Recent activities have helped with an understanding of what goes on in the art-making brain. The encouragement of Zen-like lapses can be useful both in the studio and the great outdoors. We start with the understanding that a relaxed brain more easily accesses natural creative tendencies.
In the preparation phase, minimal anxieties, few regrets and a state of well-being preheat the oven. Shuffling of the recipe cards is also valuable. Here are a few ideas:
Have an attitude of low expectations and nothing to lose.
Try to make deliberate, thoughtful, rhythmic movements.
While not necessarily alone, be solitary.
Allow yourself to dream, flow and indulge your fancies.
Be philosophic about your weaknesses and creative faults.
Let your tools and your media do the talking.
Let your work tell you what it needs.
Let yourself yin and yang between thought and no thought.
Accept imperfection. Try for the spirit of attaining.
Teach yourself to teach yourself as you go.
Be in the now, but look gently ahead.
Be not lazy in your relaxation.
In the mystery we call life, certain work can be certain joy, and it has something to do with surrender to the more primitive, playful and automatic parts of our brain.
It’s like the convention of retirement, only in shorter and more frequent increments. The idea is to calculate and bend a sense of leisure into specific creative times. Like retirement activities such as golf, boating or woodworking, work is required. In the Zen-like mode, work is not so onerous, but it is still work. Persons of any age with a desire for independence, who are disposed to squeeze and produce, can access this mode.
I’m not trying to be funny here, but artists need to develop a feeling of privilege and a sense of good fortune, even if the feeling has to be artificially induced. This self-foolery, a sort of mental levitation, brings on a state of mind that facilitates easy-going exploration. The active seduction of one’s own mind is a significant key to creative progress.
PS: “We must take situations as they are. We must only change our mental attitudes towards them.” (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)
Esoterica: I’m painting on the forward deck of M.V. Mareva on the west coast of British Columbia. This morning’s bay was full of eagles. Laboured flyers, they fly in a “flap, flap, flap — glide” manner. I interpret the flaps as the purposeful, thinking mode, and the glide as a period of less commitment but continued progress. Later in the morning, the eagles are at great altitude, soaring effortlessly.
This letter was originally published as “The zen of art” on July 4, 2008.
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“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” (Hilma af Klint)
Join Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at www.EllieHarold.com.
I am inspired by the drama of light as it moves along forms, the rhythms and nuances of shapes, and the colours that change from subtle to vivid at any give moment. My expressive compositions, in oils, acrylics or watercolours, are a contemplative and heartfelt response to my experiences, representing the “visual music” I feel. Each brush-stroke is like a colour note or chord playing out the scene offering a connection with the viewer through dynamic movements and vibrant colour.