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.

guernica_all-1

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.

scream-1893-16_2514

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

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 278: Living Out Loud, part 4

Jeffrey-Pine-ansel adams 1940

Ansel Adams, Jeffrey Pine, 1940

“Art happens when what is seen becomes mixed with the inside of the person who is seeing it.” – Chaim Potok

If this is Thursday, this must be part four of “Living Out Loud” – Words about art, creativity, misery and good bowel movements.

“The greatest art belongs to the world. Do not be intimidated by the experts. Trust your instincts. Do not be afraid to go against what you were taught, or what you were told to see or believe. Every person, every set of eyes, has the right to the truth.” – Blue Balliett

“Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn.” – Martin Amis

“We have to recognize that the language of art, all art, is not our mother-tongue.” – Jeanette Winterson

“Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.” -Vincent Van Gogh

“The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love and the voice of art.” – Federico Garcia Lorca

HorseTrain.tif

Alex Colville, Horse and Train, 1954

“Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art, and she has built her dwelling far from the desperate field where men hang out their garments upon forked boughs to be banners of battle. O beloved daughter of Hope and Memory, be with me for a while.” – W.B. Yeats

“I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.” – Marcel Duchamp

“Basically there can be no categories such as ‘religious’ art and ‘secular’ art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore ‘religious.” – Madeleine L’Engle

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” – Rene Magritte

Helen-Frankenthaler-Adirondacks-1992-Image-via-wikiartorg

Helen Frankenthaler, Adirondacks, 1992

“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.” – Edward Hopper

“There must always be two kinds of art: escape-art, for man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep, and parable-art, that art which shall teach man to unlearn hatred and learn love.” – W.H. Auden

“I am an artist you know … it is my right to be odd.” – E.A. Bucchianeri

“An artist is someone who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he – for some reason – thinks it would be a good idea to give them.” – Andy Warhol

“Art is a process, not a product.” – MaryAnn F. Kohl

Banksy, Don't Forget Your Scarf punk Graffitti

Banksy, Don’t Forget Your Scarf Punk Graffiti

“All real works of art look as though they were done in joy.” – Robert Henri

“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.” – Edward Weston

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.” – Pablo Picasso

“To create art with all the passion in one’s soul is to live art with all the beauty in one’s heart.” – Aberjhani

“Art is not a thing; it is a way. ” – Elbert Hubbard

“The recipe for great art has always been misery and a good bowel movement.” – Don Roff

Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, c.1663

Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, c.1663

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 192: Part-Part-Time Art

ron b

For the first time in a long, long time I was lost in art for a long, long time.

I am an artist and I love making art (maybe goes without saying) but something obnoxious and relentless keeps me from creating for long stretches at a time: Life.  I have to go to work, I have a family, I have responsibilities.

Ugh.

Yet this weekend I found myself with a full day where nothing was scheduled or expected. That kind of day, for me, is about as rare as finding a four-leaf clover. The temptation was to go all couch potato, binge-watch something, become more vegetable than animal for a day. Really, what I was tempted to do with my day was anything that took little effort, both physically and mentally.

But there was an artwork waiting for me, patiently; biding its time until I would pick it up and continue working on it. I am almost constantly aware of an artwork waiting around for me. It is there in the back of my mind, somewhere behind my to-do list, behind the worry-center of my brain, behind the file of random song lyrics: that artwork waits with the patience of Job.

This weekend, that patience paid off. I pushed aside my desire for utter laziness, pulled together the materials I was going to need, made a spot where I could go at it, and I worked that artwork! I started sometime in the morning, after coffee and breakfast, and didn’t stop until I absolutely had to, that is, until that obnoxious and relentless presence interfered as it always seems to: Life will have its due. I had to quit so I could make a lunch for work, take a shower and get some sleep (ridiculous reasons to quit but there they are).

Precious few are the artists who do art for a living, who get up and work as I did that day. I found myself extremely jealous of those precious few. But also, ironically, very happy for them too. The world needs more artists completely dedicated to their art. This planet is being overrun by banality and brutality – Artists are called to step into the breach and meet that challenge head-on. For those of you who can do this full-time, fight on my brothers and sisters. For those of you who can do this part-time (or, like me, part-part-time) your role is equally valuable, so continue your fight; carve out those times, for your own sake and for the sake of others.

We are the dreamers, the jesters, the fools, the secret super heroes. Artists inspire artists, art begets art. Keep the color and motion and shape and line and song and word and beauty alive, even in bits and pieces of your life, if you can.  We are the ones who can breathe Real Life into Life and keep it from becoming obnoxious and relentless.

So get your Art on!

ron a

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 151: Silence the Voice

vincent

“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

I came across this quote by Vincent van Gogh today. For so many of us, especially those with that drive to create, there is that voice within. It is not a kind voice. It is judgmental. It is negative. It is cynical. And it is always spoken with our tone, our inflections, because it is always our voice.  It is very rarely the people around us who discourage and deflate; almost always it is us, snidely dismissing our own desires to paint, draw, dance, sing, act, write… create.

Of course, we will exercise confirmation bias when it comes to the feedback of others. If we don’t receive the enthusiastic response we were hoping for, or we get critique, or we get very little input at all, the voice chimes in immediately, “You can’t do this. You’re not good enough. Give it up. You’re just fooling yourself.” Artists crave a response partly because we create to share with others but also because we are so desperately insecure about our art.

I’m sure Vincent felt this way. In fact, I’m convinced of it. He received very little in the way of support for his art in his lifetime. No one bought his stuff, as hard as that is to believe today. His style was seen as undisciplined, manic, childish, messy, unskilled. Yet today we venerate Vincent, as we should, as the genius he was. Thank God he would not let the inner voice or those outer voices stop him. Thank God he picked up the brush and attacked those canvases in order to silence those voices.

If you are a creative, it is almost a guarantee that you know exactly what your inner voice sounds like. I certainly do. You and I need to heed Vincent’s advice. What am I telling myself I can’t do? What are you telling yourself you can’t do? We’ve just got to go do it, and prove ourselves wrong!

I came across this quote among 25 quotes from artists about art on mymodernmet.com. Here is the link below. Keep creatin’, y’all.

http://mymodernmet.com/art-quotes/

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 110: the Creative Personality

creative personality pic

In lieu of my own thoughts on the subject, in today’s post I’ve simply given you a link to a great Psychology Today article about the Creative Personality. It is a fairly lengthy article but illuminating. Among other things, it reminds us that the Creative Personality is by no means limited to the Arts. And if you are a creative person, you may discover some explanation of your quirks and idiosyncrasies!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199607/the-creative-personality