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


 

every maker knows the feel of love

 

Every maker knows the feel of Love.

 

It’s the upsurge of

JOY

in your heart
when your gaze falls upon
your makings,
the makings born of an innocent mind

{ BEGINNER’S MIND }

and finds them pleasing.
And you wonder where they came from,
how they happened;
you listen closely as they whisper their story,
the story you had no intention
of telling – indeed, you never knew
until now, until your hands
tentatively, tenderly birthed its expression

IN THE DARK

 

And if your makings have no toe-hold
in the art market…?
Perhaps it’s all the better.
Then you know you’re on your true way,
(not merely a clone, a follower of fashion)
immune to the bleating of the corralled sheep
who claim to know what “real art” should look like.

You stand in your authenticity,
honesty,
impeccability.

You find you don’t mind
that your makings hold no commercial value,
have no relevance to the commodified art scene.

 

You know only one thing matters:
your devotion to

LOVE

You smile at your makings; you nod
knowing that regardless of the titles you gave them
their true name is Love
and they are part of a series that has no end.

 

Every maker knows the feel of Love.

 


Miriam Louisa Simons, Refuge Robe

 Refuge Robe, acrylics, pastels, metallic pigments, loose textured canvas, steel gauze
Private Collection. An offering made for dear friends who gave me shelter during troubled times.


The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Carl Jung


I play with color: I love the subtle way it moves and the mystery of its interactions. I love tonal gradations.

I play with texture: I love the way texture reveals light, creates form.

Since color and texture are the agencies of light, I guess that means I play with light: I am a lover of LIGHT.

What is the feel of your Love? What do you love to play with?


 

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


 

small holes in the silence

There are very few things I can say about my work that are better than saying nothing.
– Ralph Hotere

I was still very young and totally naive about “art” when I first met Ralph Hotere’s work head on. Looking back, I can’t help but marvel at that encounter. It shifted my brain. It was when I first understood that art had little to do with the materials used (in this case, weathered corrugated roofing iron) and recognisable forms of the portrait or landscape variety. What a shock, a revelation and a liberation in the same instant! My own art education, and the opportunity to visit major art galleries in New Zealand, Australia and further afield would unfold much later. So it was entirely by some intuitive capacity that I understood what the revelation meant – at least to me.

Hone Papita Raukura (Ralph) Hotere and I lived in the same small New Zealand city – Dunedin. He was well known and turned up at functions both formal and informal. I was always a little in awe of him because as yet I had no language with which to enter into a conversation about his creative life. These days it would be different, but were he still alive he’d probably be as reluctant to talk about his work as he always had been.

The revelation Hotere unveiled for me was a shift from thinking that art is about materials and techniques and objects that can be placed in historical/conceptual categories, to understanding that it is, rather, an immaterial communication, a relationship in which the viewer needs no explanation to deeply feel the artist’s intent.

Like another well known New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, Hotere had a powerful way of including text in his work, a way that transcends the trap of the illustrative or decorative. His words are pictorial elements in their own right, not mere memes. During the late 1960s he struck up a relationship with the New Zealand literary world which would come to full fruition in subsequent years in collaborative works with New Zealand poets including Cilla McQueen, Bill Manhire, Hone Tuwhare and Ian Wedde. In 1979, he used his friend Hone Tuwhare‘s well-known poem Rain to produce Three Banners with Poem, for the Hocken Library at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

 

Ralph Hotere, Rain, 1979

Rain, 1979. Oil and enamel on unstretched canvas, 2440 x 985 mm.
Collection of A. and J. Smith, Auckland.

 

RAIN

I can hear you
making small holes
in the silence
rain

If I were deaf
the pores of my skin
would open to you
and shut

And I
should know you
by the lick of you
if I were blind

the something
special smell of you
when the sun cakes
the ground

the steady
drum-roll sound
you make
when the wind drops

But if I
should not hear
smell or feel or see
you

you would still
define me
disperse me
wash over me
rain

 

– Hone Tuwhare


These links open in new tabs:

Ralph Hotere
Hone Tuwhare
Hocken Library
Hotere: Out the Black Window: Ralph Hotere’s Work with New Zealand Poets, by Gregory O’Brien


soulstice bowl

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl

 

It all began with a question, as usual.

What, I asked myself, is my purest intention regarding my art practice? What is my highest aspiration? It might sound a touch heady, but I do think it’s good practice to occasionally revisit one’s focus and intent, because these things change as time passes. I am now in the lovely position of making for the sheer wonder of it; concerns with selling and exhibiting no longer invade the playground. So what drives me to make, now?

Mulling these questions was juicy and productive, like shining a light into the dim corners of my experience, spotlighting the details and seeing how everything has interconnected to bring me to this perspective, now.

Once I had clarified my overview (about which, more later – maybe) and recognised that my intentions for my work and my life were identical (surprise, surprise), the next question presented itself: How could I make a container to hold these intentions?  It occurred to me that the container should be made out of something I’d created in the past, to symbolise the way one’s via creativa morphs and meanders over time. I also wanted it to be constructed in a way that reflected my journey from textile artist to … whatever I am now.

I dug deep in the boxes of bits and pieces that make up my studio ratpack. (I keep everything: my belief is that everything is on its own journey – paper, canvas, thread, pigment, brushes – and I’ve lived long enough to see how those journeys are often linked to my own in unforeseeable ways. Often many years pass before those links become evident, and I’m always grateful that I didn’t toss too soon.)

As I write this I regret not having taken photos of the two semi-circular pieces of pulped paper with embedded crochet that surfaced as candidates for my container. They had, in fact, been a big bowl made circa 1987 in New Zealand. My nomadic lifestyle meant everything had to be easily stored, so I had cut the bowl in half then soaked and pressed the pieces flat. That was thirty years ago.

Now I cut the two pieces in half again, then soaked and pressed these four quarters of the original bowl into a plastic mixing bowl from the kitchen. Paper pulp is such a pliable, forgiving, merciful material! In a few days the form was dry. I removed it from the plastic bowl and reinforced the overlapping quarters with wire stitches. The interior was painted, and the exterior given a touch up.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl detail

 

You’re a very fine bowl, thought I, placing it on the little stand I’d made with a circular plastic pipe cap from the plumbing department at the hardware store. (It was covered with paper mâché and painted to match the bowl – thus a little secret space was created under the bowl. I love secret spaces.)

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl detail

 

But that wasn’t the end of it. The bowl was hungry. My vision hadn’t included writing my intentions down; it was enough to have unearthed and clarified them. But now the bowl was whispering and I was listening. There should be offerings, it said.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl, interior

 

So on the Summer Solstice the third phase of the project began. I wrote my most important intention down on a scrap of Japanese washi and rolled it into a tiny scroll. Into the bowl it went, and each day for a full six months it was joined by another little scroll. They began as intentions and soon included blessings and prayers and praises – whatever thought or feeling turned up to be offered during my morning contemplation time.

On the morning of the Winter Solstice, the last scroll went into the bowl. Life had neatly arranged a new project, one which I recognised to be an exquisite response to the intentions I’d offered up six months earlier. In the company of mind-shifters Peter Kingsley and Michael Brown I began a transformative inner adventure of such significance that I now think of my life as pre- and post- this journey. And from this new perspective who knows what will express in the studio?

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Soulstice Bowl, interior detail

 

I’ve never been drawn to ritual, even though my relationship with objects borders on the metaphysical. But my soul bowl, a container with an unforeseen ability to speak into my heart and elicit its deepest longing, is clearly a ritual object. Surging into creation at one Solstice and ebbing at the next, it is one of those life-happenings that keep me infused with awe and awake to the immensity of the unknowable.


Miriam Louisa Simons – Soulstice Bowl, 190mm high x 260mm diameter. Pulped Arches watercolour paper, gold lurex thread, wire, acrylic paint, Japanese washi, various threads. 1987 – 2016


Peter Kingsley: pre-Socratic scholar and student of the Sufi path, whose book Reality demonstrates (among many other things) how the ancient Greeks gifted us a system capable of bringing a human being to the experience of reality. What would it be like to be fully, continually aware of all of our senses – and what’s more, to be aware of that very awareness? How can we “come to our senses”, be fully and maturely wideawake?
peterkingsley.org
Michael Brown: one the most wise, humble and generous human beings I’ve come across, who gave me contemporary tools and support material to independently excavate the archaeology of that energetic terrain – at the vibrational level: a never-ending adventure into integration.
thepresenceprocessportal.com.


bowls from bygone days


the alchemy of creativity

As artists … we make artwork as something we have to do
not knowing how it will work out.

– Agnes Martin

 

Agnes Martin, Untitled 1960

 

Just when I began to doubt that I would ever write again on this blog – it being many moons since the urge to do so has visited – I find myself inspired by a post written by the insightful and meticulous artist Fiona Dempster on her blog Paper Ponderings. She opens with a quote from Anais Nin (see below) and offers her responses before summing up thus:

 

There is something in here I think that says that art is integral to our wellbeing;
and I have to agree.

– Fiona Dempster

 

A torrent arose from deep within as I read this: art is integral to our wellbeing. I was reminded of my own long path to this understanding. Being a slow learner when it comes to my own wellbeing it took decades to notice that if I was experiencing unease, confusion or frustration, the failsafe remedy was to enter creative engagement. In that engagement, that deliberate hollowing out of my mental marrow, all I need to know percolates up into presence and flows forth into my life. No effort required. As Jeanette Winterson observes, it’s simply humanity expressing itself.

 

Life has an inside as well as an outside. Consumer culture directs all resources and attention to life on the outside. What happens to the inner life? Art is never a luxury because it stimulates and responds to the inner life. We are badly out of balance. I don’t think of art / creativity as a substitute for anything else. I see it as a powerful expression of our humanity – and on the side of humanity under threat. If we say art is a luxury, we might as well say that being human is a luxury.

– Jeanette Winterson

 

I eventually learned that creativity is not a luxury for me; it’s a necessity if I am to remain sane. Creativity is integral to my wellbeing, and art is one way that creativity can shatter the granite edifice that is my conditioned thinking.

I was unspeakably fortunate to be assisted in coming to this understanding by physicist David Bohm, who would share his insights with us at Brockwood Park and patiently answer our questions. This morning, opening a notebook I kept at the time – twenty years ago – and rather grandly titled “Creativity and Consciousness”, I found these quotes:

 

For creativity is a prime need of a human being and its denial brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom.

Whenever … creativity is impeded, the ultimate result is not simply the absence of creativity, but an actual positive presence of destructiveness…

– David Bohm (with F David Peat), Science, Order, and Creativity, 1987

 

The need for creative thinking in every corner of our collective consciousness has never been greater. I feel a tide surging within, a tide that has been out for many years as other concerns consumed my attention. It is washing up an imperative to speak again on these things, to share the perennial wisdom of my teachers and voice my own.

 

I believe the most important thing for humankind is its own creativity.

– Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

 

Discovery is the beginning of creativeness; and without creativeness, do what we may, there can be no peace or happiness for man.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

 
There’s more to creativity, and in particular creative thinking, than is allowed by its current association with corporate concerns – “How can we harness creativity to make more sales?” There’s more to creativity than learning how to pass the time with recreational dabbling. These are not an elitist statements. If taken as such, a deep understanding of the dynamic of genuine creativity is shown to be lacking. Creativity shapes lives and cultures.

Genuine creativity is elusive. It lives solely in the present moment with no regard for past or future. It is outside of time altogether. In this context it is identical to what the sages call Reality, the Divine, Presence, Source. To be absorbed by it is to “unite” again with that which we never left and yet can never know – the Unified Field of Creation. Our whole self.

 

We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art — we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.

– Anais Nin

 

Exactly. Creativity is no escape. Engagement with genuine creativity spurns the urge to retreat or escape from life. Rather, life is brought full-focus into the feeling realm and away from the head. For me a prerequisite to the engagement is that I take all the versions of myself – shattered or stuck or simply curious – to the altar of my worktable. I bring them to the space of unknowing and watch in awe as they disappear entirely.

The artist self? Nowhere to be found.

For me it’s essential to be artist in absentia if work that’s free from preconceived ideas and unsullied by the subtle yet persistent longing that my work be accepted / admired  / valuable / important. In other words: if genuine creativity is to be allowed space.

 

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done. Therefore I must always do what I do not know how to do.

– Eduardo Chillida

 

The alchemy of this immersion in unknowingness – the blessing of creativity – is paradoxical: while disappearing the solid-state, separate “me”, it simultaneously fosters “me-ness” in the sense of rock solid authenticity. It shapes the unique no-thing that we are; it gives it whatever voice is true and appropriate as we navigate the world of appearances – the “outside”. In the process, it makes us feel more keenly alive, alert, aware. It brings the wondrous feeling that all is well with the world (after all) and a sense of order, rightness, blessedness prevails.

 

There is a curiously sharp sense of joy or mild ecstasy that comes when you find the particular form required for your creation: … the experience of  “This is the way things are meant to be.”

– Rollo May

 

Further. We eventually realise, if we look deeply enough, that the “outside” is not outside at all. Wherever we go / look / feel – there we are, fully displayed as a reflection of our consciousness. It’s so vital to “get” this, because here is precisely where the voice that sings through our “hollow bamboo”* has the power to change the world, i.e., consciousness. Not by our self-determined efforts – no matter how sincere – but by allowing a force incomprehensibly vaster than our minds can conceive to express, via our utterly unique constellation of skills and wisdom, exactly what it needs to. For this moment. For now.

Let us not forget that Creation set this whole scenario – whatever it appears to be– in motion.

Let us not forget that its agenda is beyond our cognitive capacity.

Let us not forget that it operates beyond the laws of physics and knows no degree of difficulty.

Let us invite that power to play as we turn up in our studio feeling shattered, depressed, blocked and confused.

And let us not forget that it will only show up when we disappear.

 

***

 

The final paragraph in Science, Order, and Creativity:

The ultimate aim of this book has been to arouse an interest in the importance of Creativity. Whoever sees this importance will have the energy to begin to do something about fostering it, in ways that are appropriate to the special talents, abilities, and endowments of that person. All great changes have begun to manifest themselves in only a few people at first, but these were only the “seeds” as it were of something greater to come. We hope that this book will not only draw attention to all the questions that have been discussed in it, but will actually begin the liberation of creative energy in as many of its readers as possible.

Amen.

And the last word…

 

Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing.

Making your unknown known is the important thing.

– Georgia O’Keeffe

 


*Try this. This is one of the most beautiful meditations, the meditation of becoming a hollow bamboo. You need not do anything else. You simply become this, and all else happens. Suddenly you feel something is descending in your hollowness. You are like a womb and a new life is entering in you, a seed is falling. And a moment comes when the bamboo completely disappears.
– Osho


Painting by Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960


Other posts and pages on this theme:

when the artist disappears, creativity radiates

and when I do that, I feel whole

salmon-mind and stream-ing


Dogen on painted cakes and hunger. Again.

 
A recent online conversation with a friend brought up our observations of the way so many folk in the ‘spiritual field’ feel that it’s somehow wrong to have a passion to create, or be interested in, art. He commented, “They’ve internalized teachings that say that artistic expression is a lie, that it is too sensuous, too rajasic, too much of a distraction from “higher” things. I’m reminded of Plato wanting to expel poets and musicians from his Republic!”

The mainstream art world is a minefield for artists and artisans whose practice is fuelled by the impulse to express from the wonderment and awe that is their authentic experience. On the one hand we have the denial by its curators and critics of anything that whiffs of ‘the spiritual’ in contemporary art (see the daylighting has begun), and on the other we are rebuked by the high priests, teachers and purveyors of (so-called) “higher” things themselves! I have had first-hand experience of this on my journey – I was associated for a while with teachings that regarded all creative expression as potential ego-reinforcement. It was a liberation for me to abandon such a separative misconception and embrace the full monty of the creative life; to meet and work with new teachers who themselves were artists and who considered creative practice to be an essential aspect of awakening to the Real.

My friend finished by saying that many of these people have “suppressed creative, esthetic, blissful, sensitive, compassionate and divinely universal parts of themselves by rejecting the aesthetic aspect of life.”

It made me think back to this post – originally written and published in 2009 – and prompted me to put it up again. Lest we forget.


 

Zen saying: painted cakes do not satisfy hunger

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Wayne Thiebaud - Boston Cremes, 1962

 

Meaning: painted cakes aren’t the real thing, they only describe the real thing. Implying that for the serious seeker of Truth, creative work is a vanity, a distraction, a pointless pursuit.

It is true that the tendency to identify with one’s creative expressions can cause the ego to inflate, with all the suffering that comes by default. But identification with any human activity carries this danger.

The question:  What is the self that expresses in self-expression? is our lifeboat in these dangerous waters.

The monk Dogen saw the bigger picture.
He said:  Painted cakes do satisfy hunger.

Aside from painted cakes, there is no way to satisfy hunger.
Aside from the painted cakes we make,
artists and writers and educators and web builders
have no way to express their ideas and inspirations.

Aside from the process of making painted cakes
we have no insight into our creativity
and what fosters it or sabotages it.

Aside from the painted cakes we perceive,
what so-called Reality is there?

If Reality is REAL, it must be whole and undivided.  Our painted cakes are therefore nondual expressions of the truth – whether we know it or not, and whether we like it or not.  The ten thousand things are painted cakes awaiting the glance of an awakened wondering mind.  This vast and all-embracing perspective lifts our creative work into the realm of sacred practice, something many artisans – including this one – are very conscious of and deeply committed to.  Our works are ‘painted cakes’ and amazingly, they do satisfy hunger.


Gratitude to John Daido Loori, Sensei, for inspiration and teachings.


Painting by Wayne Thiebaud – Boston Cremes, 1962


If this topic interests you, do pop over to my other website theawakenedeye.com and have a look around. 


just DO!

 
I belong in the age group that witnessed the rise and the too-short shining of the star that was Eva Hesse.

She was w-a-y outside the box right from the start.

If Paul Cézanne was the “father of us all” according to Picasso, Hesse was the mother of us all. According to me.

The images I’ve chosen are lesser known examples of her work that particularly appeal to me; the quotes come from correspondence between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt.


 

I think art is a total thing. A total person giving a contribution.
It is an essence, a soul..
In my inner soul art and life are inseparable.

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse - collage

 

Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping …  Stop it and just DO!

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, Right After, 1969. Silver gouache and pencil on paper, 22-1⁄4 x 15 inches

 

Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.  Make your own, your own world.

If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety …

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, No Title, 1969. Gouache, watercolor, silver and bronze paint on paper, 21-3⁄4 x 17-1⁄4 inches

 

You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty.  Then you will be able to DO!

Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of, and see what happens, but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT.  And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be …

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Eva Hesse, No Title, 1967. Ink on graph paper, 10-7⁄8 x 8-1⁄2 inches

 

I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts.  But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing.  After you do something it is done and that’s that.  After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going.  I’m sure you know all that.  

You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself.

 


For more information about Hesse:
http://www.theartstory.org/artist-hesse-eva.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Hesse

And my sincere thanks to Marcie Begleiter for sending this link to a wonderful article about the correspondence between Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt:
Sol LeWitt’s Advice To Eva Hesse Is What Every Creative Person Needs To Hear
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eva-hesse-letters-sol-lewitt_562f79ede4b00aa54a4b18d8

Marcie Begleiter is the director of the documentary film Eva Hesse, which premiered in May this year at the Whitney Museum of American Art. You can read more about it here:
http://www.evahessedoc.com
and here:
http://hyperallergic.com/207327/finally-a-documentary-about-eva-hesses-life-and-work/


Images sourced from the public domain.


salmon-mind and stream-ing

 

Reflections on creativity, flow, and the not-always-gentle art of unlearning.

Ohara Koson: Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e

Invitations – via courses, retreats and workshops – to “learn how to be in creative flow” are as ubiquitous as those promising “breakthrough experiences of awakening”.  I’ve been around both ballparks long enough to have become very sceptical of these claims and promises.  Red herrings are strong swimmers and prolific breeders. Especially when their favourite tucker – yummy money – is flowing.

Can creativity be taught?  Can “awakening” ever be an experience?  These questions are intimately related but I’ll focus on the first one, since this blog is primarily about art and creativity.

My experience, both within my own practice and as a teacher of visual language, constantly confirms that genuine creativity can unfold only when there’s an abandonment of everything one has learned about it.

I am trying to check my habits of seeing,
to counter them for the sake of greater freshness.
I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.
– John Cage

It seems to me there are two types of “flow”, but only one is truly creative.  One occurs when I’ve slipped into an eddy of old patterns and processes – those that brought me pleasure and profit in the past.  I know where I’m going; it’s easy.  It might even make me feel satisfied that I’ve had a good day in the studio – for a while.  I call this type “phony-flow” for obvious reasons.

Then there’s the other kind of “flow”, the kind that’s hard to write about because you weren’t there when it was underway.  It involves encounters and experiences with the Unknown, and a kind of gracious movement that is closer to stream-ing. When you look at what was created during the movement – whatever your mode of expression might be – what you see astonishes you.  You know without a shadow of doubt that you didn’t do it.  And yet you recognize that this is your most authentic work.

I don’t really trust ideas, especially good ones.
Rather I put my trust in the materials that confront me,
because they put me in touch with the unknown.
It’s then that I begin to work…
when I don’t have the comfort of sureness and certainty.
– Robert Rauchenberg

Creativity, by definition, implies a leap from the known to the unknown.  It is not the same as innovation, which has its feet firmly planted in the familiar.  Nor is it the same as invention, which implies a desired outcome or end product.  It has no pedagogy or curriculum.  There are no maps of the territory.  The only strategy we can employ, if we are earnest enough, is that of finding out what sabotages its natural expression.*

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done.
Therefore I do what I do not know how to do.

– Eduardo Chillida

~

I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
– Pablo Picasso

So my personal reaction to courses claiming to cultivate skills to access creative flow isn’t an enthusiastic one. I’m just not interested in exploring notions others might have (no matter what their pedigree) of ways to free my inner artist.  If anything is called for on my via creativa it’s the exile of that artist-ego with its accumulation of ideas, certainties, and its insatiable need for recognition.

Using the metaphor of a stream, it’s easy to understand that “flow” only moves downstream.  And as everyone knows, the source is always upstream.  Floating along in the flow is fine; it’s recreational and maybe allows a brief escape from stress – witness the huge popularity of doodle-books and colouring-in books.  There’s a place for this, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves that we’re being genuinely creative.

Remember, a dead fish can float down a stream,
but it takes a live one to swim upstream.
– W.C. Fields

If you ache for the authenticity, the unknowable and artist-vaporising creativity of the Source, forget about flow.  Abandon the “how-to” red herrings.

Adopt salmon-mind.  Make your way upstream.  You know the way – it’s imprinted in your cells.

Leap those rapids. Outwit those hungry bears.

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful,
the more narrowly I limit my field of action
and the more I surround myself with obstacles.
– Richard Diebenkorn

How do we fuel our quest upstream? By dismissing irrelevancies (as Buckminster Fuller advised); by finding the questions that have no rational answers yet haunt us nevertheless. By spending a great deal of time in solitude and silence watching the mind’s desperate and insistent groping for certainty, affirmation, context. By the way of unlearning; by abandonment of our pet theories and preferences. Our courage in this quest will inevitably deliver us to the sweet dark pool of ultimate unknowing, and, worn out from the challenges to our sureties, we’ll drop our eggs.  We’ll sink.  The Source will reclaim its own.

Our eggs will hatch, some of them, and be swept downstream to spread the news: it is possible!  It is possible to return to the Source and leave the old life there.  It is possible to dissolve into the stream as it makes its way to the Ocean; to rest in and as its stream-ing, as its authentic expression, without any concern for or notion of, whether we’re “being creative” or not. (If that question is still arising… keep swimming upstream.)

Then we can speak of “flow” – because we’ve experienced that it’s exactly what we are. The one who thought they could (or couldn’t) find it, could tap it for artistic purposes, could promote it or become an expert and sell it – that one was the saboteur all along.

Until salmon-mind set it free.

I find my paintings by working on them…
…it is through the making of the paintings that I have many discoveries
which are different from ideas.

~

Painting is a long road.
The beauty to me is in the not knowing where one is going.

~

Perhaps we do not need to understand it all.
– Lawrence Carroll

 


* My series of e-books empty canvas – wondering mind was compiled with this mission in mind.


Image: Ohara Koson 1877 – 1945, Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e, 1910


From the bookshelf: Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson


Agnes Martin: I paint with my back to the world

Agnes Martin: I paint with my back to the world.
The last word.