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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

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Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

–Richard Feynman

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I was thinking recently about the importance of imagination and came across the words above from the late physicist Richard Feynman. His thought really meshed with my own thoughts on the imagination, which focused on the importance of it not only in art or literature but in so many aspects of our lives.

Actually, my thoughts were more about the lack of imagination I was sensing in all too many people. They seem to not be able to see beyond what is immediately in front of them or to extrapolate what might happen in potential situations beyond the next few minutes. I guess you would call it being short-sighted, a condition that often leads to fear and cynicism. Fearful of the new and cynical of anyone who dares to see beyond tomorrow.

You see this in how people react to many of our current events. This lack of imagination makes them willing to accept only what they can see now, blocking out any vision of what the ramifications might be into the future. This lack of imagination also makes these same folks blind to the patterns that brought us to this current condition.

Their shortsightedness tends to go hand in hand with a short-term memory, one that easily discards facts– and often their own words– that don’t coincide with what they see in the present moment. As a result these folks tend to fall prey to leaders offering them hollow promises and easy answers.

And scapegoats.

Because besides shortsightedness and short-term memory, a lack of imagination also often leads to a lack of empathy and compassion. These folks lack an ability to envision people different than themselves living in different situations. They can’t imagine the hardships or injustices that affect the lives of others. It’s all too easy to turn these people with differences into scapegoats for those lacking in imagination.

I am not writing this because I feel I have any special amount of imagination. I certainly have at times limited my life through my own lack of imagination and the fears and cynicism that it enables. I am sometimes small when I could be large and large when I should be small.

I just want to know how to communicate clearly with those folks who seem to have this lack of imagination, to get them to see possibilities and potentials beyond their own noses now and years into the future. This chasm between those with and without imagination seems to me to be the dividing line in this world right now.

I can still, against the evidence of the present, imagine a better world. But I can also imagine a much worse world. I believe it all depends on inflaming the imaginations of those who have refused to use them to this point.

At this point, I don’t know what or who can do such a thing.

My imagination is still hopeful.

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Wassily Kandinsky- Couple Riding 1906

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The true work of art is born from the Artist: a mysterious, enigmatic, and mystical creation. It detaches itself from him, it acquires an autonomous life, becomes a personality, an independent subject, animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being.

–Wassily Kandinsky

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Leave it to the great Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) to so well describe that sense of life I am looking for in my work and about which I have often written here. When it is real, it takes on a life of its own. It still possesses the personality and psyche of the artist but grows, adding layers and dimensions that take it well beyond the reality of the artist.

These two sentences from Kandinsky hit the mark squarely — animated with a spiritual breath, the living subject of a real existence of being–and are just perfect for how I see this process.

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Below is a post from about five years back that very much speaks to the role of anxiety in the work of many artists, myself among them.

Henry Moore Sculpture*****************************

It is a mistake for a sculptor or a painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases tension needed for his work.

Henry Moore

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Came across this quote from the great British sculptor Henry Moore and it struck me on two accounts, both in the words about an artist talking too much about his job and the other in the need for tension. I am aware and worry about both things quite often.

Talking and writing about my work has been a normal thing for me for many years now and, on one hand, I think it has helped me express myself in many ways. The writing and speaking acts as a confessional in which I can air out my anxieties and that, in itself, often reveals new insights that send me in new directions. But on the other hand, I have often feared that my willingness to be transparent will detract from my work in some way. In times when I am less than confident, I fear that my words will somehow expose me as a fraud or, at least, point out the more obvious flaws in my character or deficiencies as an artist.

Even as I write this, I am questioning the very act of doing so.

But I do it. And will probably continue to do so. It’s become part of who I am at this point, even on those days when I find myself questioning what I am or the wisdom in writing or speaking about it.

As for tension being needed for the work, that is something I have believed for a long time. Tension pushes me, makes me stretch forward out of my comfort zone. Tension has been the igniter for every personal breakthrough in my work, creating an absolute need to find new imagery or new ways to use materials.

There are times when I feel that I have become too comfortable in the materials and processes that I use and that people have become too accustomed to seeing my work. I feel stagnant, stalled at a plateau. It is in these times when tension, even fear, begins to build in me and I begin to scan in all directions for a new way of seeing or a new material in which to work.

The tension becomes a burning need to prove myself.

This tension is not a comfortable thing. But I know it is a necessary condition in order for my work to continue to grow, which is what I want and need. To the casual observer it would seem to be a good thing as an artist to reach a point where you are comfortable and satisfied in what you are doing.

I can see that.

But when that tension is absent my drive to express, to create, is stifled. My work dulls and becomes somewhat hollow. Fortunately, seeing this in my work sets off some sort of alarm and I begin to worry. And the tension begins to build once more.

And both comfort and satisfaction are gone.

And I am happily alone with my anxiety.

Odd as it may seem, I see that anxiety as a path forward or an open door to be found. It ultimately reveals something.

And if so, I will no doubt be here, for better or worse, writing about it.

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Lawren Harris- From the North Shore, Lake Superior ca 1927

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Art is not an amusement, nor a distraction, nor is it, as many men maintain, an escape from life. On the contrary, it is a high training of the soul, essential to the soul’s growth, to its unfoldment.

–Lawren Harris

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Whenever I need a lift or a reminder that what I am doing is a mere triviality, it’s always good to revisit the work and words of the late painter Lawren Harris.

Harris, who died in 1970 in his native Canada at the age of 85, had a way of capturing of grand spaces and forms and imbuing in them a sense of absolute stillness. It’s a created atmosphere that is conducive to the unfolding and growth of one’s soul.

Some might say that this in itself is an escape from life and, in the simplest terms, they would be correct. But art transcends the mere act of escape in that while doing so, it provides the space and nourishment for the growth of the soul.

I know that I have often looked to art as a safe haven, an escape from the cruelty and often illogical nature of the outside world.

But it was never just that single thing. This separation between the outer and inner world created an environment, a time and place, where lessons could be learned and insights could be formed. These lessons and insights become part of who we are and then undoubtedly travel with us back into that outer world.

No, art is not an amusement or an escape. It changes us in fundamental ways and by that, we are always made better.

I needed to write that this morning, if only for myself. Thanks, Mr. Harris, I feel a little better now.

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“Pondering Solitude”- Part of the West End Gallery show ending Friday

Around this time of the year, I always want to apologize to the folks that read this blog. Much of the content revolves around promoting of the work in my shows or my talks. Though I know it’s a necessary evil and part of my job, it’s still something I would rather not have to do. With two shows hanging and two more talks coming in the next few weeks, which means more promotion here, I thought I’d run a post from 2015 that includes a post from 2011. It sums up pretty well what I feel about the whole thing.

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The time just before the solo shows and gallery talks that are a big part of what I do is the hardest time for me, by far the most stressful and difficult part of this whole art thing.  There’s a direct conflict between my internal need need to seek solitude and the external need to discuss and promote my works and the galleries where they hang.  For weeks leading up to events, solitude is pushed to the rear and the act of promotion takes center stage.

The ego becomes a foe at this point and I am soon tired of hearing my own voice and experience a bit of self-loathing at times. But I feel compelled to persevere out of the duty and loyalty to the galleries that represent me and the need to make a living for myself. It is the part of the job that probably is the hardest hurdle for any artist to clear, a sometimes unsavory task that keeps many artists from reaching their largest audience.

Here are a few other thoughts on the subject from a few years ago, right around this same time in the 2011:

I was asked yesterday what I was going to speak about in today’s gallery talk at the West End Gallery. I kidded that I was going , of course, to speak about me.

Me, me, me.

I went on to explain how I approach these talks, trying to read the group in attendance and finding something of interest in the work that sparks a dialogue where they participate. The hope being that they leave with a little more insight into the work and I leave with with a little more knowledge of how they view it. But that offhand joke yesterday about me has stuck in my craw. Just joking about it has bothered me somehow. 

One of the conundrums of art is that you are expressing a sometimes very personal aspect of yourself in a public forum, exposing one’s weaknesses and flaws to the world for all to see. The need to do this is the need for an affirmation of one’s own existence in this world. I know that this has been the case for myself. I have often felt insignificant throughout my life in this world, unseen and unheard. But it seemed to me that my life, like all others, had to have meaning of some sort and that my feelings and thoughts mattered as much as any other being’s.

If I was here and thinking, I mattered.

Cogito ergo sum.

Until I fell into painting I never found a way to affirm this existence, an avenue to allow my voice to be finally heard. But having found a method of expression, the question becomes: What part does ego play in this? Where is  that line that separates the need for self-expression from base self-glorification?

This has always bothered me. Even though I want to express myself and want my work to hopefully affect others, this constant self-promotion puts one at least on or near this dividing line. For me, that’s an uncomfortable position. Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to my work, I certainly have the confidence of ego. It may be the only part of my world where I have supreme confidence though, on many days, even that is shaky.

But on days like today, when I have to talk about “me, me, me,” I always get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach both before and afterwards. Before because of the dread of exposing myself as a fool and afterwards from the fear that I did just that. 

Oh, well.  All just part of the job…

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Paul Gauguin- The Painter of Sunflowers 1888

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What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

-Paul Gauguin

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I am in the last day of prep before I deliver my show to the West End Gallery. I am in my 25th year at this gallery where I first started publicly showing my work and this is what I believe to be my 18th solo exhibit. But even with all that experience there is always an element of doubt present when I am getting ready to deliver paintings to a gallery.

It’s just a natural state of being. At least, for me.

I used to worry that my own judgement of the work was flawed and that this would be obvious once it was hung on a wall outside my studio. My inadequacy would be on public display for all to see.

That feeling never fully goes away and on these last days of prep, this insidious doubt always creeps back in.

But time has made me adhere to the words above from Paul Gauguin, under his 1888 painting of Vincent Van Gogh.

You do what you can do. You try to do a bit better each time. You discard those things that don’t work and grow the things that do.

And you live with that.

Okay, got lots to do this morning so I am out of here. And I think I am leaving my doubts right where they are. Don’t need them today.

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“A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness.”

― Jean Genet

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I came across this quote and it made me stop. When he said that dreaming is nursed in darkness, was Genet saying that we must sleep more in order to be able to dream more? That didn’t sound right to me.

More likely he saying that we must stumble through much darkness, not sure of where we are or where we are headed, in order to achieve our dreams. Maybe it is this time spent maneuvering in darkness that gives us the courage to act on our dreams.

That makes more sense. Following that dream for a long time, never seeing it fully in the darkness, makes that elusive dream more precious and gives one a sense of urgency in achieving it. When the possibility of the dream coming to fruition is finally upon them they are not afraid to take action. They can then act with grandeur, as Genet put it.

That sounds better but what do I know? It’s 6 AM, I am tired to the point I can feel the dark rings under my eyes, and I am thinking about Jean Genet and dreams. Even the tiniest act of grandeur doesn’t seem too probable at this point.

But I think I understand this struggle to follow our dreams, to become what we truly want to be. It’s easy to lose sight of our dreams when we are stumbling in the inky darkness. Once they move away from us, they often are lost forever.

That’s sort of what I am sensing in the new piece above that is included in my upcoming West End Gallery show. It’s a smaller painting, 6″ by 10″ on paper, that I am calling Dream in Sight. It’s one of the pieces from this show that are a nod back to my earlier work. Perhaps the moon represents the dream here, rising and falling through the darkness. Sometimes it doesn’t show at all. Other times, it only shows a smaller part of itself.

And it always seems so distant yet so near.

Hmm, I have to think on this. Or take a nap and dream a bit more.

Have a great day.

 

 

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