what are you afraid of?

 

Hallie Bateman: What are you afraid of?Hallie Bateman: What are you afraid of?

 


Hallie Bateman’s website and blog


I love the way a deeply insightful illustrator, such as the astonishing Hallie Bateman, can employ such economy of line and shape to communicate profound wisdom. In this context a picture is certainly worth a thousand words.

What is the relationship between fear and creativity? Would you say they are mutually exclusive? Where does that leave the one who thinks they are afraid, or who imagines they are creative?


when the artist disappears, creativity radiates


wider wonderment; deepening devotion

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Dana

 

It’s the first day of a new year. I have been a very infrequent blogger on this site over the past year, but the pot has never been off the simmer. This post has been crafted over months – months during which my studio practice has been slowly resurrecting itself after a long hiatus and finding its voice from a place so mysterious that there has been no hurried urge to share, to make explicit, its deep inward movement.

In hindsight, I recognise that this mysterious movement has always been the prime motivator of my art practice. My inquiry has always occurred within the simple activity of making things, and the things I make are the inevitable outcome of the unique mix of my abilities, experience, and the questions raised by my circumstances in time and place.

I’ve never been interested in creating replicas of objects – human or non-human, or visual narratives about social and political issues, or in making explicit aspects of my own pathology. The ‘visionary’ output of my imagination never held any attraction. So what was it that compelled me to turn up in the studio year after year – regardless of whether there was an exhibition looming or not, or any commissions to complete?

It was, and remains, a mysterious attraction to something that occurs when I’m playing in a certain way with my materials without any intention to produce any kind of ‘art’ object.

“A certain way”?  This is hard to describe; it’s immaterial what technical processes I’m using, or what version of visual language I’m ‘speaking’. What is crucial is an attitude of innocent curiosity and a willingness to encounter – and be comfortable with – the unknown. And I can’t help but notice that to the extent that I’m absent (as artist, designer, controller, critic) creativity flows. My amazement at what shows up is as acute today as it was at the beginning of my via creativa.

Looking back over more than five decades of making things, I can see that I have always been preoccupied with icon making. Whether conscious of it or not, I’ve been making secular icons, altarpieces; expressions of wonder, expressions that in their eclectic and deceptive simplicity might have the power to affect consciousness – to close the gap between the observer and the object observed, even if only for a moment’s restful ahhhh … a little benediction of peace.

Although there were many occasions when I was informed that my makings had this effect, I had little scholastic reference to back up the concept until a book called Tantra Song landed in my lap, and I learned that for hundreds if not thousands of years, artists in Rajasthan, India, have – usually in anonymity and seclusion – created images specifically for the purpose of the transformation of consciousness. I learned the significance, in this context, of my own habitual use of certain symbols and colors – components of my work that had been turning up forever, without my conscious understanding of what they stood for in the lexicon of Yoga Art. My hair stood on end.

A second mind-shifter crept up on me soon after. For the better part of a decade I have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy (aka love) creating a cyber platform for artists and artisans who speak about their practice in terms of engagement or intimacy with the unknown: theawakenedeye.com  Over the years I have had the privilege of reading and sharing the heart-felt authentic expressions of many makers across a wide range of work – all sharing the sense that their practice is an expression of wonderment at, and devotion to, something much larger than themselves. Something that moves through them when they are empty enough, quiet enough, humble enough.

Recently I came upon an artist writing very explicitly and beautifully about her practice as “devotion to the unknown”, and I felt the earth move. There was an upswelling of a mountainous YES. It was like the ‘hundredth monkey effect’ – there was such a powerful shift. Her directness moved me to totally cease censoring my own real-time artist statements to make them conform to the currently correct version of artspeak.

(Many years ago, a Melbourne curator had advised me not to speak of ‘flakey spiritual stuff’ when dealing with galleries or arts councils. For decades, I’d felt split in two – my identity as a maker whose practice is wholly concerned with the unknowable source of creation was intact in the studio and online, but in real time I felt forced to dissemble.)

So here’s the truth: the crux of my work is devotion. Whatever happens in the studio is an act of devotion to the innate Unknowable. How could I not be in awe of the mystery that pours through these hands, this mind, when given unconditional permission, when not impeded by my own small visions and versions of what real art should look like?

It’s an act of awe and devotion, yes. But as the same artist pointed out – that’s not the whole story.

Devotion to the Unknowable doesn’t mean one stops questioning the great mysteries of existence. Actually, it generates and fosters this inquiry; such was the intention behind instruction in the Mystery Schools. We discover that the Unknown/Unknowable isn’t some kind of remote and sacrosanct object. It’s inescapably and seamlessly interwoven into our every perception, thought and experience. Just don’t try to define, systematize or organise it – it simply can’t be conceptualized.

But it can be expressed. And to my mind, this is the power and purpose of any creative expression, whether visual or poetic, performed or musical: its capacity to evoke that Unknown, to render it visible in its shimmering, evanescent, momentary wholeness.

Wholeness. There’s something that happens in the creative encounter that’s familiar to artists of all kinds. It’s a melting of the division between our seemingly solid separate self and the wild suchness of the world; a dissolving that brings an experience of utter wonder, of timelessness, of knowing that this is the way the world simply IS in its naked perfection.

I never know what will happen when I walk into my studio. I may have a list of tasks to attend to, but when it comes to the empty canvas I’m brain-dead. I’m on my knees without a prayer – empty and ready. I’ve spent decades maybe, pondering questions that can’t be answered with words; they are folded up in my heart. It may be today that the Unknown makes an appearance in form. If not today, well, I’ll be back tomorrow just in case She shows up, and is in the mood to make.


Image – Wonderbox series, Dana, Miriam Louisa Simons


Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, by Franck André Jamme


the high purpose of purposeless play

 

The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all.
– John Cage

My mind has returned, these past months, to the delights of playing without purpose in (and out of) the studio – especially embracing aspects of chance in my work.  Early in my career as an artisan I played with processes that were very fickle – applying wax, winding, clamping, dipping fiber in dyes, bleaching, discharging and manipulating textile surfaces. These processes were instrumental in showing me the hidden gift in the “goof-up”. Eventually, as I relaxed with the unexpected ways that the process would defy my expectations and spur my curiosity, I came to regard the unexpected as pure magic. Those “failures” would always open a door onto what might be possible if I surrendered my expectations and pushed the process a little further…

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons: EarthWorks Series, detail

earthWorks series India.
Khadi papers, textile fragments, coconut twine,
thorns, pigments from walls, mud

 
In India I folded Khadi paper and buried it in mud for days.  When I unearthed the folded wads of paper I was enchanted to find that there were lines and tones etched into the surface by the action of the earth and water – and sometimes a worm had left evidence of its journey or a hearty meal.  In the work above, this was just the beginning of my journey – there would be rubbing, collage and stitching added before the work reached its resolution.

It’s the unexpected and uninvited occurrences in the studio that excite me the most. I’m not at all temperamentally suited to production-by-design. What’s more, I’m far enough along the via creativa now to have learned that genuine creativity has little to do with the known. Or with innovation of old ideas. Or with work repeated ad infinitum because it was acclaimed and commercially successful in the past. I’ve come to be convinced that creativity and play are a “goes-with”, as Alan Watts would say. Play is the heart of the matter, and it’s time we made fun of it, as children do. I love Laurence G Boldt’s description of playfulness as a “kind of rascal”:

Playfulness is the dew-fresh, childlike spirit of wonder.
A roving, wandering, wondering, “what if” kind of a rascal.
Unconventional, lightning flash, sailing through the cracks…

 
If play doesn’t come easy for us we can easily sidestep the “get-serious” inner critic by resorting to chance. We can surrender every decision to the roll of a dice, the selection of a random card, or the way the sticks fall using the I Ching. We can invent our own aleatory devices, and be genuine in our commitment to obey them – just for now, just while we’re playing. (There’s no need for anxiety, the critic will still be there when we stop our game!)

It seems to me that the creative life is actually one big game of chance – whether one’s an artist in the studio or a gardener in the backyard, or a family-absorbed young mother. Chance rolls a situation under our feet; we meet it with open curiosity. We make a gesture, which chance plays with before serving us another … chance.  There have been a few renegade artists who have made the use of chance a formal aspect of their work – in music composition and performance, in writing, and in visual art; I am particularly inspired by the work of John Cage. Influenced by his studies of Buddhism, Indian philosophy, and the I-Ching in the 1940s and 1950s, Cage incorporated “chance-controlled” elements into his ground-breaking work in all media, including watercolors, prints, drawings, and scores.

The function of art is not to communicate one’s personal ideas or feelings,
but rather to imitate nature in her manner of operation.

– John Cage

 
For Cage, nature’s “manner of operation” was purposeless play. Although he embraced randomness with the use of chance operations, he insisted that this “helped him make choices”, as the crucial ingredient in the process was finding the “right questions” in the first place. In the context of painting, for example, “What colour palette?” “What tools?” “What options for layout?” The painting below is the result of random composition dictated entirely by chance; the outcome is serenely contemplative.

 

John Cage: HV2, No 17b

John Cage, HV2, No 17b

 
Maybe I am such a play-enthusiast because there was little allowance for it in my childhood years, when creativity was constrained by the need for productivity and usefulness – in other words, purposefulness. But there’s another reason: it was the best strategy I ever came upon as a teacher of art and design. Whether my students were working towards formal exams, or taking art subjects for the love of it, they all responded to the encouragement to play – and indeed, one of the enduring effects of playing with chance (they reported) was that they learned to find the right questions. And that’s a great life-skill, wouldn’t you agree?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 


making fun of play is one of the ebooks in my empty canvas – wondering mind series
(free download)


http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2010/jul/10/john-cage-composer-drawings-exhibition


and when I do that, I feel whole

 

An anonymous someone once commented that “a physicist is the atom’s way of thinking about atoms”.*

Well then, an artisan could be said to be Creation’s way of thinking about creativity.

I like that, and this post dances around that notion.

Sheep farming, Central Otago, New Zealand

 

My mother’s family farmed sheep. The station was remote in her day – a hundred dusty, gravelly miles to anything approaching civilisation. It was a high country sheep run in the South Island’s Central Otago province, and was – by New Zealand standards, huge. Over 100,000 acres. It was where I spent my childhood summers, and where I gleaned a little knowledge of sheep farming from my uncles and cousins – tending, lambing, shearing. Given that background I guess it was inevitable that my first experiments with ‘making things’ would involve wool.

 

Fingerknitting

 

Fingerknitting came first. Imagine the magic of watching a woollen chain manifest from one’s own tiny hands – and the surge of ideas about what it, in turn, could be turned into! Next I remember learning a simple way of knitting a long tube using an old wooden thread spool. It had little nails hammered around the central hole, and by winding the wool around the nails then popping the previous row of ‘stitches’ over the new round, a long tail would eventually make its way out the other end of the spool.

It wasn’t long before I learned the knack of needle management and began knitting garments. The first ones were for my doll. That’s when I learned about shaping and sizing – she was my in-house model. Soon sweaters were on the production-line. For my teenage sweethearts at first. And myself of course. I adored being able to make a garment that was exclusively my own, one that would be seen on no one else in New Zealand – or on Planet Earth. No one! It was, in retrospect, the beginning of my enterprise as a maker of wearable art.

I loved knitting. You have to love it to end up with a whole garment, because it takes a l-o-n-g time. Every stitch is a little action in its own right, and there are uncountable numbers of stitches in a sweater. Why did I find it so appealing? At the time, in my early teens, I would have said: It shuts me up and makes me feel good.

Now I’d have more to say, like: It calms me. It slows down my manic mind. It brings me to a stillness where my hands know exactly what to do without any help, where I seem to disappear altogether into a quiet spaciousness where wool and wooden sticks and fingers are dancing together as one. It makes me marvel to see the fabric coming into form – it’s addictive, especially if a pattern is being used: just another row, just to see how it’ll look…

 

Fair Isle jumper - detail

 
The hands that mastered circular needles, traditional Fair Isle patterns and gorgeous multi-hued designs produced with my own hand-dyed yarns (see example above) went on to explore other fibercrafts. Silk painting, dye craft, off-loom weaving, paper crafts – there are a few examples here. Then they went on to incorporate these in mixed media works, together with painting.

In retrospect I notice that I’ve always been attracted to acts of making that require a rather extreme degree of patience, and in return offer an almost reverential relationship with the materials at hand. (Let’s face it, you’d have to be seriously addicted to slow art to make a practice of painting the exhalation of your breath.) Renate Hiller calls it “the practice of empathy.” Her hands might be a decade older than mine, but her take on the profound importance of human handwork is identical to my own.

Renate Hiller - hand and spinning stone

I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles ’cause I’m 81 years old. But it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand was shaped by when it was a fin in the mother seas, where life was born. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the first — what Thomas Berry calls ‘the primal flaring forth,’ the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story.

The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know, we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and also from what other human beings are doing – the whole social element comes into play as well, because if I make something then I think ‘Hmmm, how was that yarn made?’

So there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better – and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core, because it’s a meditative process.

You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today. Because we’re so egocentric and this makes us think of what is needed by something else. So we are in a way practicing empathy — empathy with the material, empathy with the design.

I think that this practice of empathy that we do in the fibercrafts is paramount for bringing healing to our world, and it’s a service for the Divine – that we are surrounded by.

– Renate Hiller


Renate Hiller is the co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, NY.


* Quoted in A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson


Photo credits: NZ high country sheep | finger knitting | knitting detail by yours truly | Hiller’s hand and spinning stone


alchemy meets maker’s mind : a retrospective glance

 
At the close of my three-month daily details project last year I wrote a post titled  curiosity and wonderment.

It reminded me of a little piece I’d penned by that name – years ago – to accompany a slide presentation and discussion of my work to students.  (Yes, it was that long ago – slides, not powerpoint!)

Putting it on a page, with a few illustrations, seems like a good way to fatten out my artist’s statement. Here’s an excerpt.


Curiosity.  Wonderment.  Amazing that one’s via creativa could be summed up in just two words.

Plato said that philosophy begins with wonder, so perhaps that makes me some kind of philosopher – but I’m not sure what kind.  Certainly not the academic kind; I have always found it tedious to have to remember and regurgitate the ideas of others when there is a whole universe of places to find ideas of my very own – both in the wonder-full world of nature and the curious recesses of my own brain.  And especially in the way these two inter-act when I am freely and playfully making things.  Perhaps that means I’m some kind of a practical philosopher, but still I’m not sure.  Must we be categorized and pigeon-holed under labels such as philosophers, or, for that matter, artists?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As a small child I never demonstrated any artistic interest in reproducing objects, people or landscapes in any medium.  But I was endlessly fascinated with, and always busy, creating things – all sorts of things. Especially things that involved some kind of alchemy.  Things that altered the everyday, that changed my usual way of seeing the world in some way.  I’m recalling the shoe-boxes I’d fill with little treasures and cover with colored cellophane then peek into through little viewing holes under different kinds of light.  Or things that were made by transforming simple materials – like turning lengths of yarn into forms by crocheting or knitting or knotting.  Or things that changed color when I put them into buckets of dye, or left them buried in Dad’s compost heap, or under spawning mushrooms in the bush.

 Miriam Louisa Simons: earthWorks series

detail – earthWorks series
folded, buried, distressed khadi paper, found objects

I began my professional life as a classroom teacher.  It was a perfect fit for my personality and my love of teaching has never waned.  But I soon discovered that being contained within educational institutions was hazardous to my creative life.

I branched out on my own, set up my own designer label producing art-to-wear.  It was a perfect outlet for my creative passion at the time – completely self-taught, I manufactured every stage of each garment myself from concept to completion.  Pattern design and sewing, textile surface design, modeling, marketing and sales all fell under my one-woman banner. […]
 

Continue reading here:
curiosity and wonderment [the page]


the creative imperative

 
As a postscript to last week’s post – in the hands of alchemy – I’d like to share this video.

It’s called the creative imperative. Poet David Whyte and artist Jerry Wennstrom cover some wonderful territory, including

the discipline of innocence

keeping wonder alive in your heart

reverent attention to possibility

and

claiming your own happiness

 

 

You must learn one thing.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made
to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which
you belong.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which
you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness
and the sweet confinement
of your aloneness
to learn that anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

David Whyte


[Transcribed directly from the video – apologies for any errors in line arrangement.]


in the hands of alchemy

 
Sometimes finding the truth of one’s work – and one’s life – costs everything. How much of our belief structure, our convictions and habitual behavior are we prepared to relinquish in order to allow space for the utterly authentic to express through our voices and hands?

In 1979, at age 29, Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all the art he had created, gave everything he owned away, and set out to discover the rock-bottom truth of his life. He sensed an inner and outer world in perfect order and became a willing participant in that order – he leaped into the void, the ultimate creative act. He began a life of unconditional trust, allowing life to provide all that was needed. He lived this way for 15 years.

Wennstrom’s wish was to open to the energy of life itself. In releasing the structure of daily habits and routines, he learned to trust and appreciate the significance of each moment. This entailed relying on intuition, listening keenly to the deeper nature of feelings, and wisely observing the ways in which our inner world reflects the outer, and vice versa.

In 1998 he moved to Washington State, where he eventually married Marilyn Strong and produced a large new body of art.  Marilyn and Jerry’s charming Whidbey Island home is now filled with his unique interactive sculptures and paintings.  Jerry also built a 40-foot meditation tower on his property, which is featured, along with his story, in a book by Laura Chester called Holy Personal.

 

Jerry Wennstrom - The Confessional

Confessional
Interactive sculpture – 8ft in height

 

During a trip to Italy I was moved by a few ancient, worm-eaten Confessionals I saw in several of the older cathedrals in Assisi. The oldest ones were small and simple and appeared not to be in use any longer. They were often placed off to the sides of the smaller chapels or in out of the way places. These old confessionals were so well-used over the years that the places where knees touched wood were worn in shape of two half moons. There were places on the hand rest where finger nails dug deep into the wood. The inspiration for this art piece was the power and energy of guilt, angst and forgiveness that these confessionals embodied.

I call the piece Confessional and it is made out of an 8′ X 26″ hollow, cedar log that I drug up from the ravine below our house. The outer, female figure is a double door that opens down the middle and around the face to reveal the life-size, fully carved saint inside. Turning the Danger High Voltage switch that is situated under the lower mask turns the saint into a devil — his halo disappears, little red horns appear out of the figure’s head, a forked tongue comes out of his mouth, a tail wags from behind and his hands offer an apple.

– Jerry Wennstrom

 

Jerry Wennstrom - Confessional interior showing saint
Confessional interior showing ‘saint’.
See more details of this work on the blog (see link below)

 

Jerry’s story is told in his book, The Inspired Heart: An Artist’s Journey of Transformation (foreword by Thomas Moore) published by Sentient Publications and in the Parabola Magazine documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry WennstromThere is also a Sentient Publications DVD with the same name, which includes a short new film called Studio Dialogue.  Studio Dialogue is a presentation Jerry did before a live audience with music by Susan McKeown, sung by Marilyn Strong.  Jerry travels internationally lecturing, teaching and presenting his film and work and he writes a monthly piece on the spirit of the times for a New York City consulting firm.

Most of the above information is sourced from  Jerry’s website. The images and his comments about Confessional are sourced from his blog.
 
Jerry Wennstrom's blog - In the Hands of Alchemy

Click on the screenshot to visit Jerry and Marilyn’s blog.

Jerry Wennstrom is also featured on my website ‘the awakened eye’: the way of trust and transformation


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.


john macormac art

 
Irish artist John Macormac came into my view via interaction with this blog. I was delighted to meet another artisan who shares some of my idiosyncrasies – there’s a magpie here too, gathering bits of information and stuff, never disposing of anything, and always amazed that she has the ‘perfect’ bit of (whatever) for the unfolding of a making. The way he works in layers – scraping and over-painting, cutting up and creating anew – is right up my alley. Hmmmm. Might have to drop in to Belfast some time soon!
 


 
My work deals with an overload of information. I am like a magpie drawn to intricate detail, collecting and manipulating pieces of visual culture. I combine collage, oil paint, acrylics, emulsion, ink, spray paint, conte crayon, chalk, felt tips, pencil and anything else I can find. Found photographs and fragments of text can be included because of a personal sense of meaning, or purely as passages of visual ‘noise.’
 
John Macormac - Shoreline

John Macormac – Shoreline

I wanted this work to echo the feel of a beach in winter.
I employed a muted, faded colour palette.
Scrim was glued to the surface and resembles fishing nets.
The piece is an irregular shape, this also recalls pieces of flotsam and jetsam
worn with time and tides.

My work does not start with a finished image in mind. Rather it carries a sense of practical progression; each new area suggests the context and space for the next aspect of the piece. I often work on several at a time. The work is in a constant state of evolution and reinvention. Layers are added and scraped back. Each finished piece displays evidence of this process of revision, editing and adding new elements until it feels right to stop. Sometimes pieces become overworked. I often recycle them by cutting them up and using parts that ‘work’ to create new images.

– John Macormac
 
John Macormac Art

Click on the screenshot to see more of John’s work.


Edited to include Shoreline – a piece that particularly speaks to me.