we go on making, we go on dancing

 
There’s been a long hiatus from studio work and blogging – so long that it amazes me that any readers call by this little corner of the cyberworld at all.  But the stats tell me they do, and I thank you – all of you.  I hope you found something worthwhile among these postings; a little inspiration or encouragement, or something to ponder, perhaps.

While I’m still without a workspace, energy is returning for the beloved creative work/play – for color and texture and shape and form.  I’m inspired anew by discovering the ways in which the inexpressible displays its wonders in the micro-universe.  Whether I’m attuned or not, whether I’m aware and amazed or not, the miracle of Life keeps on making, keeps on creating, inexhaustible and immeasurably.  And artists never lie down exhausted for long.  Their passion – if it’s honored and fostered, given time and space – will always be a source of their healing.  They don’t create because it’s fun or recreational (although it often will be); they create because they must, because if they stay away too long from ‘the dance’ they fall ill.

I gaze in utter wonderment at the dance of creation displayed in this photomicrograph of soap bubbles. And I feel the sap rising.  How will it express?  How will it release and focus energy within the field of capacity and skills that make up the playground called ‘me’?

 

Wonderingmind Studio: micro-photograph of soap suds

 

Yes, we live in a quantum world where there is only, in TS Eliot’s phrase, ‘the dance’, and the dance is always changing, both in the sub-atomic world of particles, and in the visible world of objects.  We construct our world so that we can apprehend it, we make our ideas visible so that we and others can enjoy them and debate them, and usually destroy them at some time or other, but we go on making, we go on turning energy into objects.  The object itself is provisional, the energy, though changing, is permanent, and is a feature of the whole universe.  What art does is to release and focus energy in a particular way, and I would argue that what we call art objects are places where energy is especially intense.  It doesn’t matter whether it is a picture or a book or a piece of music, or a performance, it is a concentration of energy.  This is why the arts occupy relatively timeless space, and why one of the tests of art is that it should go on working on us long after any contemporary interest in its subject matter is extinct.  We don’t go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England, we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now.  The energy in the plays goes on being released.

Jeanette Winterson


For more micro miracles visit the National Geographic website.


art and awakening

 

Brody Neuenschwander - Library of Babel

 

getting past the words

Words are wonderful when they serve as pointers.  The problem is that we tend to ascribe ‘realness’ or ‘thingness’ to words, forgetting their sole function as symbols representing shared concepts.  In order to get beyond the word it’s necessary to plant one’s feet firmly within its accepted meaning, and then explore what that meaning might be pointing towards.  Art and awakening are two words that are hot potatoes for some reason, and without signing up for the task I seem to have had a default preoccupation with both concepts all my life.  This little essay tries to express what I’ve learned, or rather what I’ve unlearned.

I’ll begin with a couple of definitions:

art
putting things in their ‘right’ place, in order, in the spot where they sing with a rightness independent of one’s cultural conditioning; a cellular-level rightness which is somehow recognized by the body.

awakening
the irreversible apperception that no independent entity exists who could possibly awaken or become enlightened, or be other than whatever this is, here and now.

Art – art as that creative process of finding the ‘right’ place, rather than the art product – was a consuming passion for the first half of my life.  Hey, I even married (and un-married) a guy called Art, and he’s as passionate about creating as I am!  It’s likely that my later pre-occupation with the concept of ‘awakening’ was seeded in the magical experiences that occurred within the creative context, but its flowering would only happen later in life, when concerns with career paths faded.

health and creativity

During the decades spent teaching art and design and immersed in creative practice in my studio, it became obvious to me that overall health in human beings appears to be nurtured, fostered and sustained by enthusiasm and wonder, accompanied by the urge to move, to make.

Finding one’s health (wholeness), purpose, self-esteem and fulfillment seems to depend on these qualities, and artistic work – perhaps more than most other activities – offers a portal through which they may be accessed.  Developing and refining artistic skills which cultivate and express these qualities would surely be the aim of a curriculum for art and design education in a holistic context.

Experiencing Life as a work of art is possible when the process of creating becomes a consciously-held intention, a matrix within which we refine our focus on the details of that which we desire to create. But these are merely fancy words until we come to understand who or what we truly are within the big picture – the macromatrix.  That’s where awakening comes in.

loving what-is

Understanding and healing occur when there is acceptance and appreciation of the what-is of our Life. Love for our Life returns us to Wholeness.  In that Wholeness we wake up from the myth that we were ever separate from the Wholeness – which brings a huge new understanding.  We know that there cannot be, logically or rationally, anything apart from Wholeness, and consequently, that we cannot possibly exist as a separate, independent entity.  We are that Wholeness.  Enthusiasm and wonder arise spontaneously, and we are compelled to create and celebrate as they bathe our perception of the world and its “ten thousand things”.

free-will?

Our desire is the desire of Wholeness.  Our creations are the creations of that Wholeness.  Free-will is something we pretend to ‘have’.  But since there’s no separate entity apart from Wholeness, the will that appears to be ‘ours’ and ‘free’ is in fact the will of the Wholeness.  The will of Wholeness, or Creation, is energy – ubiquitous, amoral and impartial energy.  It is ceaselessly moving and ceaselessly making.  We say it moves according to ‘our’ thoughts.  We say we must change, or focus ‘our’ thoughts in order to create what we wish.  But what we come to understand is that the impulse which seems to be attributable to ‘me’ is (without permission or control) doing all the things we used to take credit or blame for!  Impulse, intention, focus and application of ‘will power’ are all actions of the Wholeness that we are.  And whatever is created via those actions is created by Wholeness.

art is a way

Will is happening, will cannot not happen so long as there are conscious emanations of Wholeness (called sentient beings) being Lived by that Wholeness.  Life’s ex-pression of Wholeness is the only valid description of authentic art.  We exist to express this Wholeness, and art is a Way.  A way-less way, if you like – for the ultimate art is the realization that there is no artist and no way.

The activities that have always interested me most in the art room or studio are those that, rather than providing a pathway for the production of a certain kind of image, are simply explored as a mirror that reflects my assumptions, habits and notions about myself, about art, and about life.  Because these are the only things that obscure the truth of one’s being.  The approaches to that truth are as varied and numerous as there are participants in the playground.  And the truly creative curriculum in the arts will be a resource of ways to explore the most remarkable, miraculous fact that can ever be known:  the wonder of being alive and the recognition that one is no-thing other than that alive-ness.

Awakening is just precisely that.

awareness

Awareness in healthy humans is what allows the capacity for and sense of alive-ness.  Alive-ness cannot be cultivated – it is surely there or not, and if it’s not, you won’t be reading this.  Awareness likewise cannot be cultivated, since, try as we might, we cannot find it!  Yet it is always present.

The presence of Awareness is only obscured by the noise of our notions and opinions about everything. Making things is a wonderful way of meeting these notions.  Awareness itself then performs the remarkable deed of dissolving these hindrances, seemingly opening itself up to more sense of itself. Heightened awareness of all the worlds assumed to be real – both outwardly and in the hidden recesses of the mind – inevitably opens up new perspectives on life, and, if there is ripeness, awakening might ‘happen’.

Without a whisper of will, without a trace of trying, life awakens to itself and knows itself as naked Knowingness.

Without a name, belonging to no person,
with no history, no future, containing nothing,
without preferences, abhorring nothing, needing nothing,
being no-thing:

that no-thing from which all things arise

THAT
which lies beyond the words

 


Image credit: Library of Babel by Brody Neuenschwander


saying the unsayable

 

The inexpressible is the only thing worth expressing.
Frederick Franck 

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, la madonna blu

la madonna blu
Scaletta Uzzone, Piemonte, Italy
400 x 850
painting on silk, laminating, collage, assemblage
silk Habotai, fishing net, shells, sand, sequins,
fiber-reactive dyes, acrylic paint, gold metallic paint

– – –

this is my way
to make visible, to voice
the unknowable mystery of creation
this womb of light and love –

this is my way
with color, texture, rhythm
small earth-spun miracles
and a devotional heart

this is my way
to say the unsayable

– – –


Federick Franck’s to-do list

Frederick Franck at the awakened eye

Pacem in Terris


nomad collection: Italy


memento mori :: steve jobs

Steve Jobs

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.

There is no reason not to follow your heart.

– Steve Jobs

From an address at Stanford University on June 12, 2005

G R A T I T U D E   S T E V E


Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die”, or “Remember you will die”;  taken literally it means, [In the future] remember to die, since “memento” is a future imperative of the 2nd person, and “mori” is a deponent infinitive.  It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality.  The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.
Source – wikipedia


memento mori
creativity and autonomy
I find my tribe
it is for that smile and for those tears that I work
when I met my muse


the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake

 
Like religion, art offers an alternative value system; it asks us to see differently, think differently, challenging ourselves, and the way we live.  Most importantly, art is a continual reminder that the money and celebrity scrabble of the modern world can be countered by the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake.  The old-fashioned word ‘love’ is appropriate here.  Real writers, painters, musicians, do want they do because they love what they do.  The money is secondary. We are often dazzled by the media circus surrounding the arts, but behind all that, going on as it ever did, is the intent and endeavour of the artist, an intent and endeavour that we share when we choose to read, or look at pictures or go to the theatre, and so on.  The twenty-four emergency zone that we call real life saps our energies.  Art renews those energies because it allows us an experience of active meditation.  The energies of the artwork cross-current into us.  It is a transfusion of a kind, and if this has religious overtones, it doesn’t matter.  Nobody need be nervous about a connection between art and religion.  All of life is connected and our deepest experiences, whether of faith or love or art will share similar qualities.

– Jeanette Winterson


Source – http://www.jeanettewinterson.com


[My emphasis]


no artist is pleased

 

Martha Graham

 

On the opening night of the film Oklahoma! Agnes De Mille confessed, “I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.”  Dancer Martha Graham responded:

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.  You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.  Keep the channel open.  No artist is pleased.  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest.

Martha Graham


Source: stillness speaks
Image source


creativity and autonomy


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!


memento mori

 

Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die”, or “Remember you will die”; taken literally it means [In the future] remember to die, since “memento” is a future imperative of the 2nd person, and “mori” is a deponent infinitive.  It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality.  The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.
Wikipedia


It is rare for me to move into narrative, but this new work tells the story of a chapter of my life that was intimately concerned with mortality – specifically that of my much-loved parents, but including others as well. I had never before been so closely involved with people who were living through the final stages of their life. It was both sobering and inspiring, and I use the term to title this work in the sense that profound awareness of one’s mortality can motivate one to “seize the day” in a very positive way.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, Memento Mori

memento mori, 2011
private collection, Queensland, Australia
920 x 920

off-loom weaving, stitching, collage, assemblage, painting

water hyacinth fiber, modelling paste, canvas, acrylic paints, rayon ribbon
acetate, fragments of straw sun hat, silk tissue paper
images of own artworks, cut and woven

– – –

The story unfolded in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia.  Every component of the work tells part of that story. I will list the symbols and leave it to the viewer to ‘get the picture.’

Three ‘strokes’ of red ribbon:  Mum, Dad and me.

The two ‘drapes’:  Mum and Dad.  Mum on the left, overlapping Dad slightly; she survived him for nearly a year.

Silk tissue paper:  They were both in their 80’s when they moved to the Bay, and past 95 when they died.  Their skin was so fragile it reminded me of ancient papyrus.

Straw sunhat fragments:  The sun and the heat were hard on them (and me).  We had to learn to seek shade rather than sun, which, coming from a temperate climate was a hard habit to break.

The rolling waves:  Hervey Bay’s beauty is renowned.  The Coral Sea laps quietly, gently; we enjoyed many beach walks together before they became less mobile.  Waves also speak of the inexorable tide of life – we come, we go.  All returns to the ocean of creation.

The stitches with red ribbon:  These two strands of ribbon, meeting and tying in the middle, represent my dear friends M and R, whose home was often my refuge, and whose loving support and loyal friendship helped keep me sane.  They generously commissioned this work.

The woven strips of older works:  My art practice was largely over-shadowed by the task of supporting Mum and Dad’s wellbeing.  While the creative life continued in other ways, studio work was virtually impossible.  However, one’s previous work is always busy in the sub-conscious – weaving itself into new ideas and questions.

The background:  The threads of Life are wondrously interwoven and usually inexplicably so.  Parallel to that rather philosophical reference is the simple fact that for much of the decade I felt like a basket-case … yet much was ripening within.  At the end of the decade I was no longer the person I had taken myself to be.  Another death had happened – one that had nothing to do with mortality, but that opened up a fresh vista on life and creativity.


I came to paint the shutters

This post is for James Hardiman, who was there, and who has just reconnected with me via this blog. Wondrous!


Location: a 17th century Presbytère alongside its ancient church in the Normandy countryside at Hiesville. The owner, a dear friend, had offered me the opportunity to spend some weeks there concentrating on my studio work, in return for painting the external shutters on the house.

Said shutters turned out to be legion. They had to be taken down, hardware removed, stripped, sanded, undercoated, painted (two coats), hardware replaced, and re-hung. They were solid wood and weighed a ton. I worked on them in the ancient barn amongst centuries-old sawdust and litter. Did I have any energy remaining for ‘studio work’? Joke.

I took myself and my frustration off to the nearby beaches for long solitary walks.

It was there – as well as in the old barn – that I discovered the bits and pieces that eventually came together as four works which would eventually join the Nomad Collection.

Any carefully conceived and planned pieces were, as usual, utterly sabotaged by the wonder of what lay around me and the ever-unpredictable creative process.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons, the artist's path

the artist’s path
[I came to paint the shutters]
Normandie, France
835 x 400

painting on textured board
collage, assemblage
objets trouvés: wooden slab, sawdust
iron staple, wooden slat blind
text fragments, cement, pva glue
acrylic paints


Nomad Collection: France