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Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Vulnerable Love

 

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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

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For Valentine’s Day, some sage advice from C.S. Lewis on love and one of my favorite love songs, Two Angels from Peter Case.

Hoping you have a good day.

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Was looking through some images of work from around 2006 and 2007 and came across this painting, The Middle Way. It really jumped out at me so thought I’d share it along with a blogpost from back in 2009 about a Henry Miller essay. The painting and the essay seem to fit together well.

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    From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as a writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as man.

      – Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

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This is a fragment of an essay, Reflections on Writing, from a book of essays, The Wisdom of the Heart, by Henry Miller, the great and controversial author. When I was young his books such as Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn were still being characterized as “smut” and many libraries didn’t have them on their shelves for fear the morality police would swoop in and raise a fuss. Probably many only know the existence and influence of his books from their use in a memorable Seinfeld episode, the one with Bookman the library cop whose hard-boiled dialogue still makes me hoot.

For me, I wasn’t so much attracted to his books by the raciness of the stories but rather by his way of speaking through his words and expressing views that I found at once to be compatible with my own. He observed and said the things that I  wished I could say with a voice and power I wished I possessed. I can pick up one of his books and open to a page anywhere in the book and read and be fascinated without knowing the context of what I’m reading, just from the sheer strength of his writing’s voice.

I see a lot of things in this particular essay that translate as well for painting or any other form of creation. It opens:

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order to eventually become that path himself.

Substituting artist for writer, I was immediately pulled in. The path he refers to is the path I often refer to in my paintings, the path we all walk and struggle along on, trying to find the middle way between these upper and lower worlds.

It’s a good essay and one I recommend for anyone who creates in any form and struggles with the meaning of their work beyond its surface. For anyone seeking that path…

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“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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I have always felt a companionship of sorts with the words of the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). I find the themes in his poetry and writings often echoing in the feelings and sensations of my own life.

Perhaps the piece of writing with which I feel the most connected is a series of letters he wrote between 1902 and 1908 to a young Army officer who was conflicted about the choice between pursuing a career either a military officer or a poet. The officer, Franz Xaver Kappus, released them as a book, Letters to a Young Poet, in 1929, three years after Rilke’s death from leukemia at the age of fifty one.

There is so much tremendous advice and guidance in his words that apply to anyone seeking a creative life. I have been mentoring a young artist as part of a program with a local arts organization and I only wish I could pass on a tiny fraction of Rilke’s advice to this artist. I had a very enjoyable talk with him the other day and while I believe there was some good advice given, it certainly didn’t approach the depth and breadth of that given by Rilke.

Take the bit at the top of the page, speaking of how to deal with the artist’s journey and growth. He describes the solitary nature of this journey, one that creates changes that sometimes take the artist mentally beyond and away from those people around him. That is the natural course for the artistic journey. In order to grow, the artist must be willing to seek and travel to places internally to which they cannot fully take or even properly describe to those around them.

This inner journey can be both a testing and a blessing. Finding common ground in which to live in this world with those around the artist is an important step in coping with this inner journey.

I didn’t mention that to the person I was mentoring. Maybe next time.

The painting at the top is from 2004 and is titled, appropriately, Common Ground. I definitely see the wise words from Rilke in this painting.

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Kay WalkingStick- New Mexico Desert 2011

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Avoid methodology. If what you’re doing is about technique, that’s not art.

–Kay WalkingStick

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Very much agree with this quote from contemporary landscape painter Kay WalkingStick. Soon to be 84 years old, Kay WalkingStick is a member of the Cherokee Nation who was raised in Syracuse and was an art professor at nearby Cornell University for a number of years. She incorporates Native American symbols and patterns in her work, which are often executed in diptych forms.

Even though there has been a physical proximity. I don’t know a lot about her work. I would love to see it up close to examine the surfaces, to see how the pieces speak in person.

Her advice about not tying yourself solely to process is a most valuable lesson for all artists. I think you need to live in the fringes of technique, always ready to stray into territory of material use that is new to you as an artist. You need to feel a bit lost so that you react intuitively, using what little you do know in new ways.

That is where the magic sometimes happens, where art takes place.

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A Way to Work

I have been saddled with a chest cold for several days that is severely limiting my activities and making work feel like a real chore. In need of a little pick-me-up I came across this very early post from back in 2008 that is a good reminder of what I consider my work ethic. Reminds me that I need to dig a little deeper on days like this. See what you think:

997-341-labor-to-light-4001This is a piece called “Labor to Light”, a smaller piece that is at the West End Gallery in Corning. It features one of what I call my icons, the field rows running back to the horizon. To me, they represent the act of labor and the results derived from it.  The ability to work hard has been very important to me in this career and something I stress to kids whenever I get to talk to them.

I remember years ago reading an interview with author John Irving (of “The World According to Garp” and “The Cider House Rules” fame) where he talked about his work routine. He talks quite a bit about wrestling in his writing as he was a high school and college grappler and he used a wrestling analogy to describe how he approached his writing.

He said that if he aspired to compete and win at the highest level as a wrestler, which would be an Olympic or world  champion, he would have to train harder and longer than the men he would be competing against. If a wrestler in Bulgaria or anywhere else in the world was training 7 hours a day, he would need train at least that much and maybe more. He knew he would be basically competing against every wrestler in the world.

He then turned this mindset to writing.

His writing became a competitive effort of Olympic proportion, where he saw himself as competing with every other writer in the world for each reader that came into a bookstore. If you were buying someone else’s book, you weren’t buying his and in his mind, he had lost. So he began to train himself as a writer with the same effort as though he were an Olympic athlete, writing 7-8 hours per day, forcing himself to forge ahead even on days when it would be easy to just blow it off and do anything else.

When I read this it struck a chord. I realized that in order to reach my highest level I would have to be willing to devote myself to working harder and longer than other artists and be willing to spend more time alone, away from distraction. It would require sacrifice and hard, focused labor. But Irving’s example gave me a path to follow, a starting point.

I have since realized that there is a multitude of talented people out there, many with abilities and knowledge far beyond mine. But art is often more than sheer ability. It is the communication of an idea, a feeling, to others. And to do this successfully with your art you need to push that ability fully, in order to go beyond what your mind sees as an endpoint. I see this as my goal everyday in the studio. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I come up short but I’m out there competing everyday.

Thanks, John Irving

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I was going through the blog from a few years back and came across this post, one that had slipped my mind. Reading it again was what I needed this morning. Sometimes you need a reminder to just sit down and be quiet. Thought it might be a good replay for these hectic days..
GC Myers- Trio:Three Squares
I came across this poem from author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings. It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being. I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence. I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation. Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice. It’s fairly short, so take a moment, sit down, be quiet, and give a listen.

HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

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A blog post that ran here a couple of years back with some advice from poet e e cummings is consistently one of my most popular, always getting a number of hits. For example, there was quite a pop in its numbers yesterday. I don’t know what brought it on but it made me want to revisit the post. Reading it again made me appreciate even more the words. Even though it was aimed at potential poets it rang equally true for me as a painter, especially when I substituted the word painter for poet, paint for words, and painting for poetry.

I thought I’d replay it today doing just that. Where there is a word like [thiswith brackets, I have substituted an equivalent word. And if you’re not a painter, feel free to use any word that describes what it is you do to express yourself.

I think you might find it inspiring.

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Whenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are. I normally add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice. It is a never-ending struggle.

The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. That line alone speaks volumes.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice and see what you think– or feel.

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A [Painter’s] Advice To Students

Borrowed from (e e cummings)

A [painter] is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through [paint].

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And [painting] is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in [paint], that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a [painter] can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using [paint] like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not [painters].

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve [painted one part of one real painting], you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become [painters] is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

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