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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

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And if your friends think that you should do it different
And if they think that you should do it the same
You’ve got it, just keep on pushing and, keep on pushing and
Push the sky away

—Nick Cave, Push the Sky Away

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I don’t have the energy or will to say much this morning. I just want to get back to work, prepping my show, From a Distance, for the West End Gallery that I will deliver later this week in advance of the show’s opening on Friday, July 17. The show is coming together well and I find myself more and more pleased as each piece is completed with its framing.

Much like my recent Principle Gallery show, this wasn’t an easy show for me. There was a lot of frustration and high levels of anxiety, both from my reaction to these times and to some other things taking place in my world. Lots of distractions and aggravations pulled at my attention and disrupted any semblance of rhythm I could find.

Just getting to work was work in itself.

But you just keep at it. Keep pushing. Turn it around and use the frustration as fuel.

Push the sky away, as the song says.

One of the new pieces from this show is at the top, one called Far Away Eyes. This was one of the pieces that helped me fight through the barriers that were there for this show. It was a struggle in itself to complete and there were times when I wanted to trash it. But I kept at it, kept believing that it held something for me.

And it did. As I worked, it began to fall into a rhythm that spoke to me and when it felt done, it felt right. The effort seemed insignificant at that point, a small price to get to where it was.

Just keep pushing the sky away, much as it appears the sun is doing to the sky in the painting.

Here’s a performance from this past December from Nick Cave at the Sydney Opera House. He’s singing his song, Push the Sky Away. It’s worth a listen.

Have a good Sunday.

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“Nirvana is right here, in the midst of the turmoil of life. It is the state you find when you are no longer driven to live by compelling desires, fears, and social commitments, when you have found your center of freedom and can act by choice out of that. Voluntary action out of this center is the action of the bodhisattvas — joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You are not grabbed, because you have released yourself from the grabbers of fear, lust, and duties.” 

 Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

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I think about these words from the late mythologist Joseph Campbell quite a lot. It’s one of those bits that I keep close at hand, ready to pull out whenever I find myself feeling the onset of fears or anxieties about things that  I cannot control. Or when I begin to desire things that I don’t need at all. Or whenever I feel pressured to do things purely out of some social obligation.

His words remind me that true freedom lies in finding your own path. Fear, desire and obligation are their own paths and once you begin down those paths, you are further away from your own path of freedom, further from being, as Campbell put it, a joyful participant in the sorrows of the world.

Campbell’s words make it seem so simple yet, as we all know, those other paths are difficult to avoid. We are reactive creatures and often move to follow our first impulse in most situations. Learning to calm our impulses, to still our fears and desires, is the first step down a path of own making.

The painting above, Night Nirvana, a 30″ by 40″ canvas, is from my upcoming West End Gallery show and I attached these words to this piece immediately after it was finished. There’s a great stillness in it and a quiet reassuring voice in it, one that tells me that I control my reactions, that I should follow the path I make for myself. It is a path built on voluntary action, not reaction or fear. A path made with conscious choices, not obligations nor the decisions of others.

The message I take from this painting is simple: Your path is your path alone and there is great peace in knowing that. It is enough for each of us.

I am going to think on that for a while…

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“Climb Ever Higher”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.

–Winston Churchill

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Just going to leave this thought out there this morning. Progress in any worthy endeavor is never gained easily nor is it ever fully achieved. It is the struggle that makes us fully appreciate the importance of the journey.

Have a good day.

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“Hunkered Down”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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I slept and dreamt
that life was joy.
I awoke and saw
that life was duty.
I worked — and behold,
duty was joy.

–Rabindranath Tagore

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When I first read the short poem above from the great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore some time ago, it struck a chord with me. It so simply, in just a few lines, put across an observation that takes most of us a lifetime to realize. That is, if we ever do realize it.

Duty was joy.

But what is duty? Is it in being a good parent? A faithful spouse and a loyal friend? Is it in what we do to make a living? Or is it in being decent and caring human being?

Perhaps, it is how our lives touch the lives of others? Could that be a duty?

I don’t know for sure. Most likely joy is not a one size fits all proposition.

My own feeling is that duty is much like having a purpose, a reason for living. I remember reading Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl‘s transcendent book, Man’s Search For Meaning, which described his time in the Auschwitz death camp. He observed that those who were able to survive the horror were those who somehow had a purpose for their life, who saw a future that they needed to reach ahead for. This purpose, even a modest one, often gave them the drive needed for survival, creating a path forward for them.

In the year after being liberated from Auschwitz, Frankl gave a series of lectures that were the basis for his book. In one he spoke of Tagore’s poem and that final line: Duty was joy:

So, life is somehow duty, a single, huge obligation. And there is certainly joy in life too, but it cannot be pursued, cannot be “willed into being” as joy; rather, it must arise spontaneously, and in fact, it does arise spontaneously, just as an outcome may arise: Happiness should not, must not, and can never be a goal, but only an outcome; the outcome of the fulfillment of that which in Tagore’s poem is called duty… All human striving for happiness, in this sense, is doomed to failure as luck can only fall into one’s lap but can never be hunted down.

In short, lasting joy and happiness cannot be pursued as a goal on their own, without a responsibility to some higher purpose.

I am writing this because sometimes I need to be reminded of this. I have been struggling at times recently in the studio, seemingly fighting with myself to find something that just doesn’t seem to be there. The harder I tried to find it, the further away it seemed. It was like I was looking for something to quell my anxieties and bring me some form of easy happiness. To bring me effortless joy.

I should have known better. Yesterday, I just put down my head and worked without thinking about the end result. I focused solely on my purpose in each moment, the task at hand. Concentrating on doing small and simple things with thought and care was my duty, as it were. As the day went on, my burden felt lessened and I began to feel joy in the work, joy in small aspects that I had been overlooking in prior days.

It was a satisfying day, one that left me feeling that I had moved in some way toward fulfilling a purpose. It may not be a grand, earth-shaking one but it doesn’t need to be. It is mine. My purpose. My duty.

And that is enough to bring me a bit of joy.

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Painting is the pattern of one’s own nervous system being projected on canvas.

–Francis Bacon

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Ain’t it the truth?

The words of the late painter Francis Bacon certainly holds true for me, at least in certain times. There were several such days during this past week, if you need an example.

On these days I spent hour after twaddling in paint that directly reflected my own flatness of spirit, my own frustration and confusion. My reaction to the work I was producing was a dull mix of despair and anger. I sensed that it, the work and my reaction, was just a mirroring of my own reaction to the world as I was currently seeing it.

My own nervous system.

I hoped that recognizing this despair and anger would somehow provide a spark of its own. A reaction to my reaction, if you will.

But it was like throwing new colors into the mix with the result being an even more gross and ugly shade of brown and gray. No clarity or sharpness, neither in color nor in thought. The frustration grew even more.

These days reflected the pattern of my own floundering nervous system. I just wished I didn’t bother to project them on canvas.

I sit here this morning and still have the same feelings sparking dully through my synapses, making me both dread and welcome the hours ahead of me here in the studio. The dread is that these feelings will remain and show fully in the paint. The welcoming aspect comes in the hope and possibility that something in the paint– a color, a tone, a contrast– will create new sparks that will push out the dullness and flatness.

Something that will express itself in a new pattern being formed in my nervous system.

It’s this hope and possibility that comes with the beginning of every new day of painting that makes life more than tolerable. It makes it worth living because even on the worst days there is the hope that comes in the next.

I am moving on to to my next day now, filled with hope and possibility.

Hope yours is the same.

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“She Glides Through the Fractured Night” Now at the Principle Gallery

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Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.

― Horace Mann

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I am just going to let the words of Horace Mann hang out there this morning.

Most of us are probably unaware of Horace Mann outside of it being in the names of many public schools all around the nation– there is most likely one somewhere in your region. But Mann, an educator and politician, was a leading advocate for universal public education and for standing up for the rights and betterment of others. In fact, the words on his statue at Antioch College, where he served as its first president until his death in 1859, read:

Be Ashamed to Die Until You Have Won Some Victory for Humanity

I think he probably died without shame.

Let’s hope we all can do the same.

Here’s a favorite song of mine from Mavis Staples. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years since I last played it here.

Time do fly, do it not?

Have a good day.

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“I tried to establish order over the chaos of my imagination, but this essence, the same that presented itself to me still hazily when I was a child, has always struck me as the very heart of truth. It is our duty to set ourselves an end beyond our individual concerns, beyond our convenient, agreeable habits, higher than our own selves, and disdaining laughter, hunger, even death, to toil night and day to attain that end. No, not to attain it. The self-respecting soul, as soon as he reaches his goal, places it still further away. Not to attain it, but never to halt in the ascent. Only thus does life acquire nobility and oneness.”

Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

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I originally saw this painting with the three Red Trees hovering over the houses like three spiritual guides. Three angels, perhaps. But the more I looked at it ( and I looked at it a lot) the more I saw the trees, especially with the exaggerated elongation of their trunks, as continually rising higher.

They weren’t hovering angels. No, they were spiritual searchers straining to reach even further out into the unknown, represented here by the chaotic slashes of color that make up the sky.

Trying to make the unknown known.

Trying to find order in chaos.

This perception was made even more tangible when I came across the excerpt at the top from the fictionalized autobiography of the late great Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. The idea it presents of a life dedicated to seeking a nobler way of being, to attaining unity, oneness, seemed appropriate as a interpretation of this painting.

It also seemed appropriate as a basis for a way of living amidst the ever swirling chaos of this world. To seek to be somehow better, to attempt to rise above the petty and reactive behaviors to which we so easily assume, is indeed a worthy goal for any individual.

This added a layer of depth to my own appreciation for this piece. I see this painting, which I am calling Climb Ever Higher, as a lovely reminder to set my aims higher, to eschew my baser instincts. It’s a reminder that I certainly need in these chaotic times.

This 24″ by 24″ canvas is part of my Social Distancing show that opens a week from today, June 5, at the Principle Gallery.

 

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“A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

Jorge Luis Borges, Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983

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Marilee Shapiro Asher

Interesting article in the Washington Post yesterday about DC artist Marilee Shapiro Asher who at age of 107 is successfully recovering from a rough bout with covid-19. It was so rough that her doctor called her family saying that she would most likely not last twelve more hours. But the doctor underestimated Marilee and probably wasn’t aware she had already beaten another pandemic, having contracted the Spanish Flu in the Pandemic of 1918 at the age of 6.

That’s a great story in itself but for me, I was as interested in the fact that Marilee is still working as an artist at age 107. She began her artistic career as a metal sculptor in her 20’s and had her first show in 1938–82 years ago. Over the years she has worked in sculpture, painting, photography and now in digital art. In her late 80’s, when the physical demands of working with the large metal sculptures she was known for ( she has work in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian) became too much for her she enrolled in a digital art program. Her fellow students were almost all in their early 20’s.

She had her last show of her sculpture at the age of 100 and is looking forward now to a possible new show of her digital creations. At 107.

It’s obvious that art gives her a purpose that fuels her drive to live. It’s not an unusual story. I have encountered a number of stories of artists who have seemingly prolonged their lives through the purpose they find in their art, many productively working into their 100’s.

I find this encouraging.

Marilee had someone in the family to follow in taking up her late interest as a digital artist. Her mother, Bonnie Harris, took up painting at the age of 79 and worked at it until her death at age 92. Self taught, her folk art paintings garnered much notice and are in the permanent collection of several museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Smithsonian National Collection of American Art, The Phillips Collection and the Folk Art Museum.

Like I said, I find this encouraging. And these days, when there is so much happening that want to make you worry, it’s nice to know that these artist found purpose in their work and used lives that spanned the awfulness of pandemic, war and social upheaval as the inspiration and raw material for their work.

Get well, Marilee, and keep on working. Thanks for the inspiration.

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“True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read, and in so living as to make the world happier and better for our living in it.”

― Pliny the Elder

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A couple of days ago I showed a painting in progress, at a point where I believe it had taken on its life force. Even though it was far from complete, it was already exuding some sort of energy.

I can’t speak for other artists but for me, that’s always a great feeling. It energizes the process, makes me eager to see it through, to discover what its final phase will reveal. There’s a sense of gliding. It feels easy and smooth with little resistance, nothing to stop you from soaring forward.

Believe me when I say this is not normally the case. No, it’s not always gliding through a cool sky. Sometimes the process is a slow trudging march forward in the pouring rain. There are multiple periods in the process where  everything goes flat and dull, including my own enthusiasm for continuing, and there seems to be no satisfying end in sight.

But the strange thing is that often both of these paths– the soaring as well as the slogging– come to the same final point. Both often result in a piece that speaks on its own, that has its own life, its own energy.

They just get there via different routes.

The beauty in both ways is that both are energizing for me. The easy way, such as this painting followed, excites me and inspires me, throwing me instantly into my next work.

It’s joyful.

The slog, on the other hand, reinforces me. It builds the confidence that I can go deep within myself and get past the next obstacle I face. To just keep moving ahead.

It’s satisfying.

This piece was, as I said, easy. It excited me and inspired me from its very beginning. There’s a cleanness in its energy, its colors and forms clear and easily read. Graceful. The inspiration I felt in painting it hangs to it still. As does its joyful feeling.

It’s what I hope for in all my work.

I call this piece In Gaudium Mundi.

The joy in the world.

It’s an 18″ by 36″ canvas that will be part of my Social Distancing show at the Principle Gallery that opens in June at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA.

Have a great day.

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Dr. Seuss- Gosh Do I Look As Old As All That

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Say what you mean and act how you feel,

because those who matter don’t mind,

and those who mind don’t matter.

Dr. Seuss

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I think these words about sincerity from the wonderful and wise Dr. Seuss are good advice for just about anybody.  For myself, I pass this advice on to young artists. Make your own meaning and feeling the focus of your work…

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I ran the short post above several years ago and it resonated with me again this morning. For one thing, it reminded me of how much the imagery and messaging of Dr. Seuss influenced and informed my own perspectives and art. I never thought about it at the time I started drawing and painting but his way of representing the landscapes of his worlds very much infiltrated my own way of looking at my own inner worlds. I see the bendy curves of his trees and smile because I see them in many of my own Red Trees.

The other reason this older post resonated with me were his simple words about honestly saying what you mean and acting how you feel. There are many days when I am trying to write this blog and I feel inhibited by not wanting to offend anyone with my own personal views. I have many times set aside posts that I deemed potentially too offensive. But more and more, I am less shy about sharing my honest opinions for just the reasons that the good Dr. points out: those that matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

And that also translates to my work. I am also less shy in sharing work that moves outside my comfort zones for this same simple reason. I figure if I am being honest and sincere in my work and in my opinions, what do I have to fear from the opinions of others?

So, thanks for that Dr. Seuss, wherever you may be. Your words and art and storytelling have changed the worlds of many, myself included.

Here are a few more of his paintings that weren’t in the original post:

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