These days, the wind blows on this island from the northwest, fluttering hard the worldwide flags of the beach-cottagers. Clouds form over the distant coastal ranges, building among the highest peaks. Then they move out into the great gulf and rise to pass overhead. Effortlessly they form and reform. They have their early character and their late. In the morning: blue-gray, transparent, understated. In the evening: warm, purpled, energetic, dramatic. These clouds present the perennial quandary: Do I redesign them to suit a composition — to add control and solidity to the work? Or do I go with the arbitrary mystery of the vapour — the magic of hiding and transformation?
Here on this shore there’s shimmering reflection in the rolling seaforms — the sun half in, half out of the clouds. A couple of kayaks knife the water, their paddlers laid back, intermittent, dreaming. I’m having that terrible feeling that I will never be able to do justice to this.
In Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, law number four is of particular interest to artists. It’s called “The Law of Least Effort.” Chopra’s idea is that Nature’s intelligence functions with “effortless ease, carefreeness, harmony and love.” He gets us into this blissful state when we fully accept our world at any moment, by taking personal responsibility for our current situation, and by forgetting about trying to defend a particular point of view.
Thinking of my art school days, “least effort” is not a term I’d use. Those days were full of painful attempts at matching colours in sun and shade, fighting to get my pencil or brush around compound shapes, toiling over impossible gradations. Now I’m seeing Chopra’s point. That effortless business kicks in when you put your pain safely into your pocket. Like Chopra’s “Laws” the job requires repetition, practice, private effort. Whether you’re building your character or cutting out some clouds–you have to do the groundwork. You have to be alone with it. To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.
PS: “When we harness the forces of harmony, joy and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease.” (Deepak Chopra)
Esoterica: As we progress in our art-making we find it increasingly easy to fall back on our bag of tricks. Alone under the sky I can free myself of this tendency and happily burn through my expendable supports. Where there are few expectations, expediency wins. Nobody ever said you can’t use a six-inch tar-brush or the scrag-end of a cedar stick. Practical stuff is surprisingly at hand. Here on this mossy rock between flights of turnstones one can float like a cloud. Save for Dorothy, no one is looking.
This letter was originally published as “Clouds” on August 24, 2004.
“It is necessary to mark the greater from the lesser truth: namely the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the comparatively narrow and confined; namely that which addresses itself to the imagination from that which is solely addressed to the eye.” (J. M. W. Turner)
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