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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

I have been working on some new small pieces. When I finished this piece, which is 2″ by 6″ on paper, and was trying to read what I was seeing in it, I immediately thought of the blog entry below from several years back. The article and the painting both deal, as I see them, with how we often look for answers from far outside ourselves and fail to see the riches and possibilities that surround us in plain sight. I call this painting In the Gem Fields.

“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.”

—Earl Nightingale

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It’s funny sometimes what you take from an experience in your life.  At one point in my life I was in the retail car business, working at a Honda dealership both as a salesman and a finance manager.  In order to keep their sales staff engaged and excited about pushing their product, the management there would periodically send us to seminars with industry-specific motivational speakers and would also have sets of motivational tapes from other speakers that they would encourage us to listen to in our free time.

One of the sets of tapes was from a famed motivational speaker named Earl Nightingale who had a deep and engaging voice that added a serious dimension to whatever he said.  As I listened to his tapes, it was easy to feel my interest growing as he told his little tales and his lessons began registering within me.

One of his stories was a short retelling of a classic lecture  called Acres of Diamonds from Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925), an interesting fellow who was a baptist minister, a lawyer, a philanthropist and the founder and first president of Temple University.  The lecture, one that Conwell delivered over 5000 times during his lifetime, made the point that the riches we seek are often right in our own backyards.  His tale is of an African farmer who sells his farm in order to go in search of diamonds and finds nothing but failure that ends with his suicide.  Meanwhile, the man who took over the farm found an abundance of diamonds and ended up with one of the largest diamond mines in Africa.

There were a lot of lessons to be learned from this tale but primarily  what I took away  was that I must leave the car business–it was not my backyard.   It was the place to which I had come in search of my own diamonds.  I had not even, at that point, began to search my own backyard. I am not sure if that was the message that management had been hoping would sink in.  Or maybe it was.

The other part of Nightingale’s message was that you had to set a course, aim for a destination.  Everything was possible if you knew where you wanted to go and truly set your mind to it.  He gave a laundry list of great human accomplishments that were achieved once we put our minds and wills in motion towards their fulfillment.  That resonated strongly with me.  I had seen many people over the years who seemed deeply unhappy in their lives and most had no direction going forward, no destination for which they were working.  Aimless, they drifted like a rudderless boat on the sea, going wherever the strongest current took them without having any influence over this motion.

If you can name it, you can do it in some form.

As I said, it’s funny how things influence you.  It’s been about twenty five years since I heard those words but they still resonate strongly with me, even now.  I try to be always conscious of the goals I set, knowing that the mind and the universe will always try to make a way for the possibility of achievement.

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I was going through my files, looking at some work from several years ago. It’s something I do on a pretty regular basis as a way to charge my batteries. I see things in these older pieces that reignite ideas that have been swept away to the folds of my brain. Sometimes an idea, like a new composition, comes in a flash that seems exciting, something that tells me that I need to followup on it. Then hours later it is gone or has turned hazy, replaced by the work at hand.  

Oh, sometimes I write them down, rough sketches on loose bits of paper but more often than not they go into that heap that resides somewhere deep inside me. Sometimes they come back on their own, happily for me. Other times, they need a little coaxing, a prod of my memory that sometimes takes place when I revisit older work. Seeing this earlier work in sequence, grouped together, kicks off memories and these older ideas sometimes jump forward. Old friends.

I had that feeling just this morning. I wasn’t going to write anything, was just going to get to work on some things that needed finishing and maybe start a new piece with the hope that the work would create its own inspiration. That is often the case. But I came across a piece from a group of work that I did back in 2011, sepia toned interiors with landscape seen distantly through windows. It excited me on many levels to see the whole group together and I had flashes of other ideas that had either been hiding or were newly forming. It energized me greatly.

Here’s one of those pieces from back in 2011 and what I wrote at the time:

This is a painting I recently finished, a small piece, only 4″ square on paper.  It’s a mix of landscape and very uncomplicated still life with stark but distinct elements throughout.  There’s a simplicity that runs through this scene that covers a depth of feeling, a pang from the heart.

I sat this aside for a day or two after finishing it and found myself coming back to it.  There was a familiar tone to it that reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite identify until this morning when I walked into the studio.  I looked at it as I sat down and instantly said to myself, “Far From Me.”

It was the old John Prine song from his first album which came out forty years back, in 1971. There was something in this piece that filled me the feeling of Prine’s lyrics of gradual loss:

And the sky is black and still now

On the hill where the angels sing

Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle

Looks just like a diamond ring

But it’s far, far from me

This piece will probably always be that song now for me, a personal avatar for a song buried deep inside and often forgotten.  Funny how things work…

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So runs my dream: but what am I? 
         An infant crying in the night: 
         An infant crying for the light: 
And with no language but a cry.
                                                                                                          .
Alfred Tennyson, Canto 54, In Memoriam A.H.H.
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I came across an online article a few weeks back that captured my interest. Written by British designer Benjamin Earl Evans, it is titled 11 Brutal Truths About Creativity That No One Wants to Talk About. It’s a pretty short read.
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Many of the points Evans makes seem pretty evident to me– your ideas are not original, everybody is creative, creativity is hard, success depends on the assistance of others and so on. Art, like any business or real endeavor, is filled with difficulties and harsh realities and if someone has spent anytime trying to be a working artist, they recognize many of these as absolute truths.
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Perhaps the greatest difficulty for the visual artist is that you are faced with the prospect of competing with other artists, many with greater skills and training than yourself, for dwindling opportunities to show your work in the traditional gallery spaces that best gets your work in front of prospective collectors. Add to this that the artist then has to have their work somehow create an emotional bridge to the viewer, something that connects with them on the most visceral level.
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I find myself often wondering what might be the differentiating factor in why the work of some artists succeed at these difficult tasks while the work of other greatly skilled artists does not? It is surely something beyond technical prowess and a solid resume. Something almost indefinable.
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Evans provides one possible answer in this article, one that stopped me in my tracks with its simple obviousness– allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
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It made me think the many times I have seen artists with incredible technical and observational skills create work that just doesn’t seem to reveal itself emotionally. Perhaps their ability has overshadowed their need for expression? I don’t know that answer.
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But reading that, I immediately recognized the place of vulnerability and my willingness to share it in my work. I realize that my fears and shortcomings come through in my work.  My weaknesses, my uncertainties and my tears are readily on display as are my affections, hopes and aspirations. Even my lack of certain skills is a vulnerability that I am willing to expose and share, mainly because I cannot hide behind them.
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Maybe that kind of vulnerability is one of those differentiating factors. I don’t know for sure though I tend to lean that way in my belief. How does an artist gain vulnerability? Again, I don’t know. Not even sure they can outside of trying to work on those things that allow them to really feel deep emotion.
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No easy answers, unfortunately. But for me, I will continue with my transparency, my own vulnerability. It’s all I know.

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The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The painting above, a 24″ by 18″ canvas, shares its title with that of my solo show, Self Determination, which opens this Friday, July 14, at the West End Gallery in Corning.

That title, Self Determination, refers to a thought that came to me some years ago. It was that we have a choice in deciding what kind of person we want to be. While we can’t always change circumstance, we have the ability to change our course, our outlook, our reactions and so many other things that pertain to how we are defined.

It’s not an original idea, as Emerson’s concise words above attest. I’m sure I could dig around and come up with the same idea from the time of Socrates or Plato.

No, it’s a universal truth. But it is one that, while seeming  self evident, is overlooked by the majority of people. We often live our lives with little consideration given to our actions and reactions as we stumble through our precious time in this world.

We just accept who and what we are as a given, even when we are less than pleased by what we see.

I know that was the case for me for much of my earlier life. Not that I didn’t think about my choices. No, I just never thought about what my decisions might be if I were the person I wanted to be. Instead I often opted for short-sighted and expedient answers, usually those that required little effort or sacrifice on my part.

I didn’t often like or respect the person I was at those times.

But once I realized I could decide what type of person I wished to be, I began to ask myself conscious questions that set a new course for myself. Gradually, I began to move toward the person I chose to be. Oh, I am still quite a distance from that destination and I still find myself disliking the person I am at times. But I know now that I am headed in a direction that is of my design and not simply living life in a default setting, letting circumstances and the desires of other people dictate my actions.

And maybe that is why I am so drawn to the painting above. I feel it is a great example of what I have been trying to express with my work– that we have an ability to move beyond expectations and circumstances to become better versions of ourselves.

For me, I want to be that Red Tree, simply satisfied with its place in the world.

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I came across this post from about 4 years ago and it made me take pause to think.  Sometimes in the course of living day to day, we often lose sight of the bigger picture that is our own life. We often focus on small things, little tasks and minor grievances, causing us to take for granted whatever good fortune that we may have experienced. I find that this is true in the weeks before a show when I am buried in my work. And I think that it  must seems especially true for most of us in these crazy days that we are going through as a nation.

So, today, instead of worrying and burying myself in angst, I am going to focus on the ways in which I have been so fortunate and allow myself to enjoy it, to be happy. Here’s what I wrote four years back:

There is but one success– to be able to spend your life in your own way.

— Christopher Morley, 1922

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I was contacted a week or two back by a man who had given me a great opportunity as an artist in my early years, a large commission that gave me the confidence to make the leap to painting on a full-time basis.  We had not seen one another in many years but he had seen some of the recent publicity about my work and he reached out to me, wanting to congratulate me and see how things were going in general.

For me, it was an opportunity to offer him the gratitude I felt he deserved even though it had been fifteen years since he had worked with me.  The years had clarified how large his decision to use my work meant to my career. So we talked for a bit, me thanking him and him telling me how proud he was of my work and of his ability to have seen something in it in those early days.  It was a nice talk and, after agreeing to get together soon, he put a  final question before me that gave me pause.

Are you successful, Gary?”  he asked.

I wasn’t sure what he meant by successful and the possibilities ran through my mind.  Was he talking about being a financial success?  A critical success, one based on notoriety?  Or was he asking if I was simply happy, satisfied by my life?  It suddenly seemed that success was such a relative term, that one person’s definition of success might not even begin to satisfy the next person’s requirements for it.

But my own?  What was success for me? In the flash of that moment, I tried to put this all together  and determine what the word meant to me.  I thought for a split-second of success being determined by money and fame but settled quickly on my own self-satisfaction as being the determinant of what I might define as success.  I knew in that moment that there would always be those who will make more money, gain more fame and influence than me.  But I also knew that even with more of these things I would be no more  satisfied with the life I was leading–  I do what I want  and I am able to do it on my own terms.  The image came to me then of those times when I am walking through the woods between my house and my studio and I stop and look around, thinking that I am more fortunate in this way than I ever dreamed of in my early years.

I knew in that flash that this  feeling of that satisfied moment in the woods was success for me.  I told him that yes, I was successful, more than I had hoped for.

I have thought about this conversation a number of times.  I still have fears and anxieties, still aspire for more in my career.  But it’s those moments of feeling truly fortunate to do what I do, feeling that warm glow of satisfaction in my life if only for a few seconds here and there each day, that define success for me.

I think back to a few weeks ago when I spoke with a group of high school students and I hope that I gave them  some idea that this is what success is– that if they can set their own  expectations and find satisfaction in these, they will be successful.

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The new painting shown here is a 9″ x 12″ canvas and is titled The Question. It is included in my solo show, Truth and Belief, which opens June 2 at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria. 

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Talking to Kids

I spoke with a group of  about 60 third grade students on Thursday at the Big Flats Elementary school.  Earlier this year, their art teacher, Joanna Martinec, had used my work in some of their lessons and they were excited to learn that I lived in the area. Ms. Martinec sent me an email with some images of their work and a list of questions that they had asked. I offered to come and speak directly to the kids to answer their questions.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I don’t deal with a lot of kids but I have to admit that it was a lot of fun.  The kids were totally engaged, well behaved, and very responsive.

One of my favorite moments was when I was telling them about how I was about their age when I first thought about wanting to be an artist and that one of my main reasons was that I didn’t feel like people ever heard what I was saying.  I asked if any of them ever felt that way, that nobody listened to them, and they answered with a hearty “yes“, almost every single one of them in unison.  That brought back my own memories of being in their position so many years ago, about wanting to be heard and to be taken seriously.

I felt really connected to those kids at that point and wanted to really hear all of them.

I did a short demo of my wet method which was not as effective as I had hoped, mainly from a logistical standpoint. It’s just hard to show it well to a large group.  We had a camera that sent the images to a large screen but it just didn’t show as well as I would have liked and I wasn’t adept at using it. But I was able to do a couple of things that got some ooh’s and aah’s and I think the kids ended up liking it anyway.

We finished up with a question and answer period.  I’ve done many gallery talks over the years and understand how hesitant and self-conscious people– by that I mean adults– are in asking questions.  There was none of that with this group. The kids’ hands filled the air and they followed up with great questions and fun comments about what they liked or what they were doing with their own art. We had to stop because of the time but about half of the kids still had their hands in the air to ask questions.  If it had been possible, I would have stayed and answered every single one of their questions.

It was so much fun talking with these kids and hearing their views and their questions.  They had awareness and understanding with an openness that was without cynicism.  That’s a refreshing combination.  It was very inspiring for me.

I think I may have found my target audience.

Thank you to the teachers and the staff at the Big Flats Elementary School for having me and to Joanna Martinec for doing such a great job with your kids. I had a great time and hope the kids did as well.

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GC Myers- Balance (Known/Unknown)We have to balance the lineality of the known universe with the nonlineality of the unknown universe.

Carlos Castaneda
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I am calling this new painting Balance (Known/Unknown).  It is a 14″ by 32″ canvas and will have a slightly different edge detail that I will shown at a later date.

The Carlos Castaneda quote above just reached out to me when I was looking at this piece. The Red Tree here seems to be standing at the edge of the known, the terrestrial world that is defined here with earthy color, solid forms, and dark lines– the lineal universe.  Beyond it the non-lineal universe beckons, represented by a nebulous sky and a sun that acts as an unblinking eye.

It all is very much a metaphor for the purpose of art and that is to act as an intermediary between the known and the unknown, the go-between for that which is of our five senses and those things that go  far beyond those senses.

Things that we feel in an emotional sense.

And that is what art often does, putting the deep feeling of that which we cannot see onto those things that we do see.  It makes the intangible tangible.

That said, I like this new piece and have been enjoying my time with it. Every day I find a new angle within it that gives me pause, that excites me, and sets me thinking. And that is all I hope for in my work.

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