beauty

The Beauty of Soul

Being an image maker or thought presenter wields great power as history has shown. Generations have been defined by the images and ‘sayings’ that each has produced. Who doesn’t remember ‘where’s the beef?’ or ‘make love not war’. Think of the peace sign and people like Milton Glaser, Andy Warhol, Peter Max, Ferlinghetti, Robert Indiana and a host of others in all mediums who were masters of this skill. The arts have always reflected the society in which they have lived and have simultaneously responded to and led generations.

Contained within an artist’s repertoire are tools of seduction as well as meaning. We can very easily tickle the eye with color, shine, glitz, novelty of all sorts and give the impression of art while in fact it might contain very little of that. There is the appearance of art and then there is art. The modern day world contains both and is sometimes hard to distinguish. The art fair has taken on the modalities used by malls and retail philosophies for the ultimate goal of the sale. Of necessity the best galleries have mastered this form of influence.

But a little beyond that there is an enclave of something else that might be a bit more challenging in both its craft and intended meaning. To me this is the arena of the beauty of soul. It tends not to fit into the accepted showrooms of art but breaths its own life in its own way. While it may challenge and test the limits of our own understanding of meaning and beauty it contains traits and emotional content that is undeniable. I have seen from the gallery side, with my experience with the viewer or collector, that most aficionados of art are looking for something specific to fill a need within themselves. ‘This disturbs me, I could never live with that!’ is one familiar comment. ‘I have blue drapes and this would just fit so well in my room’ is another. ‘I really don’t want anything sad around me so these pieces definitely don’t work for me’ is another. So every exhibit or work of art has filters applied to it. YET when we go to the theater or read a book or listen to music the challenging elements and the fullness of the contrast enhances our experience.

So artists tend to adapt to the market seeking approval, which is a human need, and then develop mechanisms to feed that craving. The beauty of soul disregards the tendency of approval and imposes its own will on the world. Take it or leave it. In this ‘letting go’ is where I have seen the most moving work and in actuality the best people. It takes some effort to find but it is there alongside all of the other stuff we have come to call art. In a politically correct world where authentic ideas can be crushed for not following party lines I find originality and courage of high value. It takes courage these days to be true to yourself knowing that if someone is offended by your work all hell can break loose. But this might be the new price we have to pay for the Beauty of Soul.

 

image: in my ongoing quest to include notable work as the blog image I have focused on Mexican artist Javier Marin this week. I find his work amazingly compelling both from the making point of view as well as emotional content.

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To GPS or Not

 

There have been so many times in my life to this day that I have reached a moment of decision and then agonized over what is the right thing for me to do. Whether this relates to making art, family or any other life situation it always comes up the same. What do I do and what direction should I go? In a world where gaining the approval of others begins at birth we can experience a fog of indecision at the very time we need to have clarity and resolve.

We are taught not to be selfish and others must be considered as we navigate through the maze of life decisions that will most certainly find all of us. When making art what we see is a microcosm of life itself. It is a series of decisions that culminate in an end. As artists we train ourselves to expect this process and develop our own ways of choosing to bring us to where we want to go. We do have an internal GPS system for this very purpose and where I want to explore considering that this is possibly our greatest tool in life and in art.

If we take the idea of feeding ourselves it becomes very apparent the mechanism of choice that dominates this process. Let’s first assume to narrow down the discussion that all the food we can choose from is good for us. But within even that we will have foods that we will be drawn to and others that we will repel from. It plays out automatically and with complete ease if we think about it. I ‘love’ to eat such and such. It is one of my favorite things to eat. I ‘hate’ such and such. It makes me sick to even think about eating that. We have a sensation system that is so automatic it almost becomes invisible to us because it is so connected to the core of who we are. I love this. I hate that.It reflects us at our essence. When making art we actually do the same thing. It is our like/dislike equation that guides everything that we do and decide both in what we make and what we see in other people’s work.

Because there are no direct ramifications to anyone else in the 2 examples I just presented we fully accept with ease the process of arriving at what is good for us. When we enter into the involvement of others in this process the earlier stated issues of being selfish and having to consider others rises to the surface and often distorts our pure internal GPS system. We now care about what others will think of us. How will this affect this one or that one? We start the process of questioning our self and turning a critical eye to the conflict between what we want and how it will affect someone else. The system is still there intact but this approval mechanism has just gotten in the way. We each must find ways to resolve this as it confronts us but one thing that has proven itself over and over is that when I ignore myself and tilt my decisions to pleasing others ‘first’, I am rarely if ever satisfied or happy with myself and what comes from that choice. My experience has been that at the most critical moments of my life I had to be willing to stand by myself and take the full consequences of that whether the issue was about my art career or in my personal life.

While we would want everything to be cut and dry and black and white in art and in life it is not. There is even an art to making choices. To prefer yourself and to know what is good for you might be the greatest form of art we can know and that makes us all artists if we allow it. Beauty, authenticity and accomplishment evolve out of this in my opinion. Art that is real. Life that is real and growth that is real can be the only outcome of committing to this process each day. Just possibly paying attention to what we each love and hate is the path to our own happiness and development.

 

Stepping Into YOUR Flow

Every pursuit, whether it is art or any other career, has these special sweet spot moments that have come to be known as Flow. Some endeavors are more prone to this than others for certain reasons but they all have access to it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively on the subject in his book Finding Flow as well as others looking at the scientific data surrounding this phenomenon.

In the 1970’s and 80’s there was very little information or conversation about this but as technology began to clarify the workings of the brain and new discoveries were made on the plasticity  and recoverability from either defects or injury flow emerged as an important component of these studies. The point I want to make is that all studies come from focused inquiries of actual experience. Actual experience is where this article will be focused. There has always been an awareness of the experience of ‘being in the zone’. But the why and how of it remained foggy at best.

I began to recognize flow first through athletics at a young age. Basketball was my sport and there were days where I had ‘feel’ that I didn’t have on other days.The ball felt like part of my hand. There appeared on these days a knowing of what was going to happen next, a heightened sense of distance and momentum where you knew most of your shots were going in and you couldn’t miss. I always found this happened to me when I had the least expectation about my performance meaning I was either sick or injured or something that lowered my expectations. Maybe it was that I took the pressure off myself and allowed for a greater thing to emerge. The time and practice was already put in which is critical to allow for this state but on these days I had  a relaxed, almost I don’t care state of mind.

Once I began my career, almost out of high school as a self employed artist, I began to experience a similar phenomenon on what I will call my good days. I had times where all of a sudden it was the end of the day and it just flew by. I developed an unconscious routine  that over time seemed  to allow for these days on a more regular basis. Looking back I recognize certain practices that kept raising the level of engagement and ultimately the outcome of my focus. How this manifested for me was looking at a finished work and having the distinct feeling that I didn’t do it and that it just flowed through me somehow. I had transitioned from the thinking mind to the feeling soul if we can call it that. In other words I was high from the experience and had no consciousness of how it had happened.

It is very difficult to expound on this in an article or book as this is experientally based and is as personal as the work you do and how you will be positioning yourself to allow for these times. However there are common elements  that restrict flow and things that facilitate flow. New technology can actually image these states in the brain and we can train ourselves to maximize our ability and mindset. Meditation, yoga, exercise, stillness and my favorite ‘doodling’, a sort of visual daydreaming, typically initiates stepping into flow. I resist the idea of finding flow as I believe it exists around us every moment and we step into it when conditions are aligned for us. As we become more ‘automatic’ or unconscious in our ability to express ourselves, I have found that picking up a paint brush or pencil or whatever your tools are potentially open up and trigger this flow energy and before we know it there it is guiding us along the process that we are focused on.

In the end flow is a result of a conglomerate of things that we have chosen and committed to far before we ever feel it. It takes practice, routine and  a deepening understanding of the work you are engaged in. Sometimes we get a glimpse of it when we discover a new interest or pursuit. Something sparks. It drives us to do it again and again in an attempt to duplicate the experience. I want to be clear however. Flow is not required to pursue and work at any endeavor of excellence whether painting, writing, dancing, theater or even medicine for that matter. However working at something, committing to something and the drive to pursue it is always a requirement to experience flow. Ultimately flow is a gift the creative force gives us to drive us forward and for each of us to be able to say, ‘it feels like it just came through me and I was happy to be a part of it’. Next week I will explore in more detail what detracts and what fosters this experience so stay tuned.