Archive for February, 2009

On Perfection and Judgment

Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection. That’s our Western either/or, need-to-control thinking. Perfection, rather, is the ability to incorporate imperfection! There’s no other way to live: You either incorporate imperfection, or you fall into denial. That’s how the Spirit moves in or out of our lives. – Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 228, day 237

Imagine how many more people would make art as a regular practice if they felt this way? How many people have judged themselves into abandoning a loved occupation?

This happens because art often becomes about the finished product, not the process. This is process:

Midnight, no waves,
no wind, the empty boat
is flooded with moonlight.
-Dogen

Watch this funny video “Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy” (it won’t embed) for the results of our judgments on our own creative process.

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Just for fun, a dream of mine: future….

Meinrad Craighead

Meinrad Craighead Goddess Painting
Meinrad Craighead is an amazing spiritual artist and mystic who articulates a brilliant vision of the artist’s work in this world. Here is her first mystical experience:

Years before the Goddess movement got underway, artist Meinrad Craighead first encountered “God the Mother” as a child. Lying with her dog beneath blue hydrangea bushes in her grandmother’s garden in North Little Rock, Arkansas, she had heard “a rush of water” deep within her. “I listened to the sound of the water inside and I understood; ‘this is God.’ “Thus, it is no surprise that she now lives and paints near the Rio Grande River, the watery guide she describes as the “natural, metaphysical, archetypal symbol which has ruled my life.” from Soul Sisters, The Five Sacred Qualities of a Woman’s Soul by Pythia Peay

Her first mystical connection to God was through the Earth. Artists have an implicit connection to the material world because it is our task to join matter and spirit in a work of art. Artists must have a fundamental respect for the raw stuff of matter and the Earth which supports and connects us. Craighead understand this fully. Here is how she describes the creative process:

As an artist, I’m the first to see the treasure which has never existed before. But the treasure is never for yourself. You are just the agent to receive it and bring it back.” The creative process, she says, is endlessly regenerative…. an artist is a transformer; transformation is what our work is about. It’s the work in the cauldron; you throw in anything and it all comes together as something delicious. It’s like there’s centrifugal force in us, and everything that comes in each day is spun around. Most is flung off, but the rich stuff drops right down to the bottom. You know what a compost heap is like; it seethes, makes noises, stinks, bubbles, and emits gasses. All of that is transformation. So when your imagination gets in there, it’s growing in the most incredible, rich earth. No wonder the images come out; they’ve been trapped in there. The work of the spirit is in each of us. All we’ve got to do is just do it. That is the incarnation, that is making the invisible visible.- Meinrad Craighead

It makes you want to run out and create, right? The video below is a preview of a documentary about her life. She is amazing.

I’ll only touch on a couple things that struck me because there is just too much here. I love how she describes “the Divine gaze” which holds us in existence. We exist because the Divine perceives us. How validating is that? The Divine chooses us to be filled with Creative energy, to be used us as channel to transform the material world. I am also moved by her portrayal of the feminine aspect of the Divine. There is great courage in her work. She gently expands our conception of what is possible and creates more space for the Divine in this world. In our minds, the Divine is no longer just the narrow definition of “God”, the Divine now has a “Goddess” face as well. God becomes as Tim Victor, a blogger I follow, says “Godde”. By doing so, Craighead brings more balance into the world. Her work heals and transforms our world. She is a true artist and a true partner with the Divine Artist.

Art and Facing Darkness

Last night A.R. Rahman won an Oscar for Best Original Song and this is what he said:

All my life I have had a choice of hate and love. I chose love and I’m here.

This is a powerful statement on many levels. Today I’ll focus on just one: every time an artist sits down to work they choose love. Even if they are expressing pain or anger or darkness they are facilitating the presence of the Divine Artist on Earth. They tap into the fecund well of Divine Creativity and allow it to flow into the world.

Matthew Fox, founder of creation spirituality, describes the same thing slightly differently:

The artist names holy “isness” in all its forms—joyful and beautiful, sad and tragic. We need the artist to name our common experience of “isness” —to tell us when “isness” has just passed by and to assist us in expressing our gratitude.

The artist opens the door to the present moment which is the only place to truly experience of the Divine. It is silly to try and pretend that darkness does not exist in the world, that we could exist without sadness, anger or pain. Artists help us to name and experience these emotions, this is what Fox means when he says “isness”- to locate these feelings in the universal experience. Their part in the never-ending upward spiral toward the Universal Maker which snakes from light to dark and back again.

Art helps us to stop resisting our emotions and the present moment. When standing in front of a work of art, we breath and absorb the moment. We experience our feelings. We project our personal issues and see them reflected back safely. This process allows us to move forward out of darkness instead of being stuck there. By experiencing the darkness in our lives we are released from it, by resisting it we are trapped. A work of art can help us face our darkness and this is an act of love. Art acts a loving midwife to the soul urging us onward in our spiritual development.

A.R. Rahman:

The Spaciousness of Time

Rapids image source http://chestofbooks.com/
Abbey of the Artist has an amazing post on photography as a sacred practice.

We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless. There is a sense of spaciousness in moments. Art and spiritual practice are how we find this moment of eternity, or even better, how we allow the moment to find us. There are many moments waiting for us each day, prodding at our consciousness, inviting us to abandon our carefully constructed plans and defenses.

The task of the artist is to cultivate the ability to see these eternal moments again and again. In this way, we are all invited to become artists.

It’s a beautiful and moving piece of writing. Checkout the whole post here. What struck me most was the line “There is a sense of spaciousness in moments.” The conventional notion of time always seems lacking to me. The whole “tyranny of time marching forward” must be more elastic than we are lead to believe.

Our sense of time is constricted by our lack of connection to the present moment. We live in our judgments about how things are going and what we wanted to happen instead of in what is actually is. The heaviness of our judgments create a narrow canyon for time to pass through. Just as when a river is forced to narrow it rushes by at an alarming pace, so to does time. As we release our judgments and attachments, there is more space for us to breathe and act, and more connection to what is. Time spills out like a wide, meandering river on a summer’s day.

River
Image source: Ken Corbett (Thanks!)

Making art requires us to enter this present moment and that is why it is such a gift to be an artist. We cannot get away with ignoring the present and still allow our creativity to flood the world. We are blessed with awareness and cursed by resistance.

Update: The photo above turns out the be of Ken Corbett on the St. Francis River! Not a coincidence I think…

Change and the Artist

Through Jan’s wonderful blog, I was introduced to Anthony de Mello. I came across his moving last words:

Don’t change: Desire to change is the enemy of love.
Don’t change yourselves: Love yourselves as you are.
Don’t change others: Love all others as they are.
Don’t change the world: It is in God’s hands and he knows.
And if you do that change will occur

I have heard so many artists, myself included, say they want to change the world. It’s a radical idea that change comes from a state of complete acceptance not from any actions we take. This state of acceptance is actually just being truly present. That something needs changing is a judgment. If you are completely in the present moment you are not judging and there is nothing to change.

Art is created in the present moment. In the present moment your body may be still, but your being is in action. It is in sync with the continuous and unceasing emanation of Divine Creativity and Consciousness. This is why art can change the world. It does so not through action, but through this deeply connected state of being. Divine Creativity becomes manifest in the world through the energy captured in the painting, sculpture, or other form of art.

This week I worked with a group of kids ages 5 to 9. As I was teaching them to draw a person, they started with the usual complaints about mistakes made. I stopped the class and told them

In art there are no mistakes. In art there are no mistakes. Everything that happens is just something to work with.

I’ve said this before many times, but this time was different. I felt that statement go into to the kids. There was a special kind of silence, an active silence, as they processed and took in this statement. When they went back to work, they produced the most beautiful drawings. Far more expressive and detailed than anything they had done before. It was really stunning. Why did this happen? Because for that short time they entered into the present moment fully. They released the judgment of “mistake” and changed the world by shifting their beings. It was beautiful to see.

Comments Enabled

Sorry guys, somehow I shut off comments. But they are working again. Look forward to hearing from you!

Creation Spirituality

I just joined an interesting group, a kind of a Facebook for Creation Spirituality. Creation Spirituality is something I’ve become increasingly interested in as I explore my artistic process through this blog. I don’t agree with Matthew Fox, the founder of CS on everything, but he usually hits the nail right on the head when it comes to the creative process.

I wholeheartedly agree that art is a form of meditation and process is more important that product. It’s great that he talks about making art as entering into relationship with the Earth. It is also about entering into relationship with Spirit. The artist, consciously or not, seeks to merge Spirit and matter to create a greater whole.

Fox says the artist will have no peace until they express their creativity. I have absolutely found this to be true in my own life. I love the line “If your creativity is not busy about healthy things, it’s going to be busy about making you neurotic.” He quotes Otto Rank*, after a failed suicide attempt saying, “I must give birth everyday or die.” This is an amazing statement, but one I think is true for artists. Fox takes it a step further by telling us that everyone is an artist and everything we do can be an art if it is done with heart. If we connect to our soul and not just our minds we connect to the protective and healing properties of making art. I recently spoke about how art protects one from descent into fear. Fox understands that art is balm against many forms of disabling mental distress.

For more posts on Fox look here and here.

* Updated with name of Otto Rank. Thanks Matt!

Max Beckmann on the Artist and Danger

Max Beckmann Triptic
Max Beckmann is one of my favorite artists. I grew up a few blocks from the LA County Art Museum and there was an utterly stunning Beckmann show at some point during my childhood. Such a revelation! I sensed something in those paintings, a deep connectedness that I yearned for in my own life. As a child I felt these paintings were holding my hand leading me someplace I dearly wanted to go. Beckmann describes his work this way:

What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leads from the visible to the invisible, like the famous Cabbalist who once said:’If you wish to get hold of the invisible, you must penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.” To penetrate is to go through. (p. 94)

This quote is from a wonderful book, Max Beckmann and the Self by Wendy Beckett. Another quote which struck me forcibly is:

[drawing] protects one against death and danger. (p.28)

Of course, and thankfully, there is no escape from physical death, but death by failure to live and danger are another matter. The idea that making art can protect the artist rings true to me. Certainly drawing helped be battle a fear which was over powering my life.

When an artist isn’t creating they loose their connection to the Divine and their connection to the physical word. They their life force and the resulting fear and /or depression deprive the artist of the their ability to act. For the artist, there is only a shadow life without art. Their life becomes about damming up the Divine creative wellspring instead being a channel for it to flow through. The artist loses their trust in the world, their ability to see and act for their own higher good. This ultimately drives them to make poor choices and poor choices bring danger.

If the artist does their work, they form as Beckmann puts it, a bridge, a deep connection between heaven and earth. This happens in the present moment, a mystical space which is always here for us to tap into:

O living always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;
O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;)
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and
look at where I cast them,
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.
Walt Whitman

This is the state where art is created, sacred space and in which we are connected to our true Home. A sense of trust and goodness permeates us. All is right with the world. Connection to this state allows us to make clear decisions for our own highest good. It allow us to travel uncharted paths safely and this the artist true job: to chart the uncharted. Although it may feel more dangerous actually leads us out of danger.

New Scupltures

Reclining Angel:
Reclining Angel

Reclining Angel

Reclining Angel

Reclining Angel

Listening Angel
Listening Angel

Listening Angel

Goddess
Goddess

Goddess

Goddess

Goddess

These pieces are made from clay. I’m working on a post about the meaning of clay. It should be up in a couple days.

Creation Anxiety: The Fear of Making Art

Since I posted yesterday it has really sunk in, the only thing stopping me from making art is myself. I feel totally liberated. How exhausting it has been to lay blame everywhere. It’s not my schedule or my health, my family or my house, it’s me. Or perhaps it would be better to say it’s something in me. That something is fear.

The act of creation is so overwhelming and terrifying that sometimes I cannot physically bear it. I have to run away, turn on the TV or read email just to escape. True creation is one of the most intimate acts a person can experience. It is a direct connection with the Divine, like plugging in to an electrical socket. One could easily liken the fear of making art to the fear of death. It is the profound fear of loss of self, of annihilation in the Godhead.

While making art, an artist opens themselves completely to God. The creative energies of Above wash through them, merging and mingling with the artist’s heart. The resulting work is the fusion of created matter with Spirit. This is the job of the artist: to bring Spirit into the material world. An artist cannot help but be transformed by the process and the prospect of such a profound transformation is terrifying because it is not directed by the self but by God.

Yesterday and today I waded in to fear so deep that I thought I wouldn’t find my way back out. I wanted to jump out of my skin. I almost ceased to function because I was so overpowered with anxiety. So I dialogued with my fear, drawing it every couple hours. As I drew, I entered deeper into relationship with this fear and began slowly to understand it. I began to feel affection for it in an odd sort of way. I could see how this fear has literally shaped my life by controlling my actions. It now feels like a benevolent, but misguided friend trying to protect me. By understanding it, I have gained freedom. Freedom of movement and more freedom to engage with the Divine. I am ready once again for that full bodied devotion with which I practiced art 20 years ago (when I was too young to know fear) where every waking moment is met as a chance to create. I feel that hunger again to drink from the spring of Eternally creativity and to fill a cup to pass along.

Here are my sketches engaging my fear.

Wednesday 2:00pm
Fear at 2:00pm

Wednesday 4:00pm
Fear at 4:00pm

Wednesday 7:30pm
Fear at 7:30pm

Wednesday 10:00pm
Fear at 10:00pm

Thursday 12:00am
Fear at 7:30am

Thursday 7:30am
Fear at 12:00am

Thursday 1:00pm
Fear at 1:00pm

Thursday 5:00pm
Fear at 5:00pm

Thursday 6:00pm
Fear at 6:00pm

Update:
Friday 3:00pm
Fear at 3:00pm

Doing Battle with Myself

It has been quite a while since I posted. My life has been in such an uproar and this is the first time I have found enough clarity to share my journey with you.

Here’s the background: I uprooted my whole life, moved thousands of miles, left my community, my garden, and my routine behind.

The reason: I am learning to listen rather than to dictate and control.

My heart episode taught me that it is better to put myself in Divine hands that my own. So I committed myself to following the energetic path laid for me, and not fighting with the world to get my way. I followed where I was being guided even though I didn’t want to go. I’ve heard this called the ‘path of least resistance’ and this is my first time on it. Wow, what was I doing fighting all these years? Everything fell into place so easily that it was impossible not to see the hand of the Divine in it.

This move was the first time I have ever experienced a major life event that went perfectly smoothly. In the past, I would have set a goal and forced it to happen. It would have been complicated and there would have been tremendous stress and difficulty. It was almost shocking, how simple this seemingly complicated move was. We sold our house, most of our junk, packed everything, found a new home, drove for 3 days and for an entire 3 months, everything went like clock work.

Now that I am here in my new home, I have found the simplicity and silence I have been searching for many years, but the silence is defining- a howling roar. It is the complete absence of everything I valued, structure, friends, purpose. It is tremendously painful, but it is what convinces me that the Divine hand is in this. The great mystics teach us that God is to be found in silence. I believe I was sent here to be laid open, to unclog my well and be scraped clean of any resistance to God so that I maybe more fully devoted to making art.

My purpose and the purpose of most artists, is to be a conduit for creative energy from Above to enter into below. Like adding compost to soil, enriching the earth we live in and preparing the ground for beautiful things to grow. In my old life, a thousand things interfered with my work: endless volunteer projects, friends, a massive garden, a Victorian house. Here, there is nothing to interfere except myself. God has exposed me as the source of my own blockages. And yet my well is still clogged. This is part of the pain. There is nowhere to run or hide, finally I can make no excuses. This is between me and my Creator and my Creator requires me to create. Now as I wait for an energetic path to reveal my next move, I do battle with my own darkness, those places, I have willfully declined to let the fecund stream of Divine creativity flow.

I will post some new work soon.