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?


 

how was it for you?

 

I’ve been reading a great post from Maria Popova at brainpickings about the moment we recognise we are fated to become artists.

“How does one become an artist — not in a practical sense, not by some external measure, but by an invisible and intimate surrender to the creative impulse? It often happens in a single moment of recognition — a point of contact with some aspect of the miraculous in some aspect of the mundane, catalyzing an overwhelming sense of the unity of things and an uncontainable desire to emanate that sense outwardly; to share it, in some form, with others — whose otherness is suddenly dissipated by the very impulse.”

The article is about Patti Smith and her memory of this momentous recognition. It’s inspiring and wondrous. But it left me thinking, well, what was my big moment of recognition? How was it for me? Was it a single moment or did it unfold over time?

 

Wonderingmind Studio - Michael Leunig: Song

 

In my case, it was both. From tinyhood there was always an urge to be engaged in making for its own sake; I simply loved the way the world (and me as well) would melt into a timeless joy when I was ‘making things.’ In that innocent play I felt totally at home, totally ‘right’, fully fulfilled. (Years later I would realise that I’d always been driven by a mix of curiosity and wonderment – and that this mix had also driven the lifelong urge to understand that ineffable state.)

I was good at academic subjects, and at High School that meant focusing on language, math and science. But I was already seduced by the subjects deemed less worthy – by art and  craft and embroidery. I wanted to make, and to make art in particular, even though I didn’t really know what art was.

As a concession, I was allowed to take Art and Design as a ‘failing subject’ for my School Certificate (= O Levels) exams. What that meant was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t matter because the other four ‘real’ subjects, which I would do well in, would carry me through. Since we had no proper instruction in Art or Design at my academically focussed school, I was set up to fail – I didn’t even know how to read the exam questions. And so it came to pass.

I was knocked back on my failure to answer the questions correctly. And that was my ‘tingle’ moment – that was when I raised my 15 year-old finger to the high priests of the art world and said stuff you. I didn’t have a clue what art was, I was ignorant of art history and criticism, I was a peasant kid in a tiny city at the bottom of the earth. But I knew what stirred my juice. It was the wonder of colour and the magic of making.

Yet even with that early recognition, it took decades for my via creativa to deliver me to full commitment to visual language as my mode of expression: to ‘out’ me as an artist. On the way I tried my hand at some amazing alternatives. Yet like an insidious addiction, the makings continued. And the hunger to be fully engaged in ‘art without apology’ was insatiable.

Eventually that hunger was satiated. There was no delivery to fame, although mini-fame fluttered for a while. I simply made my way by making, and by helping others know the joy of expressing with their own authentic voice.

It’s a long way back to that “stuff you” moment, the moment when that adolescent intuited that she would spend her life busy at an activity that for most of her friends and family (and society at large) would be both incomprehensible and worthless. Yet here I am, now in my 70s, and I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, making things turned out to be my holy pathless path, my Guru, and my gratitude is inexpressible.

I’d love to hear your own reflections: how was it for you?

 


Image: Michael Leunig, Song. I chose this image because it expresses so well the sense of wonder, fulfilment and sweetness that accompanies the visit of the muse (the little bird?)
http://www.leunig.com.au


True art does not look like art.
– Lao Tzu


no artist is pleased
creativity and autonomy


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.]


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