The “Art” of Non-Judgement

mandalas-1485096In meditation the goal is to focus on the breath, observing thoughts with non judgement.  It is an exercise to become aware of one’s inner dialogue without criticism.  According to Yoga International….

” Meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning. Meditation teaches you to systematically explore your inner dimensions.”

I decided to take the concept of meditation and apply it to my art making, meaning any creative task I undertake.  As a visual artist especially, I’ve noticed that I have a habit of letting a stream of negative judgement runs through my mind as I make art.  My inner critic tells me “this is not good enough” or “if I only I did this – or that” or some such chatter.  This is a perfect recipe for artistic block – and I have been there.

When toddlers begin to walk and fall down, they don’t give up.  They try and fail over and over again.   Parents cheer and don’t discourage.  It’s part of the process of learning. Too bad we give that child-like wonder as adults

As of the New Year I am making art with an attitude of play and experimentation rather than judgement of whether my work is good or bad.  If a piece doesn’t work, so be it.  I have learned from it.   I am mindful to my inner dialogue as I create.  When negative thinking enters my mind I say “You are not welcome here.  Let me play!”

This week I began an online class, Making Monotypes with a Gellatin Plate taught by Linda Germaine. it’s been the perfect opportunity to apply “The art of non-judgement.”

It’s so liberating.  I’m having fun.  I can hardly wait to get back to the studio…..

Experimenting….first try printing with a gelli-plate!

 

On Finding Inspiration

 

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There is a magic in the creative process.  When I am totally in the  “zone,“ it seems as though some divine force plants a seed of inspiration into my psyche & leads me on a journey to bring from the ethos something new & different into the world.  Generally I need to be in a space where I am fully present-  at least with my own thoughts.  I don’t necessarily have to be in my studio.  Often inspiration comes on a walk or doing something as innocuous as washing dishes or weeding the garden.  At this point it is important for me to get the idea either in process immediately or at least written down, for inspiration can be as ephemeral as fairy dust in a breeze.

Sometimes I must plant a seed myself if nothing has been offered from above.  I keep a list spirit-of-g-r-horse-qeof concepts that fascinate me.  For example, a few of my favorites are migration, germination, metamorphosis & salmon.  I will make a list of every sub-concept  I can think of that has to do with that topic, pick a few & then tie them together into a piece.  The Illustrations that are shown in this post are from a triptych titled “The Spirit of Ghost Ranch.”  In these mixed media pieces, my goal was to embody different aspects of Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I  visit to take art classes & spiritually recharge most summers.

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Then there are times I must “prime the pump” for ideas.  One of my favorite hunting grounds is Pinterest.I can get inspiration from other artists & pin them to my own “board” for reference https://www.pinterest.com/wildntotions/.   One of the beauties of the Pinterest algorithm is that it will suggests similar pins that may be of interest to you, leading you down a rabbit hole of endless possibilities.  I can also prowl about blogs, and storefront galleries as well.  My go to guide when I am in a rut is the book, “Steal Like an Artist,” By Austin Kleon.  It’s maybe an hour read and so very encouraging
and inspirational.  If you need a tow truck, this is your go to guide. I refer to it over and over again.51b3zefka3l-_sx258_bo1204203200_

For the most part I work intuitively.  I just start putting down a scrap of paper,  a stencil, a swish of paint, sentence , or start to work a lump of clay  as bait for my muse.  Once I start down the creative path, I follow the breadcrumbs that she has left to tell me where to go next.  I know that if I am tired or stressed it not the right time for creative work- just like you don’t plant tender seedlings in bad weather.  Now it’s time to do something mindless & let my subconscious work in the background.

It’s all a mesmerizing journey of faith but it works- if you give yourself permission to let go & play.

 

Why I Meditate

606-to-507-028For many, the word meditation conjures up images of Buddha- like figures sitting in lotus position, hands in prayer, dressed in monkish robes or yoga gear & chanting Om in long breaths. Find me in meditation & you would see a disheveled middle-aged woman propped up in bed first thing in the morning, legs stretched out under the covers, hands upturned in her lap, eyes closed & silently breathing.  It’s an unglamorous but serene picture.  This is how I prefer to start my day.

Meditation has been a part of my life off & on for over 20 years. I turned to it, as many do, during a period of great upheaval in my life. The liberal minded church I was attending at the time offered a free class.  It was a simple procedure.  Close your eyes, scan your body for tension, & then breathe observing your thoughts without judgement.  The teacher suggested picking a 2 syllable word, known to some as a mantra, to focus on while breathing.  This could be something like “om-sa”, “breathe in-breathe out”, “I am” or something that holds meaning to you.  You can visulaize a peaceful scene. That was it.  No need for a guru, a specially assigned mantra, or shelling out lots of money.  The deal breaker for me was the suggested 20 minutes twice a day.

I did start on that schedule & then could not stick with it.  Rather than throw out the entire practice this is what my practice looks like now- 12 minutes before I start my day.  It really helps for me to throw in a late afternoon practice before dinner but that is usually the exception than the rule.  Sometimes all I can muster is observing my breath 5 to 10 times during my day.  It all helps.

This is what I’ve gained from meditation- focus, grounding, & insight.  Previously I had the mistaken notion that meditation was about controlling my thoughts. I was wrong. It’s about observing the mind & body without judgement. If you find your mind wandering, just come back to the breath & note what you were thinking about.  This will happen over & over.  Eventually you will gain an awareness of your thought patterns throughout your day & a habit of self- correction.

One of my first realizations was that my default body position is with my shoulders scrunched up to my ears.  That may not sound like much, but relaxing my shoulders has helped relieved me of back & shoulder pain. Then, being a creative soul, my thoughts tend to be all over the map often wrapping themselves in a tight knot than constructive recognizable paths.  Now I am more able to develop ideas in a more constructive way. I can think in a more positive manner. It’s a defragging for the brain, a reboot for the thoughts.

Meditation is the ultimate reality check.  Slow down, stop, and go inward.  If you think you don’t have the time, all the more reason to start.  You will not regret it.

Why I started to Write

Odd things can happen in your 60s. I feel like that kind of yucca pant that blooms once a century or a prehistoric seed given the right environment germinates and starts to growwhy-i-started-to-write. All of a sudden this last year I felt like I had to write. It started out with an occasional poem, then frequent poems to some short essays to now a blog. Probably what has contributed to this perfect set of conditions is now seeing more time behind me than before me- the need to document my experience on this planet. Then there’s the fact that this winter in Oregon has been so cold I cannot seem to motivated to work out in a ceramics studio that is heated only by space heaters. I needed a creative outlet. Whatever the reason, here I am, a writer.

In the past, I have written for classes & have kept a journal. But write for the sake of writing at 4 AM? Years ago I would have shut my eyes, pulled up the covers and waited for the impulse to pass. Experience has told me though, that unless I heed my heart, its whispering will become shouting and that ultimately leads to unrest and irritability.

This is the start of my writing journey. It’s surprisingly one of the most grounding things I have ever undertaken. I have benefited greatly from the writings of others. Now I have opened myself up to critical eyes but also to those that will benefit as well. It’s worth the risk.

You Just Start

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You just start.

There is no perfect time.

You are weary of an idea pursuing you & tugging on your soul, so rather than run harder you stop in your tracks, turn around, shake your idea’s hand & say, OK.  I will give you 15 minutes of my day NOW.  No running out & buying a new pen, notebook, paintbrush, canvas, computer or whatever distraction you may deem necessary.  Just sit down & give you & your idea a chance to know each other better.

Lao Tzu,  an ancient Chinese mystic once said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”So true, but what he neglected to say was that first step is the hardest of the entire journey.  On the flip side, it is the most liberating.  Your 15-minute appointment with your idea will probably extend to an hour.  Then you can hardly wait for the next one.  Congratulations- you are on your way.

This scenario is exactly how this blog started on a beat-up legal pad  I scrounged from a drawer in my desk.  I was ultimately tackled with the idea that I needed to share my stories of life on my creative path, often a lonely one.  Hopefully, it can help you, dear reader, on yours.  In the process, I had to thumb my nose at my greatest nemesis, perfection, and just start.  This is my first step.

The Artist Demystified

 

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Images of berets, cigarettes, drugs, & tatoos abound when the word “artist” is bantered about by the non- artist.  I prefer the word “creative” to the former term.  By definition, artists are “a person who practices any of the various creative arts, such as a sculptor, painter, printmaker, actor, writer, poet, dancer, or filmmaker, etc”.  I prefer to expand that definition to “people who seriously express themselves in a creative medium”.

There’s an entire world of the arts outside of the fine arts box.  Plenty of people have told me that they don’t have an artistic bone in their body.  Whoa- not so fast.  I tell those people to look at how they decorate their homes, how they dress, how they bake, what they sew.  The world of creativity is vast.  You don’t have to know how to draw to be an artist, but you do have to be willing to explore.  In our productivity driven culture it can be difficult to justify that time.  For myself it’s as necessary as eating.

But as in any walk of some are called to live a life of a creative.  That can be in an “after hours” format as it was before I retired.  Even 15 minutes a day can be gratifying.  Even just reading about something you are passionate about can be gratifying. Taking a class is even better to get you among like minded people.  Bit by bit can lead to greater things.  You merely have to be willing to take that first scary step.