Posts Tagged ‘Flow’


"La Vigne Rouge"- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh's Lifetime

“La Vigne Rouge”- The Only Painting Sold in Van Gogh’s Lifetime

I came across an interesting little film, Painting in the Dark:The Struggle For Art in a World Obsessed With Popularity, from video essayist Adam Westbrook that speaks about the life and struggles of Vincent Van Gogh.

While already a well documented tale, one with which many of us are very well acquainted, Westbrook uses Van Gogh’s life in a way that makes us question whether we would have the same sort of inner urge to continue creating without the encouragement of others.  Van Gogh, after all, basically painted for an audience of only himself and his brother throughout his entire creative life yet painted incessantly, producing work at a prodigious pace.

Autotelic DefinitionHe also introduces us to the word autotelic, taken from the book, Flow, from famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  The word refers to a self contained activity, one that is not done with the expectation of future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward.  In short, it’s what you do when you are your only audience, when you are the only one who can judge the work.

I think of my current Icon series in that way, even though I have been sharing the work here.  It is done solely for my own pleasure and satisfaction, without a thought of trying to please someone else with it.  It’s just something I have to do and what will become of it is of no concern to me at this point.

There’s something very liberating in that but whether I could sustain this passion for it through a decade of hardship is a difficult question, one that I hope to never have to face.

This film is a little over 10 minutes in length and very well done so if you have the time, take a look.  If you like the work of  Adam Westbrook check out his site which contains his video essays, delve.  Or his regular website. Or if you would like to lend financial support, you can visit his page on Patreon.


The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »

Flow Chart--mihaly csikszentmihalyiI wrote the other day about my search for that intangible thing in my work, that quality that will set me off on a new path.  I’ve been thinking about it and what I think I am really looking for comes down to one word:  Flow.   There’s a famous book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, from psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( please don’t ask me how to pronounce his name) that describes flow as a sense of being in the zone or in the groove, of being so totally immersed in the task before you that the external world is blocked out.  He describes it as being like playing jazz, where each action, thought and movement rises from the previous one.

He points out that this flow occurs when there is a balance between the level of the challenge and the skill of the person facing it.  Basically, this person is working at the far end of their skill level, pushing themselves to their boundaries in order to conquer the task before them.  There can be no thought other than that thing before them.  Total concentration and dedication.  I think of it in terms of a mountain climber facing a climb that seems at the far end of their limits, who must muster up all their knowledge and concentrate on each movement in order to scale the daunting peak before them.

I have known this feeling, this flow that he describes, in painting.  I have often described this feeling of immersion, of a level of concentration where each action leads to the next and time seems to fade into nothingness.  I don’t hear the music playing, don’t feel thirst or hunger, don’t think about other things that I need to do or things that might be worrying me.  When I have been in this state it seems so real and so concrete that it feels as though it is always right there and attainable.  It is intoxicating.

But it is not sustainable forever without creating new challenges.  One you have conquered one peak, you need a new one to face down.  Without this challenge, you are at a  comfortable plateau, something I have attempted to describe in the recent past.  Your skill exceeds the challenge and total immersion is not necessary.  While there is a level of needed concentration to simply maintain this elevation, there is also room for outside thoughts and concerns.  The once difficult task has become the normal course.  Comfortable.

And this is fine  and, as I have said before, most artists reach a comfortable level and settle in for the long  term at this high level.  But deep inside, at least for me at the moment, there is a gnawing feeling to find myself hanging  tenuously on a new, scary ascent, pushing my abilities to new levels.  Riding the flow of the thrill of this tunnel-like focus.

That’s where I find myself at the moment– at a plateau, looking up for a new peak to attack.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: