On January 23, 2001, I wrote you a twice-weekly letter from a hammock beside a sleepy lagoon in a tropical clime. Heliconius butterflies skipped over the calm surface where unseen tilapia and bobo mullet roiled below. The daily passage from sunrise to sunset was a metronome for easy-going productivity. Here’s more or less what I wrote on my laptop and transferred to our server by satellite phone:
Sleepy Lagoon is a good place to practice the “be here now.” Limitations become advantages and new and unfamiliar phenomena become fresh challenges. I have only this — and this day to do it. Come to think of it — this goes for pretty well any place or any space.
We get mail here. Over the last couple of weeks artists have written and described the space they’re in, what they’re doing, and what their windows tell them. Some letters were pure poetry. There was a sense of contentment, inner peace and centering. Other letters were not so happy. My attitude — whether it’s under a grass parasol, under the basement stairs or under the bright lights of a sociologically-diverse office — these are our studios and it’s best to be happy in them.
I’ve looked at the “be here now” as a special place where we learn to unfold a private quilt of our own making and design. It’s less a physical space than an attitude. At the same time it’s a linear thing, like the frames of a film, where every frame makes a contribution to the eventual whole, and every frame asks for attention as it rolls by. I don’t think everyone is capable of the steadiness or perhaps the obsession required. But this steadiness, this plodding, is the key to our lives as artists.
Like it or not, I’m realizing that my pool-edged fortitude is the sort of blessing that carries us from dilettante to professional, and might just be key to self-understanding.
PS: “Art is viable when it finds elements in the surrounding environment. Our ancestors drew their subject matter from the religious attitudes which weighed on their souls. We must now learn to draw inspiration from the tangible miracles around us.” (Umberto Boccioni, 1882-1916)
Esoterica: Many of us hunger for an important space so we can fill it up. Currently, I’m reminded of the value of the minimal.There’s mind-clearing joy in the simple life. There’s plenty of good stuff right around here. The play of light, shade and reflected light is a Sorolla-like education. The absence of some tubes of colour, readily at hand in my home studio, has served to bring out improvements in colour mixing. I keep telling myself: “Less is more. Keep it simple, stupid.” Meanwhile, on the horizon, construction cranes warn me that forces are at work to take away my sleepy lagoon. “A rain-tight roof, frugal living, a box of colors, and God’s sunlight through clear windows keep the soul attuned and the body vigorous for one’s daily work.” (Albert Pinkham Ryder, 1847-1917)
The value of memories for the here and now
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA
The great thing about the here and now is that it is so obvious. One cannot escape it. Even in Disneyland. That being said, truly being in the here and now takes great effort and practice. In some strange way, when I am distracted from the when and where I am, in some situation, I aim my memory towards time past. Moments of being in a time and place. Times and places when I was in the moment.
This is counter-intuitive, but thinking about vivid memories in my history often helps me connect with the here and now, in the present time. I often think of working in my grand-father’s garden. My son’s first day of school and his Superman belt buckle. I do not live in the past. Certain memories remind me of how I should feel, everyday.
Now or never
by Kay Vontz, Sarasota, FL, USA
“Be here now” is most essential the older you get. It is a habit worth fostering as otherwise you wake up one morning and realize how much time has gone by and how much of it has been non-productive. Remember, you have NOW and you’d best do everything with it you can. You don’t get a chance for a “do over” with NOW! It’s truly NOW OR NEVER! And so each day when I wake up, I say to myself, “Today is the first day of forever and the last day of never and so best to get on with it!”
A spiritual state of man
by Olga Knyaz Yaroslaw, Moscow, Russia
As to the lagoon of inspiration it may be a material place or it may be a spiritual state of man. What I remember before now about myself the inspiration comes with a spirit of creativity. The creativity comes when is present the moment of investigation and new decisions to investigate. Except this, must be present the stimulus to investigate. The stimulus are different for different peoples, You know, of course these.
Cluttered and scattered studio
by David Skrypnyk, Cowichan Bay, BC, Canada
My studio is a happy place. I won’t produce unless I am in a good frame of mind. It is paradisiacal where I live so my lack of much recent output is a mindset of distractions caused by lawyers, executors, a handful of parasitic relatives and friends of my recently departed wife. In my way of thinking, the studio is the mind of the artist. The space around is where he/she can lay it all out; what’s in his/her studio. My studio is currently cluttered and scattered and nothing comes out.
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Where this dream will take me
by Eric Beggs, Boulder, CO, USA
I’m sitting in my 31 foot Airstream trailer, a 1971 model I’m converting to a mobile production facility.
I’ve installed a computer bay in the front area replacing the kitchen with a 4×5 vertical copy camera and the couch/bed with 15 feet of countertop for computers, scanners and printers. I’m in the countryside near Austin, Texas, about a mile from McKinney Falls State Park. At night I can step out the door and hear coyotes howling. I’ve set up a bird feeder by the trailer hitch and can see all the activity over the monitor as I work. The computer system is geared for eventual video production as well.
When my fiance finishes graduate school, I’ll be ready to take the “Camp Studio” on the road and spend more time at desirable locations producing prints and video in the field. I’m a photographer by trade but often delve into other related visual fields. I work in pinhole, panoramic and stereo formats in B&W, infrared and color. I shoot up to 8×10 formats and have recently been experimenting with Zone Plates which produce a wonderful, ethereal soft focus effect. I’ve been fascinated with clouds this past fall and plan to paint cloud forms on the ceiling of the computer bay, with glow-in-the-dark stars for night viewing.
I was outside painting the darkroom sink today for the lab which is nearly finished in the rear of the Airstream, when I looked up and saw a large flock of crows rising from the newly plowed fields. It was a vision of dreams realized to me. I’m excited about scanning images from my collection and producing large format digital negatives which can then be printed on handmade emulsions using palladium, gum dichromate and cyanotype chemistry. I’ll also be able to print up to 20×24 B&W prints from 4×5 negatives.
I’m interested in microphotography, stereography and kite aerial photography, large prints and digital enhancement. I’m having a wonderful time designing all the details which make working in this funny little aluminum tube a convenience and a pleasure. The darkroom is a seated affair, since the headroom is only 6 foot 6 inches. I built a custom sink 34 x 88 inches to accommodate 20×24 trays at a height of just 30 inches and the enlarger baseboard is set at 28 “for comfortable printing. The vertical print washer has been lowered to floor level for ease of print handling and the windows are blacked out in a way that they can still be easily opened for toning, views and fresh air when I’m not printing.
So, this is my dream in process. As I put another coat of paint on the sink or pull wire for the phone system, I wonder where this dream will take me, what will be revealed and how I will change from the experience. I’m looking forward to seeing around the next bend in the road, as I so often do on my bicycle tours in Ireland.
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Being here now the key to happiness
by Mary Susan Vaughn, Weddington, NC, USA
When we live in the past or worry about the future, we lose the peace and blessings of “right now.” I have discovered that I appreciate the present for what it is — a gift. I find that I appreciate more the things that are heartfelt and need less the things that are tangible. Less really is More. This is true also in our paintings. As I grow as an artist, I find that my paintings tell a story better when there is less clutter. I also notice that keeping the painting “simple” and “calm” in colors used also adds something special to the painting. Just as it is difficult to focus on the subject of a painting if all the other “things” around it are screaming out for attention, if everything in your painting has bright, bold colors, then it takes away from the subject and every color is screaming for attention. Simplicity is key to many things — happiness, satisfaction, appreciation, and paintings. As we approach Christmas, it is so peaceful to sit back and know that it is more about the giving than the receiving. I agree that “being here now” is the key to happiness.
Here and now helps in trying times
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA
Your letters have transported me into the world of fellow artists, public and sometime private… and you are the one who has unselfishly guided us all through these “artist open worlds.” Art has been my life’s “reward” from the day I picked up my first ruby red crayon. I can’t remember wanting to do anything more than being a creator of artwork, with the exception of trying to heal from Breast Cancer over 13 years ago. My art helped me through those tough times as I trust your art is doing for you at this “here and now”!
Presently I am working on my first large formal commissioned portraits and have three more portraits awaiting me. I thank the powers-that-be, thank myself for all the years of study and hard work and those who have supported my wishes to paint, when working in my studio each day. It took me many years to finally give myself permission to do a serious portrait for a client, being I was always waiting for the “right time” to accept such a delicate task! So far so good and almost ready to submit the piece to my client for Christmas! This grandmother with her grandson will have an image as seen through my brush to refer to for a long time to come. Always questioning if I was worthy enough, ready enough, dependable enough to take such a work on… I can tell you I finally have realized the time is always right to try my best and that I have.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes David Lauterstein of Austin, TX, USA, who wrote, ” ‘The essence of analysis is surprise. When people are themselves surprised by what they say, that’s when they are really making some progress.’ (Sigmund Freud). Mr. Genn, thank you for often surprising me by what you say; it has helped me make some progress!”
And also Liz Maness of Wimberley, TX, USA, who wrote, “I love art of any kind and am constantly working to keep my dealer in Santa Fe stocked with art to sell. Artists are so fortunate to do what we do and never have to stop.”
Enjoy the past comments below for On being here now