Several artists visited my studio today. They were picking up their paintings that I’ve been using for a small research project. With each friend I came around to asking a similar question: “What’s firing you up these days?”
The answers were as wide and varied as their artistic personalities — from concerns of ecology, health, failed relationships, teachers, clubs, joy of painting, and just plain joy. It was funny — one of my wealthy friends was burning with anxiety over poverty, while a poorish one was worried about burning out from too much joy. I often think a significant study could be made of just who does the complaining, and why. Some had to think long and hard to answer my question about what was firing them up. One admitted: “Not much.” More than once I was in mind of Fred Shero‘s remark: “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.”
Through all of this I kept my antenna for self-awareness — and the business we’ve talked about lately of being sensitive to local stimuli. I guess I was looking to see if anyone was burning with what Walter Pater called “a hard, gem-like flame.” I’m always curious as to how we come to terms with our feelings about our worlds and what we are prepared to see in them. Paul Gauguin, in a world-weary moment, asked himself, “How does one re-light the fire the very ashes of which are scattered?” Indeed, looking for or rekindling fire is the daily chore and the daily joy. How it’s done is a wonder of human nature and the secret trial of artists. It’s also the “trick.” At fire, we must all become specialists. In a jaded world, passion is the premium. It can be seen in the eyes and there is little evidence of storm or bombast. It seems to me that the best of passion is a reserved glow — the plain and humble burn of a quiet heart.
PS: “We need to pay exquisite attention to our responses to things — noticing what makes our flame glow brighter. If we pay attention to those things, we’ll be able to catch the flame and feed it.” (Nina Simons)
Esoterica: Kindling: The best are not words, but things: A new brush, a clean canvas, paper or panel. A lump of clay, daring. A photograph, asking. A drawing done along the edge of an airplane ticket, one so long at the wet and moldy bottom of the drawer of sentiment, once tired, now revived, its time come round at last.
Fire in the belly
by Carole Mayne, San Diego, CA, USA
It takes a well-developed amount of self-discipline to learn to become present and listen from the inside out. My favorite quote on stoking our own inner zeal is by Picasso, “‘In the end, everything depends on one’s self, on a fire in the belly with a thousand rays. Nothing else counts. That is why, for example Matisse is Matisse. He’s got the sun in his gut.”
Stoking the fire
by Arthur Neri, San Francisco, CA, USA
In the book The Paintings of Henry Miller: Paint As You Like And Die Happy, Henry Miller says, “To paint is to love again, and to love is to live to the fullest.” He goes on to say, “A good artist must also have a streak of insanity in him, if by insanity is meant an exaggerated inability to adapt. The individual who can adapt to this mad world of today is either a nobody or a sage. In the one case he is immune to art and in the other he is beyond it.”
I find that for “kindling/re-kindling” the fire, what seems to work for me is to paint every day whether I “feel” like it or not. It is a way of pushing through, or stoking the fire during the inevitable dry periods we all face at one time or another.
Cecilia Echeverria, Buenos Aires, Argentina
You know what’s burning me lately? And I suspect this is just the beginning: daring. A new kind of courage. Not for life risking experiences, but for everyday search of satisfaction as an artist, away from the interests that seem to lead the grand majority of people today.
I hadn’t recognized it before: the strong necessity of acceptance that made me subtly but persistently try to adapt instead of create my own path. As Alberto Manguel, Argentinean writer established in Canada, says in an interesting newspaper article, talking about Pinocchio: “To imagine consists in subverting the vision of the world that has been imposed on us.”
Feel the flame
by Janet Badger
I was telling an old friend, sitting there in my crowded, cluttered studio, of my plans for new artwork, my dream of a gallery. I showed him several of my current projects; we sat surrounded by the etchings I’ve done through the years. He looked at me and said, “You are so lucky to have a Passion. I’m retired, I play bridge and go fishing. I thought I wanted to learn how to fly, so I bought a small plane and took lessons. I just sold the plane. Now I’m thinking about a boat. But I wish I had a passion for something.”
So I count myself lucky. I’m not just entertaining myself; this is difficult and involving work. Challenge after challenge confronts me in the studio. I have no need of travel; the only journey I’m interested in is the one where I go from start to finish on an art project. I feel the flame.
by John Lincoln, UK
I am a self-taught painter, an eclectic one at that, and all sorts of things fire me up. However, it is the act of painting itself that does it for me. I cannot go by a day without at least thinking about what to paint next (which is a bit of a problem, since there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week to produce all my ideas in paint). Anything is grist to the mill but it is colour and light which informs most of what I do — successfully or unsuccessfully. The subject matter is almost immaterial. However I have yet to be ‘inspired’ by politics, personal feelings about social inequalities or similar issues. The images I paint are both substitutes for and representatives of the bigger human issues, but indirectly. I may not be a visionary painter but each painting is the development and manifestation of a vision as it is worked out on the surface.
Series of small explosions
by Rich Hawk, San Diego, CA, USA
A step beyond fire — the world seems to reward best a series of small controlled explosions, well spaced, bright, hot and brief, but each one leading to and creating anticipation for the next. How as artists can we keep up that kind of intensity? I know of only a few. I seem to be smoldering fitfully myself, with the occasional flare-up. But there’s a terrible roiling heat, down deep, which when channeled, will be volcanic… if I don’t go postal first!
Finding fire in each day
by Aleta Pippin, Santa Fe, NM, USA
How do we keep ourselves motivated year after year? I find there are times when I am on fire and just want to paint. There are other times when it’s an effort to go to the studio, yet when I get there, something happens that transforms my mood and I do get to painting.
I just found out one of my dear friends has breast cancer, so I’m anxious to get into the studio and paint something just for her with healing colors and the spirit of health, physical well-being, and angels imbued in it.
I guess each of us can find our motivation or fire in each day as it brings its offering and as we are open and aware enough to catch it.
by Jan Zawadzki, Ontario, Canada
Forget it. If you can’t find inspiration in a bowl o’ cheerios you’re obviously well on your way to bran flakes. Corn flakes notwithstanding anything becomes a focus of another’s PhD… whether piled higher or deeper. Fact is man gets high… what causes this is as diverse as what inspires and levels folks out. So we now have the tools to dissect human awareness you think… nonsense. Consider that these are only the preliminary stages of control mechanisms used by those who are inclined to set the parameters of same… mostly because they’ve nothing better to do than to author their own “made in the blender” definitions.
Personalities shine through
Dave Edwards, Blyth, Northumberland, England
Labels are often comforting and can identify us to others with similar traits, but should not be confused with who we are. ADD and Asperger’s Syndrome affects some people but it is only a small part of their personality and does not describe the whole personality. Our true personalities shine through the various syndromes and isms we may be inflicted with. Many courageous people succeed despite these syndromes. Their fight against the effects and also against the reactions they produce in other people often strengthens the personalities of those who have them.
(RG note) Of our recent topics, nothing has caused quite so much interest as the ongoing debate about Attention Deficit Disorder. My first letter and our investigation into ADD and artists begins at http://painterskeys.com/add/ Please also consider reading Bonnie Mincu’s material at http://painterskeys.com/AADD/ Bonnie is an artist, subscriber and respected ADD coach in New York.
Success as “discovery”
by Jim Rowe
The world sees a successful artist as one that sells paintings and is well known. I see success as the “discovery,” the creation of an idea, pulling something out of the depths of your mind that never existed before. To further complete that success, a painting is made as a communication tool for that idea. And as far as I am concerned, that’s where it ends.
Allan O’Marra, Ajax, Ontario, Canada
After an extended period of unhappiness and anxiety surrounding marital breakdown and separation — a time in which my art production dropped off precipitously — I surfaced, emotionally and artistically, approximately 18 months ago and threw myself into a joyful period of production that I see no end to. Having the unhealthy marriage behind me, studying part-time to become a psychotherapist and meeting a woman who is temperamentally and spiritually on the same plane helped me turn the corner. The signature painting that exemplifies the turnaround was a large oil-on-canvas painting titled The Joy of Falling, an image of a smiling boy falling trustingly in a huge blue sky. My most recent piece is The Joy of Boys, a celebration of not only the spirit of boys, and of positive male energy, but of my renewed joy for living and for making art.
Gifting your fire
by David Lloyd Glover, Hollywood, CA, USA
Friends of ours lost their home in the massive Malibu fires a number of years ago. I had been to their beautiful home nestled among the tall cedars in the Malibu hills. In the aftermath, we took up a collection of clothing and household goods to help with a new start in life. All that remained was a cookie jar — unscathed.
It can be refreshing though to dispense with the past and move forward with fresh new beginnings. I have luckily not had a fire but lately I have been gifting friends with old pieces that have been lying around in my canvas bins or tucked in odd corners. Actually it’s kind of fun, they love to own a piece of original art and their excitement about receiving it is infectious. My excitement is from freeing up the dead space and the baggage of older pieces that I would rather forget. Try it, it’s invigorating.
(RG note) Thanks so much to all of the artists who responded to Stew Turcotte’s project to give art to victims of the recent fires in British Columbia. His story is at http://painterskeys.com/fire/ You might consider sending a donation to Stew at Hambleton Galleries, 781 Bernard Avenue, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, V1Y 6P6.
The creative obligation
by J Bruce Wilcox, Denver, Colorado, USA
I had to get beyond years of depression about succeeding at my Art. In the end I learned that I first had to accept my ability to have, handle and be all of my emotions, especially all the dark and difficult ones. This makes me somewhat dangerous to be around, because if my dark emotions are triggered, even over something stupid, I still have to have them and process them, so I can regain myself in a clearer and rebalanced state. Most of this work I do on my own, but occasionally, I do it in the presence of the person who triggered it.
I believe that our (culturally taught) inability to have all of our emotions creatively (instead of destructively) is the main reason people in general are depressed and the key reason many Artists give up and don’t continue on relentlessly. It is easy to get bogged down in world-weary moments. Gaining an understanding of the emotional healing process helps you to move through difficult periods more successfully.
In our recent discussion about ADD, ADHD, depression, boredom, and Asperger’s syndrome, what is missing in all of it is the understanding of the absolute need for the human spirit to manifest creatively. Our culture is about making us all the same, so we can be manipulated and controlled via narrow (often religious) belief structures about what is possible here on Earth.
Fortunately, as we move through the ending of the Piscean Age, the dynamics of living creatively are changing, because the Aquarian Age isn’t about the old patterns of self-denial and self-sacrifice that the last 2000 plus years have been about. This next Age is about each of us recognizing our Inner Fire of Creativity at the core of our being, and living/creating very different life experiences by being focused inward enough to make the connections to Spirit that allow us to Self-Recognize as One.
If you have found your True Joy in manifesting creatively, little else will really matter. Tapping the Fire Within is actually much easier now, or Art wouldn’t be a growth industry. We Artists, in the end, will be seen as the Leading Edge of an entirely new way of Being.
Help children to get through their childhood and out of it without shutting down their creativity or their inner spiritual connections. Help adults to reconnect to their creativity if it is in your realm to do so. Help yourself by doing whatever you need to do to get clear of all cultural suggestions that you cannot succeed at your Art. Never give up. By fully connecting to our Fire Nature and Passion for Life, all things are possible.
The Golden Ball
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, 2003.
That includes Nadina Tandy who wrote, “I’ll remember this letter today as I cut mushrooms for a little extra money. I’m going to think of Van Gogh’s painting of the potato farmers.”
And also Janice Colvill, South Surrey BC, Canada wrote, “Joseph Pearce wrote in Evolutions End. . . ‘No intelligence unfolds without a stimulus from a developed form of that intelligence.’ I can include inspiration, creativity and artistry where the word intelligence is placed.”
And also Sherry Preston who wrote, “I was asked to attend a grade 7 class at a local school to talk about my art as well as how I find my inspiration. It energized me. I was a celebrity for a day… and asked by some of these growing minds if they could have my autograph. What a wonderful experience and honor.”
And also Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, Ontario, Canada who wrote, “The autumn colours, the leaves, the gourds, the pumpkins, red ripe tomatoes among their velvety green leaves and lush red apples in my fruit bowl next to grape clusters and the beautiful colours of the autumn skies all turn my crank.”
And also Elsie Kilguss who wrote, “These letters keep me in touch with all those artistic souls who are tied into the creative mind and spirit… there is always something to ponder and enjoy in each one.”