Monday, February 18, 2013

Talented or Not?

This morning was the first day of a new workshop at Esalen. One of the most challenging issues for everyone is this nagging uncertainty about whether we have talent or not. This is especially true for those considering extending themselves into a creative endeavor for the first time.

Haven’t we all wondered whether we are truly talented? 

It is the most defeating of feelings when you start down that road that leads to self-doubt. I hate that place and rarely go there anymore.

What I reassure people (and yes, myself too) again and again is that talent, in fact has little to do with anything.  Especially art. I said this last night on the very first evening in the workshop; it takes a while for this to sink in. After all, this idea that some of us are “gifted” and others not, has been drummed into our heads for years.  Parents, schoolteachers, friends and even other artists get involved in perpetuating this myth.

I have been involved in teaching art and helping people re find their creativity for 25 years and from my experience I have discovered that amazing artwork, incredible ingenuity and creativity comes out when ANYONE takes the time to learn and express themselves from a place of authenticity. Simply said, powerful artwork is made by people who have learned to communicate their individuality in a way that is in alignment with what they love and are passionate about. If there IS one ingredient needed for the making of “genius” artwork I would say without a doubt it would be passion. When you combine individuality (and we are all individuals!) with passion and a measure of vulnerability and risk then amazing surprising artwork arrives. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Quietly flying

The upside and the downside of making art or being creative is that over time it seems to make you more sensitive to your environment. Sometimes I like this and sometimes I don't.

Every year “Fleet Day” comes to San Francisco and the Air Force spends a long weekend flying six Blue Angel jets super low all around San Francisco- even under the golden gate bridge. For me, these aircraft are unbelievably loud and somewhat frightening. 
I was talking to my friend and painter Adam Wolpert years ago on the roof of the Academy of Art in San Francisco the day when the jets were ripping across the sky. We were having lunch and it was  windy. Just as one of these near deafening jets went by a seagull spied a piece of my sandwich and did a double take and then a quick mid air cutback to scoop up the bread from the ground, all without breaking flight.  Adam remarked that he was far more amazed, far more stupefied with the grace, the nuance of the flight of this seagull than the 27 million dollar jets ripping the sky apart above our heads.  It seemed to exemplify the artistic preference for something more subtle, less showy and more poetic. It was an interesting preference, probably not one shared by most people, but I could relate.
  Having this preference for less jarring stimuli is not something that I have always liked –it lessens the kind of movies I can go to, it makes me choose more expensive food stores because of the better lighting, and it ends up making me spend absurd amounts of money on products mostly because I like the packaging. I have spent far more time in botanical gardens than at Nascar races.
Do you sometimes feel this way too? It can be burdensome at times, but happily, others seem to feel the same way too.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sometimes walk away.

I have noticed an interesting thing about how I learn and how I improve my art.
I used to think that the MORE time I spent painting-actually physically working
hard was in direct proportion to how much MORE I learned and improved my work.

Working hard is something I have forced myself to get good at but now I think that maybe this was not such a good thing to get good at after all.  Listening to the poet philosopher David Whyte speaking in San Francisco a couple of years ago I jotted something down in my sketchbook that he said regarding learning. He was talking more metaphorically, probably larger in terms of learning from our life – how to live, rather than art making, but it resonated with me.  It was a quick sentence and at the time I didn’t really understand, so I wrote it down so later I would. He said, “…Visitation, absence, visitation, absence, visitation, absence, (this repeated over and over again) is how we learn.”  In other words the time BETWEEN the periods of effort, the pauses in-between are fundamentally as important as the periods of work. He believes that this “on, off and on again “ process produces more consistent, more substantial results. This is true for me too. Does this resonate with how you learn?

I teach a 7-dayworkshop every year at Esalen. This is an amazing opportunity for people to spend an unbroken week just focusing on their art. The improvement is extraordinary. However I also teach a 6 week, 3 hours per week Artful Life ongoing course in my studio. What I am seeing, amazingly is that these students, even though they are only working 3 hours a week are also improving at an amazing rate. What I think is happening is that even though they are not physically painting they are nonetheless still THINKING about principles they have learned. Examples of color, value, composition all begin to creep into their everyday life and as a result their visual sensitivity increases. I see a marked improvement when they come to class the 2nd and 3rd time, even though they have NOT been painting. Miraculously they just have improved.
So maybe, and I am mostly needing to tell myself this, we don’t need to work harder, but instead just put the brushes in the can of turpentine and go away for the afternoon. Suddenly, in the name of improving my work, bird watching, maybe collecting driftwood or even playing bocce ball all suddenly seem relevant.  
Visitation, Absence, visitation, absence. I think I am going to like this new way of working. 

The photograph was taken following my daughter Lyla, 19 on the final ascent of "Clouds Rest" a nine thousand ft.  peak in Yosemite National Park.