Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tree Series: New Drawing

Drawing portraits of trees is similar to drawing portraits of people. One can read history and character from branches, lines and contours.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Art & Fear

Writing and drawing/art-making are my passions, yet I often feel like Sisyphus rolling his huge boulder up the mountain every time I embark on an artistic endeavor. Why should this be? I'm not sure, but I know it has to do with at least two things: time and faith.

What writing and art require more than anything else is time. Time to contemplate, revel, see, think and work. When you have to budget your time due to jobs, household duties and other obligations, it is a challange to budget creative time, which always seems the most expendible, the first thing to get lobbed off at the knees. Even when you do budgt for creative time, it's hard to guarantee you won't be exhausted or overwhelmed when you're supposed to be energetic and inspired. Forget the myth of the creative bolt of lightning. Having the will to create is all it takes to be creative. Still, that will can be easily eroded.

Will and faith are interconnected. Lack of faith is crippling to having the will tor work on that poem or to start that daunting sketch (and every sketch is daunting). Here are a few thoughts that get in the way:

The world is filled with art and writing. There's just so MUCH of it allready. Why bother?

My work isn't any good. I'm never satisifed and I'm not really an artist.

I'm just an amateur. I don't want my work to be amateur.

The counterarguments go like this:

So what? The means ARE the end. The true triumph of creating lies within creating itself -- the act matters more than the result. The creation of art is a revolutionary act, a defiance of complacence, an emphatic declaration of the vital, immortal persistance of the human spirit.

Drawing isn't about "being great." It's about drawing. It's about a meditative serendipitous task that is filled with frustration, delight and, most of all, surprise. It isn't really about the drawing -- it is all about the artist.

By the way, the best book I've read on the subject of how artists struggle with art-making is a book called Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It's a psychological gem that demystifies alot of "art drama."

The Drawing
I wanted to draw a particular Copper Beach tree. I took photos (sometimes considered a "no-no") and one day got as far as finding the right piece of paper I wanted to draw on. Then I lost steam. Unmotivated and deflated, I lacked the mental enthusiasm and acuity I needed to start. So I put the paper awa and left it for another day.

Several weeks later, having gotten a jump on the endless round of household chores that weekend, I decided to start fairly early in the day, before I got too sidetracked or worn out. I got my paper, my pencils, took a deep breath, and dove in.

I was afraid the drawing wouldn't go well, but I tried to put all those kinds of thoughts out of my head and started. This was the key moment. I completely focused on drawing, trying not to worry about the outcome. After the initial sketch, I started doing light shading, mapping out areas, skipping from one area to another. For hours I worked, doing my best to capture what I wanted to capture -- the strength, beauty and mystery of the tree. I was occasionally niggled by thoughts of the dirty floors I had yet to sweep, the dust clinging to the furniture everywhere in sight and the dirty clothes I needed to wash for the next work week, but for the most part I was able to resist those evil saboteurs.

Artistically, one of the biggest frustrations I face is with myself. I long for my style to be freer, looser, more gestural, less controlled. Generally I think my style is too tight, too anal, too literal. On the other hand, part of me revels in the illustrative quality of my work and I don't think it is spiritless or passionless. Just awfully compulsive.

I love doing it and I resist doing it.

Next comes the evaluation stage. Time to take a break, stand back, move around and give the work some distance. Does it need more shading? Which areas need more work? Should the background be left white? My instinct was to lay in some nice blue color with colored pencils. Or would that be overboard? Would it look amateurish? Screw it. I'm doing it anyway.

This all takes patience. Like most people I want instant gratification with the least possible effort. Though the effort feels good -- true, real and validating -- it's also work and it's occasionally a big risk. What if I invest all this time and energy and I hate the results? Well, that's the hard part. But none of it is ever wasted, because creative work is active and instructive. Every failed effort as value, sometimes even more than what we think of as "the successes."

The real trick is to forget about time as a commodity, an investment, or a means to an end. In other words, the best thing is to forget everything society ever taught you. Then it's all pure bliss.

I love the tension, the conflict, the challenge of making, deciding, adding, changing, trying to find resolution and balance without going to far, without overworking the think and ruining it. It also drives me nuts and is exhausting. But it's the most inspiring kind of exhaustion in the world.

Hours later, after leaving it for awhile, doing errands, coming back, I think it looks great. It's one of the best drawings I've ever done! Except for that flat part. How can I fix that? And what about the balance of darks and light. I think it needs to be touched up a bit. I think it needs work. Maybe it's not so great. Maybe it's even "bad." No, overall, I feel good about it. That's what counts. And I made something! I chose to wrestle. I didn't just lie down. I triumphed over lethargy and inertia. At least for now.


Is it done?


Will it ever be done?


But therein lies the real beauty. In the open doorway, the constant sky, the twirling cosmos, the undanceable danceable dance.

Ebune, The Procession of the Ram

Ebune: The 5th Annual Parade of masks, puppets and music in celebration of spring. The Ram is a symbol of fertility and renewal. The cross-cultural procession includes West African, astrological, Greek, Egyptian and Judeo-Christian elements. It is led by Oscar Mokeme, director of the Museum of African Culture, in collaboration with A Company of Girls.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Postcards From the Subconscious

This week I went to an Adult Ed "Past Life Regression" workshop with my friend J.L. I was very excited about it just because it was something new and different and utilized hypnotherapy. I didn't have any great expectations or prejudices to begin with, especially because I already knew that the state of hypnosis is not as obscure or romanticized as most people think from watching movies. I knew that daydreaming or being "lost" in your work are both light forms of hypnosis; that any trance state is, in fact, known as being in a hypnotic state.
I had also had some experiences with hypnosis in the past, having read hypnosis scripts and having hypnotized myself on occasion, resulting in extremely vivid experiences. As the teacher said later, "You will only see things you are ready to see. . . "

The class took place in a rather bleak classroom at an arts and technology high school. It had gray walls and old tables and chairs, but did feature an anamolous bright green carpet resembling astroturf. There were about 16 women and one man, primarily in their '40s and '50s, though a couple looked like they could be in their '30s. I wasn't surprised by the age group attracted to this topic -- as you start to age, you start to wonder more specifically about past and future lives.

The teacher, a Clinical Hypnotherapist, began by telling us about her background and how she was introduced to hypnotherapy and talked about some theories of reincarnation. She gave us the names of several authors to read, such as Brian Weiss, whom she had studied with, and Ian Stevenson and Michael Talbot. I had never heard of them or their books, though I thought I might look up some of their books at the library, just to see what they were like. Also on the handout sheet were some nifty quotes by authors like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote, "As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth." As a student of Tibetan Buddhism, I tend to agree.

The teacher talked some more about hypnotism and reincarnation and gave us some hints as to what was to come. Finally, after a bathroom break, we were ready to begin.

I lay down on the floor, on the mat I had brought, head-to-head with my friend J.L. and made myself comfortable by wrapping up in a blanket and resting my head on the pillow I'd brought. I was very comfy in no time. The teacher dimmed the lights and put on some nice New Age-y music and led us in a long relaxation exercise, from head to toe, during which we were instructed to let go of our fears and worries, breath deeply, and allow each section of our bodies to become more and more relaxed. I had a slight resistance, having had a database snafu at work just before I came to class, which had made me anxious, but I soon forgot about the database, work, and everything else, and became sleepy and warm in my blanket-womb. I felt somewhat like an insect in a warm pod. As the teacher spoke, I visualized my body wrapped in a purple-blue colored gauzy energy that sparkled.

Then she led us in a guided hypnotic session, which I will recount as I experienced it. . .

I went down some stairs and came to an opening outside, with a path amongst many birch trees. On either side of the trees were fields and it was bright green and sunny with an azure blue sky. I felt intensely happy there and warm, with the sun beating down on me in a summertime climate. There were birds and the air was golden and pure. I walked down the path and came to a temple (see Postcard #1 above) that was oddly shaped and made out of large olive-green stones. It had some Asian features to it, but the most striking part to me were the large green stones. I went up to the door and went inside into a room that was lit by the sunlight streaming in from windows. There was an oldish man there, with ruddy cheeks and a white beard. He was friendly and smiling. This was my Spirit Guide. I don't remember him speaking to me.

We sat down in the room across from a low table and drank fragrant tea out of square stone cups that matched a square stone teapot. After awhile, we arose and my Guide led me out of the room. He showed me another room, where there was a large sunken area of water, with blue dolphins painted above. Then we went down a hallway where there were many different doors, with doorknobs made of different kinds of gemstones such as lapis lazuli and agate.

I opened one of the doors and stepped into another world. . .

My bare feet were in soft warm golden sand and I was standing on the shore of a large sea. I am not sure if it was an island or a coast, but it was Greece in the 1950s. There were colorful boats in the distance and trees and birds and the water was blue-green. My name was Barbara (the teacher cued us to try to remember places, years and names) and I was wearing a robe-like dress and had long blonde hair piled on my head. I was in my late 30s I believe. Then I realized there were other footprints and other people in the distance. I saw a man a little ways away, standing next to a huge piece of driftwood. He had black hair and a beard and his name was Michael or Michel.

I knew Michael and recognized him as untrustworthy. I began walking, meaning to walk up to him, but instead I smiled and walked past him. Once I walked past I felt a great weight lifted, and was filled with a sense of independence and freedom. I enjoyed the vibrant scenery and sea air and realized I was wearing a pendant around my neck.

Then I stepped back through the door and into the hallway. I selected another room and put my hand on another of the gemstone doorknobs and entered yet another world. . .

This time I was a Japanese woman dressed in a beautiful kimono. I was standing against a breathtaking backdrop of rock, waterfall and mist-laden heights. I was modeling for a painting that an older man was painting of me. It was the 1700s and the painter was my master. I guess I was his concubine. My name was Kyoto or Kyoko. He was very kind and good to me and treated me extremely well. The two emotional conflicts I felt were that I was somewhat proud of my beauty, and though I had a good heart, I knew that this pride would cost me a certain price. The other emotion I sensed was loneliness because I had been taken from my family when I was young, so I had very few memories of them and was haunted by this absence. I was happy while modeling, however, because I loved my master. He signalled me over to him to take a break and have a drink of something. The scenery was pristine and magnificent.

Then I went back into the hallway, where the Guide was waiting. All the other doors were doorways to other scenes or lives I could come revisit at any time. He smiled and led me to a library that was outfitted with dark mahogany furniture and deep plush couches and a thick soft patterened rug. There were many old books on dark, well-built shelves and there was also a TV and DVD player and coffee (!). I picked out one of the books, which was bound in rich leather and had a white moon on the cover, and looked through it. There were rich three-dimensional colored pictures of sea-life in it.

Then I chose a DVD and put it in the DVD player and watched some footage that was a black-and-white movie about myself as a woman in in autumn in New England. There was an old car and a house on a suburban street. There was the sense of a tragic family life. I knew that my life would be short.

I opened another book and saw myself living in a village in Mongolia. I was in a village square, watching. All the women wore black shawls and long dresses and there was a yak in the middle of the square, which a woman was milking. The village was poor yet pretty and though it was a gray day, there was a sense of insular harmony and satisfaction. Or rather, the absence of "dissatisfaction." I sensed there was little leisure time in this village and that living here meant a lifetime of hard and constant work.

Then the teacher led us out of the library and back out of the temple and back along the path and instructed us to awaken.

I felt wonderful and groggy. My primary anxiety was to write down everything I had just experienced, knowing I would forget some details. As I scribbled frantically in my journal book, the others began to sit up and stretch, like animals emerging from hibernation or insects emerging from chrysalis.

There wasn't much time left to talk about our experiences -- just time for a few quick questions. Some of the women had been afraid to enter the doorways. I felt sad they hadn't had the kind of experiences I had.

In the end, I don't know if the scenes I entered were from past lives or not. I know I could have gone on exploring them, and may go back again to do so. In any case, these "postcards from the subconscious" were definitely a creative vacation from my waking life. . .

Note: After I did the drawings for this post, I noticed a recurring lunar theme posited in the shapes of the temple roof, the boats and the horns of the yak. I wondered if this was a subconscious reflection of the moon literature I had been reading (see previous post)or if it was connected to my current lifetime birthday in late August, during the waning moon. . .