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GC Myers- Canyon of Doubts



Creativity requires introspection, self-examination, and a willingness to take risks. Because of this, artists are perhaps more susceptible to self-doubt and despair than those who do not court the creative muses.

Eric Maisel



This painting below sits on a shelf directly in front of my desk. I was looking at it early this morning and wondered if I had put anything about it here on the blog. I came across the entry below from about four years ago which really spoke to the doubts I endure every year at this time as I begin to gear up for my annual shows.

This year is no different. Maybe even more pronounced, given the stress from the events of this past year. But I take some comfort in knowing that I have navigated through these canyons before and that takes off the edge. The doubts are still there but can’t box me in.

There is always a way through. 

Here’s what I put down about this four years back:

This new painting, 8″ by 10″ on panel, is called Canyon of Doubts. For me, it represents the navigation that takes place in the creative process as the artist tries to get past the formidable obstacles of self doubt. Doubt often throws up barriers that has the artist asking if they are good enough, if they have the talent, training, and drive to create true art that speaks for them to the world. Doubt makes them fear that they are out of place, that they don’t belong, that every other artist has more right to create than them.

Doubt keeps the artist seemingly boxed in with no apparent way forward.



Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

Kahlil Gibran



I’ve been trapped in that canyon many times. I’ve thought many times that there was no way out, that the fears posed by my doubts were the realities of who and what I was.

I have always felt alone with my doubts. Words of encouragement from others often felt hollow when I was lost in those canyons. They didn’t know how steep the walls of doubts seemed to me or how inadequate, how ill-prepared I felt in that moment.

The only option that seemed available to me was to trust that I could somehow fight my way out of those daunting canyons. It would mean mustering every bit of talent, every ounce of energy, and a sustained belief that I deserved to have my voice rise from out of  those canyons. It was matter of  either having the faith in my own value as human to find my way free or withering away in a canyon of doubts.



Your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism.

Rainer Maria Rilke



I still find myself in those canyons. I still find myself periodically looking up at the walls that surround me and wonder if I am talented enough, strong enough, or even entitled to escape them.

But I now know that there is a path through them, one that is well worn with my own footprints from my past journeys in that shadowed place. I know that, even though it is lonely and seemingly unbearable in that moment, I don’t have to be trapped in that place of doubt.

I’ve traveled this path and there is indeed a way out.

It takes time and effort and devotion. It takes the belief in yourself, forged from past experience, that you will make the right decisions and not be trapped in those walls. It’s in having the faith that when take a wrong turn, when you make a mistake, that you will recognize it and get quickly back to the path that sets you free.

At the moment, I may well be in that canyon still but I have the moon guiding me and its light shows me where the canyon ends.

And then I will be free once more.



Have a good day.

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“One never reaches home,’ she said. ‘But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.”

-Hermann Hesse, Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth



The painting at the top, Home in Sight, is a new small piece that is headed to the West End Gallery for their annual Little Gems show which opens in February. The words above are from a Hermann Hesse book that holds a special place in my heart, a book that served a very important purpose for me when I was struggling at my lowest point. 

It helped me find my way home. 

Often, when I employ the concept of home in my work, that book comes to mind. And I am always so grateful then for what it did for me then. And now because without it there may well not have been a now.

And that’s sort of what I see in this little gem.

Let’s leave it at that today.

Have a good day wherever your home may be.

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Bloom


 

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

T.H. White, The Once and Future King



I came across the video below first thing this morning, just before 6 AM. It’s titled Bloom and is written and directed by Emily Johnstone and Brian Kistler and animated by the students from San Jose State Animation Illustration. It’s a simple but lovely vignette that illustrates the effect that one person making one small effort to reach out to another can have on the life of the recipient of that effort.

The current time of the year coupled with the isolation of the pandemic and the uncertainty throughout this nation fostered by the unsteady handling from the current people in power make it a ripe time for those suffer from the darkness of depression. I thought about how terrible a time it is for those folks who haven’t developed methods and mechanisms for dealing with it. This, in turn, made me think about my own struggles through the years and how fortunate I have been to have survived long enough to develop my own personal system for dealing with it.

I don’t even know if I have openly mentioned them here. Such is the stigma of depression. We openly discuss the most intimate details of our lives but depression remains a difficult subject to broach because we still see it as a sign of weakness or a character flaw rather than an affliction. 

If you’re a regular reader you probably have deduced by now that I have had bouts of depression without me ever coming out and stating it plainly. I really wasn’t planning on talking about it this morning and don’t really want to go too far without a little more consideration on my part. But I will say that the simple message in this short animation is essential to dealing with depression. The thought that one person is concerned about your well being is often enough to get through a dark period. And the care and dedication required to foster a living thing such as a plant or a pet often gives us the validation that one is needed.

I know for myself, this blog is one of my primary mechanisms for dealing with my own darkness. It provides structure and a sense of dedicated obligation. Having that task in front of me every morning helps greatly and makes me seek things to discuss which goes to the blurb at the top from The Once and Future King, a favorite book from my youth from T.H. White, which speaks to the effect of learning something new on one’s sadness. It’s a beautiful paragraph.

Learning alters the path that the mind is traveling and for the depressed person sometimes that is enough to elevate their state, even if its only a small bit. And sometimes that small lift takes them to a point where they can see new horizons that remained hidden to them before.

The other obvious benefit of this blog for me is the human contact and feedback it provides. Just knowing there are people out there, even if only a small handful, that might read this and respond once in a great while is enough to fulfill the void.

Enough to reach across the darkness.

I really don’t want to go any further into the subject this morning. As I said, I had no intention in doing so this morning. But seeing this short film and knowing how many folks are struggling right now, feeling the hopelessness and isolation that comes with depression, I thought it was important to at least speak briefly to it.

I am often hesitant in speaking too much about it because there are no one-size-fits-all fixes here. One of the aspects of depression that make it so insidious is that each person’s experience is personally formed that it is sometimes difficult to find the mechanisms and methods that will get that person through their dark patches.

I can only speak to m own experience. For me, it is in having set routines, such as this blog or caring for my beloved studio cat, Hobie. In having methods of making contact that allow me to feel that my voice and concerns are being heard. In setting goals that force me to work and not fall into the idleness that often brings the darkness.

I could go on and maybe I will at some point. But for today, try to look outside yourself and recognize the indications of depression in others. Something as small as a quick note or text or call might be the difference that changes another person’s whole outlook for the day.

And that one day might make a crucial difference in their life.

So, have a good day. Learn something new. But mainly, reach out and try to bring a little bloom into someone else’s day. 

(The video is below. There’s a little gap so make sure to scroll just a little lower if you don’t see it immediately. I have to learn how to better embed videos. Ah, learning!)



https://player.vimeo.com/api/player.js

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“The Walking Man I” — Alberto Giacometti



Artistically I am still a child with a whole life ahead of me to discover and create. I want something, but I won’t know what it is until I succeed in doing it.

–Alberto Giacometti



The short statement above from the late artist Alberto Giacometti perfectly captures a feeling that has been with me for a long time now.

Now well into middle age, I have been a professional painter now for over twenty five years and have did okay with my career in art. I do what I want basically, earn a decent living, get some recognition here and there and have established my own little niche with my work.

It’s a decent place to be at this point in my career and a lot of young artists would love to be in my position.

But most days, even when I feel the tiredness from the wear and tear of the years weighing on me physically, I still feel new to this whole art thing, like I have just scratched the surface with my work. As Giacometti points out, I feel like there is a whole life, an endless horizon, ahead of me that is filled with all sorts of new possibilities.

New forms, new expressions, new inspirations, new voices and more– all yet unseen and unknown. Just something.

And again like Giacometti, I feel a huge gnawing desire to find that something but don’t have a clue as to what it might yet be.

That was the same feeling that I had when I was first experimenting with painting years ago. I had a hazy vision in the recesses of my mind that I wanted to pull out but didn’t truly know what it was or what it might look like until it had emerged. When it did finally come out, I instantly recognized it for what it was and what it could mean for me. I ran with the inspiration from it for many years.

But at some point during these years, I began to sense that another vision of the same sort resides somewhere down there in my mind, one that had yet to be found. One that I won’t know until it comes out.

So, though I am a sometimes tired middle-aged guy, I know that I am still a child artistically, one who still sees the whole wide world and all its potential before him.

I work and wait in anticipation that this child’s voice will someday be heard.

 

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Well We All Shine On

“Fire and Ice”- Now at the West End Gallery



Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah we all shine on
On and on and on on and on

— John Lennon, Instant Karma



This morning, I wanted to hear the song Instant Karma because it was stuck in my head as I walked through the woods to the studio at 5:30 AM. I have a song, or at least the chorus of that song, running through my head most mornings as I make this short journey and this morning it was Instant Karma. I went in and turned it on and was a minute into the song before I realized that today, December 8, marked 40 years since John Lennon was murdered in NYC in 1980.

Quite a coincidence. Maybe something in my mind, hidden from its conscious part, remembered that date and wanted to remind me. I don’t know.

But it’s been forty years and it seems like yesterday. Lennon was 40 years old at the time which means he has been dead as long as he lived. I don’t know why I brought that up. After all, we all eventually are dead for much longer than we ever lived. But for some reason I can’t explain, it seems pertinent in the moment.

A couple of Lennon’s post-Beatle songs like this, Power to the People, and Give Peace a Chance (all  are below) are personal markers from my youth, remembered always in the tones of being heard through a transistor radio or on the tinny speaker in our old Chevy. They helped form much of the outlook on the world I still maintain.

Instant Karma for instance and its message that our actions have reactions and consequences taught me about being more mindful of what I did and said. I didn’t always succeed and was usually treated to some form of instant karma that reminded me to do better the next time. Eventually, the idea that good begets good and bad begets bad got through to me.

So, this morning give a listen if you’re so inclined. If you’re of a certain age this is most likely somewhat ingrained in you and you probably have some memory of that day back in 1980 or at least some memory of Lennon in his Beatle days. Feel free to sing along: 

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun

Have a good day. Shine on.











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“Its was one of those events which at a crucial stage in one’s development arrive to challenge and stretch one to the limit of one’s ability and beyond, so that thereafter one has a new standard by which to judge oneself.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day



This large painting, something like a 18″ by 42″ oil on wood panel, has been hanging in my studio for quite some time now. It’s become like a permanent fixture on a wall in one of the rooms here in the studio, to the point that it sometimes surprises me when I take a moment to stop and take it in.

It’s called Challenger which came from my memories of the Challenger explosion in early 1986. I was ill with salmonella poisoning, laying on my couch in a feverish state with severe stomach cramping. I was in kind of a haze watching that day which added to the horror of the whole tragedy. I remember the brightness of that day with the light of the winter sun streaming through our windows. It just seemed too bright and positive a day for such a thing. That memory of the light still remains with me.

When first painted fifteen years later, I didn’t mean for this piece to represent that day, wasn’t looking to make a tribute of any kind. There was just something in the light and sky of this painting that brought me back to that day. I began to see the Red Tree and its posture as a sign of fortitude and determination, a symbol of the continuance of our journey even after taking such a hard blow.

Our own challenge.

We may very well be at our best when we face challenges. Any challenge, whether it is one which is taken on voluntarily or one which is forced upon us, requires us to call on all our strengths and creative powers in order to succeed because if we know beforehand that our success is guaranteed, it’s not really a challenge, is it?

I am pretty sure I have never shown this painting here before. It’s one of those paintings that I can’t judge objectively. It’s certainly not a great piece based on some standards but the inherent meaning in it makes it a memorable piece for me, at least. 

It’s one of those pieces that I am glad never found a home outside this studio. I see it as a reminder to continue to push myself to set new and higher standards, to accept the failures when they come and not be too satisfied with any successes.

To face every day as a challenge to be overcome.

And in the times, when it’s so easy to fall prey to the paralysis of angst and worry, I can use the push it provides. 

Good luck in facing your own challenge today.



PS:  My memory is fading, obviously. I actually did write about this painting before, back in 2016. However, that post focused on the piece’s strengths and weaknesses and didn’t go into the meaning behind it for me. 

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“There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses the line into manhood. The boy is walking through the street of his town. He is thinking of the future and of the figure he will cut in the world. Ambitions and regrets awake within him. Suddenly something happens; he stops under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name. Ghosts of old things creep into his consciousness; the voices outside of himself whisper a message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite sure of himself and his future he becomes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy a door is torn open and for the first time he looks out upon the world, seeing, as though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. The sadness of sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt in the sun.”

― Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio



“Suddenly something happens; he stops under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name.

I’ve only read bits and pieces of the writings of Sherwood Anderson but the paragraph above always knocks me out. It feels like he was somehow following me from his distant past and witnessed me stopping under ten thousand trees through the years, waiting for that voice to call out my name. He saw the uncertainty that marks my living days and saw my early recognition of our mortality, that those living days must someday end.

I want to say that I like this bit of prose simply because it’s a beautiful piece of writing but even now, my own uncertainty won’t allow that. How do I know what is good or beautiful?

It just feels that way to me because it comes so close to the bone, leaving me cut to the core.

Maybe that’s the definition of beauty.

Who the hell knows?

Anyway, just wanted to share it today along with a song from Glen Hansard that has that same close to the bone feel. Here’s his Say It To Me Now from the film, Once. The small painting at the top bears that same title, not by accident, and is at the West End Gallery. Have a good day.



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“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice



And such a weary world it is.

It’s Veteran’s Day 2020. My sister and I visited Woodlawn National Cemetery in our hometown where my parents are buried along with my grandfathers, uncles and assorted other relatives. It’s a lovely spot that holds over 11,000 veteran graves including a sizeable contingent of Confederate troops who died as inmates in the Elmira prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War.

I am always moved by the sight of the symmetry and starkness of the lines of the white marble stones there. There’s an inherent symbolism contained in them. To me, they’re like the heads of candles lit against the lush green of the grass.

As always, I try to read a number of the names when I wander through the stones. Some are familiar local names, some of folks that I have known or known of. But most, of course, are unknown to me.

They all served their country in some way. Some, no doubt, performed courageous and heroic deeds while others served in other ways. But beyond that, I wonder about their lives after their service, their legacies, the memory of them that remains with their families.

What light did these candles shine?

No answers for that, really. Just a question that I ask myself in cemeteries.

Anyway, I am sharing this thought fragment along with the painting at the top, Finally, Light, which I recently took to the West End Gallery. It’s another older piece, from 2008, that has been hanging in my studio for well over a decade now. It’s a piece that I have tight to for some time for reasons I can’t determine. Whenever I was gathering work to take to a gallery I would always decide that I wanted to keep this piece when I came to it.

I am pairing it with Morning Song, a lovely tune from the Avett Brothers. Enjoy and have a good day. Try to spend a moment remembering a veteran you might have known.

Let their candlelight shine a bit.



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“The word was born in the blood, grew in the dark body, beating, and took flight through the lips and the mouth. Farther away and nearer still, still it came from dead fathers and from wondering races, from lands which had turned to stone, lands weary of their poor tribes, for when grief took to the roads the people set out and arrived and married new land and water to grow their words again. And so this is the inheritance; this is the wavelength which connects us with dead men and the dawning of new beings not yet come to light.”

― Pablo Neruda



Found myself awake early this morning. So many things racing through my head that it was hard to focus on trying to sleep. Big things and little things- a gnawing worry for this country and tiny nagging reminders of things that need to be done soon. All things that couldn’t be resolved at 2 AM in the woods where I live.

Then it struck me that it was around this time of the morning that my mom died 25 years ago on this very date.

Geez, 25 years come and gone. And there I was, in bed thinking of her death. 

I tried to dredge up memories of her, hoping that it would drown out the other things in the background of my mind, all screaming for attention or at least equal air time. Some memories came easily. Those are the ingrained ones that have become part of the synapses.

But I tried to dig deeper and there were only shadows of memories. Not real recollection. Maybe not even real. I don’t know for sure and most likely never will.

25 years has a way of changing things in your mind.

So, I tried focusing on the traits that I may have inherited from her, some good and some bad. Some neither. They just are what they are.

Some made me laugh. Some made me cry.

Laughter and tears. Quite the inheritance.

There are certainly worse things in this world.

It made me think in bed of the painting above that I recently took out to the West End Gallery. Called From Whence I Came, it’s part of my Archaeology series from back in 2008. I think this piece was only shown once in a gallery before it came back to me. For some unknown reason, it found its way to the back of a closet, where it has been residing for the past 12 years. I pulled it out a few weeks back and it was like seeing it for the first time again. 

It made me think of all the choices and serendipity that it took for me to arrive at this place in the world. It’s the same for all of us. We’re all products of the decisions and events that took place throughout the history of man on this planet. One person succumbing to a virus instead of surviving it a thousand years ago and our whole history as a person would be different. 

We’re all the spearpoints, the leading edges, the very top of the pyramids of all that came before us. We were brought to this point by the bones and blood of thousands of lives before us.

All their strength. All their vulnerability.

I don’t know where I want this to go. Just thinking out loud, I guess, between the laughter and the tears.

Gotta go. Have a good day, folks.

 

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“Light and Wisdom”- Currently at the West End Gallery

“If outer events bring him to a position where he can bear them no longer and force him to cry out to the higher power in helplessness for relief, or if inner feelings bring humiliation and recognition of his dependence on that power, this crushing of the ego may open the door to grace.”

***

“Every test successfully met is rewarded by some growth in intuitive knowledge, strengthening of character, or initiation into a higher consciousness.”

***

“The source of wisdom and power, of love and beauty, is within ourselves, but not within our egos. It is within our consciousness. Indeed, its presence provides us with a conscious contrast which enables us to speak of the ego as if it were something different and apart: it is the true Self whereas the ego is only an illusion of the mind.”

― Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton


I was surprised to find I have never mentioned Paul Brunton here. I came across his work many years ago in a moment of serendipity at perhaps the lowest point in my life. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that without that encounter with his books, I most likely would not be sitting here this morning, writing this blog. Might not be an artist.

Might not even be. Period.

Paul Brunton (1898-1981) was a British writer who traveled to India in the aftermath of his service in World War I and encountered Hindu/Buddhist mysticism for the first time. He wrote several best selling books on his experiences that more or less brought Hindu/Buddhist to the west for the first time.

His magnus opus was published series of 16 of his notebooks, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, containing observations and experiences. These were the books of Brunton’s that I first came across. As I said, I was at my bottom at that point and my mind was spiraling. I opened one of his notebooks and immediately found something, a short paragraph with his observation on the ego, that seemed to describe where I was at that point, something that I could latch onto.

That simple moment was a huge spark of hope. A beam of light.

I looked at the title page and saw that it was published by a organization located not too far from where I live now, my home area. I was across the country at that time and it was as though these words and that address near my home were telling me that what I needed, what I sought, was at hand, was inside me all the time.

That’s the short version of the story and it will have to suffice for today. I just thought Paul Brunton deserved a mention. He’s part of my path, my story, and when I look at pieces like the one at the top, Light and Wisdom, his words often jump to mind for me. I know that when I get spinning out of control, his words are gentle reminder of where I am now, where I have been in the past and what I was, what I am and what I want to be. 

Was, Am, Will Be.

Just keep trying and have a good day.

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