It can be difficult to allow things to happen. I know I’m very susceptible to the illusion that I am in control of everything; I’ve just got to try harder, do more, and do it all on my own. The idea of being successful comes with so many misconceptions and conditions that I often times block the energy that would lead me to success. “It has to look like this” or “It has to happen this way, on this time schedule” are common examples of these limiting beliefs. One place where I am completely and totally free from this way of thinking is in my artistic practice. I just show up, happy to surrender thoughts of control or success. It’s a time and space where I can step outside of my thinking mind. The more I practice painting and drawing, the more aware I am when I start reciting limiting beliefs in daily life.
When I make a painting, I never decide what it should be before I start. Instead, I gather the supplies and view it as a big experiment. I layer colors and try different methods of application. The painting emerges on its own. The secret is to listen and respond to it – not dictate the direction that I think it should go. These ideas are fundamental to Japanese and Chinese aesthetics. This tradition believes that a superb work of art is an act of nature. Beautiful art is not imposed upon nature. Rather, the artist works with skill and craft in the direction that the painting is already going. (If you like this manifesto, please listen to one of my favorite talks by Alan Watts on Eastern & Western Zen) Japanese aesthetics explain that there are moods that artists should try to capture in their work. There is a vocabulary used to describe these moods, and they are usually defined by observations of nature.
Recently, I was offered an art commission where I made the paintings in this post. I cannot tell you the difficulty that is wrapped up in the thoughts that swirl through my mind when accepting money for my work. I’m not sure what to charge, I have to explain that I can’t promise a certain subject. I have to explain this ineffable process of how the painting unfolds, because it’s something that happens outside of the logical mind. How do you put this into currency? Instead of feeding these thoughts that keep me from success, I agreed to make them as long as I was not expected to make a specific composition. I decided to allow the exchange to happen. I was really thrilled with the results of a few of these paintings. As I looked at the painting above, I smiled. I noticed a bird sitting on a tree branch, looking at the sun. This reminded me of the feeling of sabi, or loneliness, that is so central to Japanese aesthetics. This feeling is often illustrated in Eastern paintings by a single bird on a tree branch.
This painting made me think of a musical composition. I often read that composers “hear” a song in their mind and put it to paper – that the music appears out of an environment or experience, and they capture it. They allow the music to emerge.