A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 364: A Creation Story

Creation Story 2017

Ronald Kok, Creation Story, Mixed media mosaic on canvas, 2017

“I want to do my part to be proactive and creative in 2017. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and bitch and cry. I want to take on the world in the way that I am wired: As an artist. And I want to inspire you and give you hope. I really do. If just one person can be moved to do what is right and good despite all the ugliness around them, I will know that it was all worth it.” – From January 1, 2017, the first “Year of Creating Dangerously” post

Was it worth it? When I set myself the task of posting daily to this blog, I had an inkling that it would be a big undertaking. I was going to make this blog be all about creativity, either creativity of my own or creativity that inspired me, challenged me, made me laugh or think or give me a different perspective on things. As an artist, I figured that a focus on creativity would give me the vibrant foundation that I would need to keep on keepin’ on in this blog, daily, all year long.

Well, here I am. I’m almost at the end of it. And I ask again: Was it worth it?

Through this year I gave myself a renewed art education. I read about, studied and researched visual artists, poets, writers, actors, musicians and many others. I learned about artistic movements in history, picked up little bits of trivia I didn’t know before, and discovered new artists and new ways of creating that blew my mind. I got in touch with a few young artists who are making art for their generation. I linked in to artists from hundreds of years ago whose vision remains contemporary and engaging. In reality, I likely packed in about as much learning in a year as I had picked up in all my years of college working on my bachelor of fine arts degree.

And I created, too. I did drawings and paintings, I became a mosaic maker in the process, I dabbled in different media, tried things I’ve never tried before, and looked for new ways to push myself as an artist.

But was it worth it?

Here’s the thing for me – an important thing to understand about me – if all that learning and creating was only to my benefit, then I have a hard time saying it was worth it.  After almost 365 days of this journey, in the end it doesn’t matter if I have arrived with new knowledge and experiences – not really. Ultimately, what matters to me and makes things worth it is if I have reached someone out there, influenced you in a positive way, given you inspiration and hope, helped you find within yourself something crucial that kept you going.

Please understand – I am not trying to make myself sound super-altruistic. I really, really loved spending time learning and researching and exposing myself to so much art. And I really, really loved the excuse to make art, to write, to compose poems and all the other things I dabbled in this year. But I have discovered after all of that something very important: You matter to me. You matter so much, in fact, that this year would seem a waste of my time without you being a part of it. I tried telling myself over and over again that this blog was about me and not to worry about who (if anyone) was visiting this site. That didn’t work. After all of it, I remained dependent on connecting with you, somehow, some way.

So, first of all, my thanks to you who did take time from your day(s) to spend time on this site. It is humbling to me to know that there were people who made a regular habit of it. And secondly, my thanks to you who gave me feedback, who encouraged me, who told me how something I had posted had effected you or inspired you. As I look back over the year, there was great satisfaction in putting my artwork out there, publicly, dangerously – in discovering that my own vulnerability could help others in their lives. Really, what made my year was the connection I could make with you.

So was it worth it? Yes. A thousand times, Yes. A creation story of any kind is always a story of community, of relationships, of a coming together to give birth to something greater. And the contribution I made through the past year is simply another small part of the ongoing creation story we are all a part of as humankind, as creators knit together crafting a vast artwork that none of us can see fully because we are, each of us, a part of that artwork.

The message, then, is this: You matter, you contribute, you are a crucial part of a great masterpiece. You and I, all of us together, are woven into this creation story.

Thank you.

Peace and Love


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 362: Ron’s 2017 Gallery, part 2

Bob Dylan Dream

As my Year of Creativity draws to a close, I have decided to take a couple of days dedicated to a small gallery of the artwork I did in 2017. Yesterday, in part 1, I described (and displayed) how I became, through a series of different art experiments, a mosaic maker. Today, here are some of those first true mosaics. Of course, no artist ever dabbles in just one thing so there are some drawings and a neglected painting finally finished in today’s post, as well.

Here we go…

As I began to realize that the experiments I had been doing in colored foam on paper were mosaics, I was, of course, drawn to things mosaic. It so happened that a site I follow on Facebook posted a story about a wonderfully intact mosaic from the third century that had been discovered in Turkey. It showed a reclining skeleton, enjoying wine and bread, with the words (in Greek): “Be cheerful and live your life”. I was so struck by the juxtaposition and humor of the happy bones encouraging me to enjoy my life that I decided to recreate it as my own mosaic:


Be Cheerful and Live Your Life, Craft foam mosaic on canvas, 2017

I had purchased craft foam at my local dollar store which had animal print designs on it (zebra stripes, leopard spots, etc). I cut these up into mostly squares to create the above. My skeleton enjoys a pizza, be it a blue spotted pizza. This artwork was fun to make and I enjoyed the result so much that, well, I was determined to try this mosaic thing again.

The next thing I tried was a portrait of an artist that inspired me. My wife had bought me a book of all of Bob Dylan’s lyrics for my birthday. The book has an iconic photo of  Dylan from the mid-1960’s on the cover. I decided to try and recreate that portrait in mosaic form:

Bob Dylan Dream

Bob Dylan Dream, Craft foam and burlap paper mosaic on canvas, 2017

There was something about rendering Bob in colorful mosaic that made sense, and it made sense to me to include a phrase from one of his quirkier songs. It was meant to be provocative and a bit out there, much like the enigmatic songwriter himself. I think I succeeded.

After this portrait of Dylan I became interested in the work of the man he named himself after, Dylan Thomas. I began work on a very large mosaic, the biggest one I had tried so far, based on a line from a Thomas poem. However, it took me a long time to put that one together so in the meantime, some other artistic experiments were underway…

I had seen an article online about an artist that made single line portraits. I decided to have a go at it, not drawing anyone in particular, but using a black art pen, putting it to paper, and not taking it off the paper until a portrait was “done”. I filled up a couple of sketchbooks doing this. Below are some highlights from that experiment:


These were fun and challenging. I consider myself very loose and spontaneous in my drawing to begin with but this style stretched me more than I expected. I found that if I thought too much about it they didn’t turn out so well. But if I just went with the flow I ended up with more satisfying results.

I decide to expand this experiment, this time sketching particular individuals and doing so in 18 different lines each. Why 18? Because I had a pack of 18 colored markers on hand, fine point. This proved to be far more difficult because (1) the introduction of color and (2) attempting to draw the person as that person looks! Below is a self portrait and three portraits I made of individuals in my art studio at the day program where I work:

18 single lines self portraitNolaSophiaAlison

As I mentioned, these were a lot harder than they look. But it was another good way of pushing myself outside my own artistic comfort zones.

Around this same time I picked up a neglected canvas that had been lying around for about two years. A co-worker of mine had mentioned that she liked the half-finished painting that it was. I was a bit appalled that she’d like the monstrosity that it was and told her I needed to finish it. This same co-worker was injured at work and wasn’t able to return. Missing her at work, I believe, was the impetus to finish the painting. I had a background but then, using textures and acrylic paint, added the five birch which became the foreground and title of the painting:

Five Birch

Five Birch, Acrylic on canvas, 2015-2017

I gave this painting to her as an early wedding gift.

Around this time I had finally finished the large mosaic based on a line from a Dylan Thomas poem. The line:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Rage, Rage…, Craft foam and burlap paper mosaic, 2017

There was something about this raging against inevitable mortality that struck a chord with me. I decided, instead of trying to come up with an image to go with the words, to illustrate the powerful words themselves.

This theme of mortality and the drive to live life to the utmost, to pursue dreams and use your talents, to love people and explore and take risks in the face of that dying of the light was no doubt a huge motivator for me this year. It was a great contributing factor in the creation of the next mosaic to follow this one, another large work, this time based on a character whose delusion is heroic and relatable:

Until Death It Is All Life

Until Death It is All Life, Craft foam mosaic on canvas, 2017

As I get older the character of Don Quixote becomes more real to me. He is deluded, surely, but also full of imagination, so full that it becomes reality to him. He is a tragic-hero in some ways, comical in a pathetic way, but also honorable and, in some odd way, a role model of sorts. Having had a great experience living in Spain back when I was 21, this work became a bit of an homage too. The background colors are meant to imitate the colors of the Spanish flag. The tiled lines flowing across the painting (which also wrap around the outside edges) were meant to be evocative of a Spanish artist like Gaudi as well as their penchant for great ceramic work. And, of course, Cervantes’ great comic-hero Quixote is the pinnacle of Spanish classical literature.

There would be more mosaics before 2017 was through but also more artwork in general. Tomorrow for part 3 of my gallery I will share more with you.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 361: Ron’s 2017 Gallery, part 1

Self Portrait, Chagall-style

My 2017 of daily creative exploration is almost at an end. Frankly, I can hardly believe it. I set out on January 1, 2017 with the goal of posting in this blog each day, hoping to offset the negativity in the world and in my own spirit with art and artists and various expressions of creativity. Along the way I have discovered so many things, been inspired, and in many ways rewired my own brain to better take in all the good things around me. I also found the time to do a lot of art, perhaps more than I have ever done since I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Over the next three days, I’ve decided to use this space as a sort of gallery. Though I am not very good at exact dating of things, I will attempt to show you examples of my artwork from this year, semi-chronologically. It was a year that I thought would involve more painting but, as it turned out, I did a lot more “painting” with craft foam, burlap and Modge Podge in the form of some mosaics. It was also a year where I tried to push myself into new directions and challenge my own established way of viewing and things.

Without further ado, here is part one of my 2017 Gallery:

Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs The Void)

Punk Rock Warlord (Joe Strummer Vs. the Void), Mixed media on canvas, 2016

Technically, this painting of Joe Strummer was finished right at the end of 2016 (I think on December 30 or 31, to be exact). However, it was done in the spirit that led me to my Year of Creating Dangerously, so I include it here as a very important jumping-off point for me.

Joe is a great hero of mine because of his own spirit and willingness to put himself out there in a vulnerable but powerful way. Instead of a traditional portrait, I chose to picture him battling the forces of brutality and banality (what I called the Void) with his chosen weapons: his voice, his words and his guitar slung around his neck. I intended it to just be an acrylic painting but the addition of shredded newspaper with Joe’s lyrics on them became a harbinger of things to come for me in 2017.

I had a difficult time completely shaking my disgust at the political reality in the world at the beginning of 2017, particularly as it played out south of the border. That led me to creating this next piece that appeared on my blog on inauguration day:


Divisible, Mixed media on canvas, 2017

My roots are in the United States so I couldn’t help but be distressed watching my former country from my vantage point in Canada. I had drawn a number of expressionist-type American flags with oil pastels. I tore those up to create this collage, Old Glory shattered and in disarray. It was very cathartic for me to make this artwork which I called “Divisible” as a counter-point to the “Indivisible” claim of the Pledge of Allegiance I used to give before the start of my school days.

About three years ago when I was getting back into art, I tried to recreate some famous portraits using oil pastels. It was a way to train myself and fire up the creative Jones again. This year, I decided to created my own self-portraits but in the style of a famous artist. I ended up finishing four of them which I share below, side-by-side with the original:





In descending order, then, is Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Marc Chagall. I confess to having a lot of fun with these, particularly the Chagall-style self portrait as, just like the original, I added autobiographical details to the picture (e.g., Colorado in the dream bubble, a church and a bit of Spider Man on the canvas, Ottawa’s parliament hill out the window). These portraits were really great at getting me to think color and form and help me see things with a different set of eyes.

I had marvelous intentions from the beginning of the year to create a painting per month in 2017 dedicated to a favorite artist of mine. I ended up making three, none as pure paintings. The one below was finished in February, 2017:

Maya Rising

Maya Rising, Mixed media on canvas, 2017

Maya Angelou is a great inspiration to me. This work was completed with a combination of black markers and acrylic paint, over photocopied sheets from her book I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, along with the words to her poem “Still I Rise”.

I have done many portraits of people – my co-workers, some friends, and some famous folks but I have avoided drawing my family. Frankly, that scares me the most and I think I get frozen up worried about getting them right. Below is my attempt at drawing my daughter from a beautiful photo of her when she was about four or five years old:

Picking Dandelions

Picking Dandelions, Oil Pastels on paper, 2017

I ended up with something very impressionistic but I was still very dissatisfied with it. Why? Because I didn’t think it looked like my daughter!  I have come to appreciate it more over the course of the year but am bound and determined to get her right sometime in the near future.

Because this year was about creativity to me, I spent a lot of time researching different artists. At times that would lead me to attempting to recreate something they had done to stretch myself in new artistic directions. Jean Arp was a Dadaist who created some works by dropping geometric shapes onto a canvas. I tried the same thing with bits of craft foam dropped onto sheets of construction paper. The results are below:


Little did I know that this seemingly simple artistic lark would lead me down the road to mosaics. These geometric patterns led me to thinking about stained-glass types of artwork, with shapes bound by black lines. I started experimenting with images having to do with the crucifixion (we were nearing Good Friday and Easter) and I came up with these small paintings on paper:


I was trying to stretch myself again, thinking expressionist lines, solid colors, geometric shapes, and unusual glimpses of a familiar subject. From these ideas flowed the idea for a large painting, one of the few pure acrylic paintings I did this year, and the idea for a large cross to be on display at my church for Easter Sunday. Below is the painting, posted on Good Friday, and below that is me with the Easter Cross. Note the continued use of geometric shapes and solid colors:

Crucifixion Coronation

Crucifixion Coronation, Acrylic on canvas, 2017


There was a wonderful coming-together of ideas and imagination at this time of the year for me. I was beginning to see the possibilities in this art form. As I have time in my day where I am part of running an art studio, I found I was often experimenting with things, trying things out. I found some leftover craft foam in our stores and used it to create a quick self portrait on paper:

Self portrait in craft foam 2017

Little did I know that just four months into this year I discovered the style that would define my art for 2017 more than any other. I was turning into a mosaic-maker.

Tomorrow in part 2 I’ll put a few of those artworks on display in this blog gallery.





A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 287: Saturday Life Quote – Fisher

Take your broken heart turn it into art

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.” – Carrie Fisher

For today’s Saturday Life Quote I decided to post the final Creative Spirits artwork I did. I used the quote above but now realize I didn’t get it exactly right… and its upside-down… and hard to read… in my messy creation.

A broken heart is not, of course, the only inspiration for art. Sometimes it is a heart full of good things. But Fisher’s statement has more to do with art as therapy. Whatever it is that you do that is creative, lean on that when you are down, discouraged, sad.

I’m not particularly proud of this artwork posted here but it did come from a genuine place. I am not particularly happy right now with the state of my life. But I can make some of that discouragement and disillusionment into art. It is difficult for me to see right now how that works as therapy, but I do know that my brain and spirit are in an entirely different place when I take up a pencil or pen, when I paint or draw, than during the bulk of my day. Art has helped me find some solace and beat back some depression. That is enough.

I want to encourage you all to promote the creative spirit in your own lives, whatever shape that takes. It is not a frivolous or useless thing. It is something in you that can be the means to carry you through all the ridiculous crap life slings at you. That, most certainly, makes it enough.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 286: Quo Vadis?

every set of eyes has a right to the truth

“Quo vadis?”

Truth is a tricky thing to nail down. “What is truth?”, the question Pontius Pilate put to Jesus of Nazareth, is a huge philosophical debate platform. The Bible records no answer Jesus gave to this question. However, he did refer to himself as the Truth in the Gospel of John. Certainly a profound statement, and one Christians point to as the ultimate answer to “Quo vadis?”, but it also deepens the mystery, and ultimately just adds more fuel to the debate fires that rage on around Truth.

Well, I’m here today to throw some of my own tiny bits of kindling on that fire.

You’re welcome.

Today’s Creative Spirit artwork contains part of a quote by children’s author Blue Balliett:

“Every person, every set of eyes, has the right to the truth.”

I loved this quote when I came across it searching for words about art and creativity. The imagery in the words struck me first: That every set of eyes has a right to the truth. As someone who does visual art this resonated with me. It was a helpful reminder to stay true to who I am as an artist, don’t try to be someone else or try to pander to this or that: the viewer has a right to the truth, to authenticity.

The words from Blue Balliett also contain a sense of what art is meant to communicate: The ever elusive Truth. It is a funny thing because we philosophize and debate Quo Vadis?  and seemingly come to no suitable answer, yet when we open our eyes to what is in front of us, painted on a canvas, sculpted, shot through a camera lens, etched, drawn, created for us to see with our eyes we know it is Truth. There is an indescribable something about that artwork that defines Truth, even if you cannot put words to it or, perhaps, especially if you cannot put words to it.

What makes this kind of Truth in art elusive is the Truth-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder factor. I have no idea what your reaction to seeing Picasso’s Guernica might be. For me, when I saw that enormous masterpiece in person many years ago, taking up an entire wall in a museum in Madrid, I saw Truth. Maybe you see something confusing, confounding, disturbing… Well, maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but that could be Truth as well.


As an artist, I suppose all this comes down to being true to yourself, because if you are, people will see Truth in your work, even if it is confusing, confounding, disturbing or, for that matter, inspiring, encouraging or beautiful. Then you will have honored the viewer; you will have given them what they are entitled to have: Truth. In this way, Bob Ross is just as real as Pablo Picasso: Both are being true to themselves and honoring the viewer by doing so.

When I painted and drew the artwork in this post, an image of alien-type print came to my mind; a script for some language I don’t know and can never translate. I started by just making these marks across the paper. I meant for the figure’s hands to frame the “eyes” but the whole stance looks more like someone looking in a window, peering in to see what’s there. It’s as if the figure is trying to get a glimpse of the person viewing the art, maybe to find the Truth in their eyes.

I’m not sure what this is all about but I can guarantee you I was authentic and letting things flow. If you find in it something that feels like Truth, I am happy.

every set of eyes has a right to the truth


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 285: It is Life

who we are and what we do is life

For my fourth Creative Spirit, an artwork combining an abstract background with a simple, disproportionate figured overlaid, I chose just a snippet of a wonderful quote by American poet Nayyirah Waheed. My intent was to paint a background that hinted at growth and life, with a figure in motion, maybe dancing, imitating some of lines of color.

Recently, an artist friend of mine posted this question on Facebook: “Remind me again, what’s the point of being an artist and making art?”  Frankly, any answer I could give about this could never be as good as the full quote from Waheed. So here it is in its entirety:

“creativity keeps the world alive, yet, everyday we are asked to be ashamed of honoring it, wanting to live our lives as artists. i’ve carried the shame of being a ‘creative’ since i came to the planet; have been asked to be something different, more, less my whole life. thank spirit, my wisdom is deeper than my shame, and i listened to who i was. i want to say to all the creatives who have been taught to believe who you are is not enough for this world, taught that a life of art will amount to nothing, know that who we are, and what we do is life. when we create, we are creating the world. remember this, and commit.”

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 284: Between Introversion and Exhibitionism

between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide

One of the greatest conundrums of being an artist is… Sorry, I just wrote the word “conundrum” and got lost in how cool that sounds to say out loud, it’s so musical! Try it a sec…

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah…

One of the greatest conundrums of being an artist is the bizarre combination of intense introversion and shameless exhibitionism. That is, the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide. But don’t take my word for it, here is D.W. Winnicott, English Paediatrician and Phsychoanalyst:

“Artists are people driven by the tension between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide.”

Wish I’d said that… Anyway, a truer statement has not been made about artists and how so much art is created.

Recently I worked on a piece to be submitted to a show in a downtown pub here in Ottawa called the Atomic Rooster. It was their annual Cock Show (as in roosters – roosters!) Last week I attended the vernissage at the pub and it was fun to see all that artwork together. It was great to see my artwork up on the wall. If you didn’t get a chance to see the work I submitted when I posted it to this blog, here it is again (the quote is by Muhammad Ali):

I Have Seen the Light

Now – Did you notice that I worked to get an artwork up in public and that I just posted a photo of the artwork so that you and anyone else looking at this blog could see it? I just gave you an example of the kind of exhibitionism I’m talking about. Maybe not shameless but exhibitionism nonetheless. I exhibited that artwork freely, publicly, and even advertised the fact that I did so.

Maybe it is a bit shameless…

But here’s the kicker: I could hardly look at my own artwork up on the wall of the Atomic Rooster. I was proud of it being up there (and that it had sold!) yet embarrassed by it at the same time. Part of me was feeling like my ridiculous contribution had no right to be up there with all those other awesome creations. And part of me felt like crowing (I didn’t). That tension behind the desire to communicate and the desire to hide was a palpable one for me that evening.

Winnicott is totally correct about artists. What we create comes from a strange place where seemingly opposite things collide. Maybe that’s a secret to the power of art. Maybe that is a way to identify good art from bad. Or maybe it is just a good thing to acknowledge, to realize that as an artist you are going to live in that tension.

When I set out to do the third of my Creative Spirits pieces, I pulled that part of his quote out to give heart to the artwork. I wanted to convey that dichotomy of an explosion of creativity intended to be viewed publicly by an artist who just wants to crawl under a rock and hide.

And I realized these artworks I’ve dubbed Creative Spirits were, to me, a simple way to express some of those realities of being an artist and making art. Those quotes I had put on this blog last week were reaching places in my heart and helping me feel a part of a greater community. I decided to explore that further.

Stay tuned…

between the desire to communicate and the desire to hide


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 283: Creative Spirits

Build confidence in the creative spirit

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

In yesterday’s post I explored the concept of art as shit disturber/status quo shaker/comfort zone breaker. This had come about in my own attempt to do something to shake myself out of my own comfort zone and had brought to mind the words of Banksy who said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

The artwork that resulted from this, which I also shared in yesterday’s post, was a simple abstract background done with water color pencil over which I did a pen line drawing of a figure, along with a portion of the Banksy quote above. When I was done with that I felt I wasn’t done with the idea as a whole. So I grabbed ahold of a piece of the Ansel Adams quote at the beginning of this post and created the artwork you see above it.

It struck me that when I took just those few words, “build confidence in the creative spirit”, it became something different than the encouragement I believe Ansel Adams meant it to be. That phrase by itself sounds more like an imperative statement, an exhortation, something that must be done. That brought to mind a thought that has been growing in me: The importance of building up the creative spirit in other people.

One of the beautiful things about connecting with other artists is that, as a rule, the community is a very supportive and encouraging one. Artists lift each other up. Artists are inspired by other artists, of course. But the whole creative enterprise, the imagination and production, the struggle and battle, of being an artist – which at times can feel so individualistic – is at its core a shared experience. We need each other and need to be propped up at times by those who know what we go through to get that creativity out.

The figure I drew over the abstract design in the background of this work is meant to convey this sense of propping up. It is something I have greatly appreciated from not only fellow artists but from anyone who views my artwork and gives me feedback, expresses their enjoyment of it, or gives a helpful critique. Though artists can often be reserved, introverted types, the irony is that they need people – as viewers, as experiencers, as fellow-travelers – in order for their art to become more than they could make it be on their own.

After completing this second artwork similar in design to the first, I also had my name for these works: Creative spirits. And I had purpose for creating more.

Stay tuned…

Build confidence in the creative spirit

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 282: Disturbing the Comfortable

Comfort the disturbed disturb the comfortable

Sometimes “creating dangerously” means doing things that take you to a place outside your comfort zone.

Any artist could tell you about the rut that they may be in or have been in. Artists are as prone as anyone else to falling back to the comfortable, to creating what comes easy and what is generally appreciated by the public. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with this. Pursuing and languishing in the comfortable is very human. In fact, it makes logical sense even from a strictly biological perspective. But it may be the case that artists, more than other people, get increasingly and rapidly agitated by the comfortable. To me, I believe this is something to ask yourself if you are wondering if you are a creative person: Are you happy with comfortable? Or do you find yourself, against all logic, disturbing  your own comfortable after awhile?

If you answered, “Yes… and no” to the first question and “YES!” to the second, you could have a creative spirit.

Artists play many roles in society but the one that often makes their creativity dangerous is the need/drive to shake up the comfortable. Often this need/drive comes strictly from within, the personal need/drive to shake up your own mind and soul and perspectives. When art comes of that need/drive and gets splashed up somewhere or recorded or put on film or written down or danced across a stage or spoken or screamed, it becomes the clarion call of the disturbed disturbing the comfortable. This most often is not accepted at first by society. People can label this as insane or warped or twisted. They are not altogether wrong. Art does depict the unstable, it can be warped, and it can present something twisted from the norms of reality.

But that is creativity dangerously poking holes in the status quo. That is the creative spirit haunting the nice, sterile home in the suburbs. That is art helping us all to see that there is far more to life than existing, than buying shit you don’t need, than whiling away the hours staring at screens, than forgetting that your humanity means life and action and thought and love and touch and anger and laughter and sadness and grief and delicious food and conversation and sex and contemplation and taking huge gulps of fresh air under towering trees with growing things underfoot.

It also means philosophizing like an idiot in a blog.

When artists do step out of their own comfort zone they also do another service: They comfort the disturbed. “The Scream” by Edvard Munch may seem a very disturbing piece of art on the surface, but if you are someone who has struggled with mental illness, the weight and frenzy of depression and anxiety, this painting is a balm, a comfort to your soul, a message that you are not alone in your pain.


Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Some may think all art should present the beautiful, the placid, the happy trees and peaceful landscapes. I’ll be the first to tell you that I need that from art. But I am also understanding more and more the need for the opposite. The human experience is so varied, so different from one soul to another, from one set of experiences to another, that art must reflect that truth. In fact, it is a major contribution art gives to humankind: A way to express what is often inexpressible. Art gives hope to humankind, no matter how messed up we are or how messed up we have made things.

This past week I decided it was time to shake things up for myself a bit. Focusing on creativity and my own approach to art this year has given me many opportunities to experiment and to become just a bit more bold in doing so. I went to a familiar form for me: water color pencils. I just made an abstract design on paper, not really knowing what it was going to be. When I finished I wasn’t all that happy with it so I grabbed a pen and drew a figure, purposely staying away from all the “rules” of figure drawing that are ingrained in my head. I came up with the figure in the image at the top of this blog. The hands were huge, the torso twisted and emaciated-looking, the proportions all wrong. As I looked at it a quote by Banksy came to mind, a quote I had put in this blog last week in my series of “Living Out Loud” quotes:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

I scribbled part of that phrase along the edge of the figure. Then I realized that I was drawing inspiration from those words I had looked up and recorded the week before. And that I was actually working at disturbing my own sense of comfortable. Tomorrow I’ll share with you the next step in my own thought process. Art is, most definitely, a process, seemingly without end, and that process led me to develop this concept more.

Stay tuned…

Comfort the disturbed disturb the comfortable


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 279: Living Out Loud, part 5

Christo, Wrapped Trees, Switzerland, 1998

Christo, Wrapped Trees, Switzerland, 1998

“Here’s to freedom, cheers to art. Here’s to having an excellent adventure and may the stopping never start.” – Jason Mraz

Friday has come and I’ve come to the end of my “Living Out Loud” series of posts. All week I’ve shared words and musings from lots of creative types representing many perspectives and artistic movements, genres and eras. I’ve come away from it all with an even more solid belief in art as far more than the world gives it credit for. To me, art is imbued with the ex nihilo ability of the Creator, giving us the possibility to construct creations from virtually nothing that becomes a part of the Great Something. Art speaks to the eternal in all of us and brings out all the good, bad and ugly parts of being human. Our creative impulse springs from the foundations of how we were formed from dust to begin with. And even though we are destined to return to dust, art screams that our vulnerable flesh, blood and bone is more than dust.

Art is a blast of meaning that drives away the black of meaninglessness. Therefore, I will make art.

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.” – Carrie Fisher

“The world doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” Pablo Picasso

“Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper.” -Isaac Bashevis Singer

“I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.” – Robert Henri

“I do not have many things that are meaningful to me. Except my doubts and my fears. And my art.” – Chaim Potok

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the artist can not justify life or come up with a cogent reason as to why life is meaningful, but the artist can provide you with a cold glass of water on a hot day.” – Woody Allen

the-old-guitarist 1903

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903

“Weirdism is definitely the cornerstone of many an artist’s career.”
― E.A. Bucchianeri

“A work of art which did not begin in emotion is not art.”
― Paul Cézanne

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
― Salvador Dalí

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.”
― Madeleine L’Engle

“Art is literacy of the heart.”
― Elliot Eisner

Antoni Gaudi, Casa Battlo, Barcelona, 1904

Antoni Gaudi, Casa Battlo, Barcelona, 1904

“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music. ”
― Joan Miró

“Art’s cruel. You can get away with murder with words. But a picture is like a window straight through to your inmost heart.”
― John Fowles

“I hope to depart in no other way than looking back with love and wistfulness and thinking, oh paintings that I would have made..”
― Vincent van Gogh

“To wake the soul by tender strokes of art,
To raise the genius, and to mend the heart”
― Alexander Pope

bill reid raven and the first men 1980

Bill Reid, Raven and the First Men, 1980


“Art has always been the raft onto which we climb to save our sanity.”
― Dorothea Tanning

“Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.”
― John Ciardi

“I would rather fail as an artist than succeed as anything else.”
― Robert Dowling

“Everything in creation has its appointed painter or poet and remains in bondage like the princess in the fairy tale ’til its appropriate liberator comes to set it free.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am an artist, my hair is rarely tamed & sometimes I sleep till noon,
My house is messy and I speak to the moon.
I care less about the materials that I share with my world and more about the passion inside myself.
I’m an artist, what more can you expect?
I am full of soul, love and all the rest.”
― Nikki Rowe

Paul Gauguin Tahitian Women on Beach, 1891

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891