Perhaps that’s because although the series continues (I still breathe my life-tide across canvas or paper) there’s been a shift from the solid straight line. It’s restless; it wants to dance, to celebrate.

I’m exploring a new dynamism, profoundly inspired by the work of a contemporary Aboriginal artist – about whom, more in another post …


curiosity and wonderment [page]
walking the way of wonder
creating from wonder 1
creating from wonder 2
creating from wonder 3


creativity and autonomy

 

 

To recover our essential autonomy is the bottom line of all spiritual practice, although it’s seldom referred to in those terms.  It’s called finding Truth, or God, or the Real.  It’s called awakening or enlightenment or salvation.  But the core concern is to rediscover for ourselves who or what we actually are.  It’s probably the most important – and challenging – thing a human being can do, because it boils down to fundamental freedom from all inner and external influences.

Artists whose practice is part of their spiritual ‘recovery’ know how powerful the creative process can be in exposing the conditioning that controls our habitual responses.

How do we find our ‘own’ artistic style?  How do we find our unique voice?  How do we find what really matters to us; what’s important enough to be expressed in visual or verbal language?

These are questions familiar to those of us who fail to be satisfied with recreational approaches to creativity and who long to express from our ‘own’ autonomy.  I love the way Adyashanti links spirituality, autonomy and creativity together:

. . . the culmination of spirituality lies not only in discovering our inherent unity and freedom, but in opening the way for life to express itself through us in a unique and creative way.

Such uniqueness and creativity is not to be found in anything the human mind has ever created, nor is it to be found in our ideals of human perfection or utopian dreams.

True autonomy arises when we have broken free of all the old structures, all psychological dependencies, and all fear.  Only then can that which is truly unique and fearless arise within us and begin to express itself.  Such expression cannot be planned or even imagined because it belongs to a dimension uninhibited by anything that has come before it.

True autonomy is not trying to fit in or be understood, nor is it a revolt against anything.  It is an uncaused phenomenon.  Consciously or unconsciously all beings aspire to it, but very few find the courage to step into that infinity of aloneness.

Adyashanti


Image from the wondrous Michael Leunig, who has succeeded in finding a voice that expresses his creative, spiritual and political concerns. Gratitude!


creating from joy
artist, leave the world of art!