I started taking art classes last year. I’ve been an artist all my life, and have dabbled in the creative arts on and off all these years, but put any serious artwork on the back burner for various reasons until the last ten or so when I started to explore photography as an art form. In the last two years I’ve also added writing, drawing, and painting back into the mix. I’ve been lucky to find a program hosted by Rutgers University that offers all sorts of classes for “seniors”, which lo and behold I now am. I’ve learned an awful lot taking these classes, not the least of which is that seniors are bright, educated, motivated and vital people with tremendous wisdom and experience, and a great sense of humor. I also feel fortunate that these courses are available and taught by impressive, accomplished and talented people.
I was working on a painting at home…on my own…without the critical and directive eye of my instructor. I’d been working on this piece for a few weeks, albeit tentatively and with limited confidence. Our final classes for the season had just ended and I made a vow to continue working on my own until September when we begin again. True to my vow I approached my easel and decided to dive in and get my brushes really dirty.
Recently I read an article on creativity. The article focused on how artists will often arrive at a point in their work where they come to a crossroads. They start the work going great guns…their creative juices flowing freely and hot as fire and then they hit a wall with a thud. Nothing works. Colors aren’t right; words don’t flow; music is not harmonizing; whatever the expression, it’s just not happening. And it is here where an artist will often stop. They might simply set the work aside and start something new or in drastic cases, in a fit of despair and frustration, they might destroy it completely. Either way…they abandon the work without allowing it come forth fully. The article goes on to say that this is the point of critical mass, the point where the artist needs to be patient and gentle with themselves because this is where the rubber truly meets the road, so to speak. This is the point where an artist digs deeply into their “Courage to Create” (also the title of a book by Rollo May that I read many years ago) and stay the course in spite of the roadblocks and resistance. There is more here than meets the eye.
Back to the painting that sat on my easel – I reached that point of inertia several times. It was working…then not working. I had vision and talent…I had nuthin’. The image was emerging…the image was shit! Like that.
I’ve had this experience more than once. It happened again with the painting. I hit a wall. It was going well for a while and I started to see something emerging that looked like art. I got brave and started to bring the work up a notch and BLAM…it was All Stop. I walked away from it. I had homework assignments and other work to do and used that as an excuse to ignore it. I thought maybe I’d switch to charcoal drawings for a while. You name the distraction and I thought of it. And then I remembered the wisdom of the article I read and put the painting back on my easel. I took a deep breath and kept going. Layer by layer, color by color, the piece began to come to life. I took chances…baby steps if you will…and if I didn’t like the effect I went back and did it a little bit differently. I remembered some of the advice my instructor gave during our classes and applied it to the painting. Before long I was in “the zone” – things were working and time ceased to exist.
I’m delighted to report that this advice works! I pushed through and the painting began looking more and more like the original vision I had. While a painting (or any work of art) is never really finished, I did complete it with some real satisfaction. I saw my way through fairly clearly and my trust in the process, at least for now, is restored. In fact I went on to a second painting and put the same process into play with more confidence. The second one is also “complete” and a third is in the pipeline. What I know is that this will be an ongoing practice for me, as I imagine it is for any artist, or scientist, or musician, or dancer or anyone in the act of creation. And staying the course is the lesson.
Ironically (or perhaps not) the first painting is a study in light and dark. It’s also a study in mystery and the forces of nature. And it is not lost on me that the lesson is very much one that I teach others. In the work that my husband and I teach called “Infinite Possibilities” which is based on author and teacher Mike Dooley’s NY Times best-selling book of the same name, one of the key messages is that when we take steps in the direction of our desires The Universe works in partnership with us in the unseen to bring about the things we hold in our thoughts and dreams. This work teaches that behind the scenes, even when we think nothing is happening in our lives and things seem to be stuck or we seem to be “spinning our wheels” there are indeed wheels turning that we cannot see, moving us toward what we seek. In the case of the creative process, when I reached that moment in my painting when nothing seemed right and I felt like stopping or even destroying it, it was being birthed somewhere just beyond my ability to see it. Hanging in there with it as those wheels kept turning allowed it to emerge.
The working title for my painting is “Light and Dark” but I’m entertaining a few others since it represents a new understanding of the process, at least for me. For now what is re-affirmed for me is that light and dark can live in harmony; trusting the process (whatever the process may be) is vital; The Universe always has my back even when I fall into fear or uncertainty; I am a creator; I love teaching others how to harness their own power; and I love re-learning these lessons and anchoring them ever more deeply in my own being.