When I answer questions about my work, I often get the response: “It’s good you’re keeping busy.” But is it really? Many different projects are vying for attention in my brain, which makes it harder to give my full attention to anything in the moment. Always being on the way somewhere makes me miss opportunities to be fully present and relate meaningfully with family, colleagues, students, shop owners, and the dog in the street. Constant movement deprives me of the stillness I need to notice things.
For an artist it’s not just a personal pleasure to be quiet and notice things, but a responsibility: an artist pays attention on behalf of those who might be too preoccupied. And stillness provides the incubation time needed for genuine creation. Keeping busy, on the other hand, is keeping me from doing the actual work.
One thing that likely sets a real artist apart, more so than exceptional skill or a broad understanding of our field, is care. The ability to care deeply about something is powerful, which also makes it a hazard. Often the things we care about lie hidden in the unconscious, and our creation needs to be unearthed from this darkness with patience and precise intuition. People around us value the fact that we care and engage, but not necessarily that same thing that is precious to us, nor the time it takes to bring it to life. They will persuade us to care, in the same way, for something else more apparent, something they themselves value. This coaxing can become a major distraction for some artists. Others have developed a false air of not caring at all to counter the seducers.
It takes great courage to act according to what we really cherish, and to proudly exclude what we don’t value. And this doesn’t diminish our care at all. In fact, it improves our attention and devotion.
▪ You can’t hold on to feelings.
▪ We experience beauty through tension and release.
▪ Freedom only exists with limitation.
▪ You can’t absolutely know a living thing.
▪ Everything has a center, even when it is concealed or denied.
▪ It’s more powerful to change HOW you think than WHAT you think.
▪ Discipline, not laxity, leads to joyful ease.
▪ Greater harmony is accomplished with diverse, independent voices.
Through my work I meet a lot of thoughtful, successful individuals and I get to visit gorgeous properties in our already beautiful area. To be honest, I’ve often had reservations about ownership and affluence as in my mind it’s closely associated with negative power and control. What I can appreciate is the love and care that these places have been showered with. I’ve realized now that the problem is not one of ownership, but of stewardship.
We’ve become very adept at taming and manipulating everything. Our major political systems are based on and refined around ownership (either as a positive or a negative) – although today none of them seem to totally satisfy. As for stewardship, maybe we haven’t done so well. The earth is burning, what we feed ourselves is making us sick rather than sustaining us, the connections to and between ourselves seem to have loosened.
The attitude of the artist is crucial. She has given up the comfort of worldly possessions and influence, often consciously, in favor of care, a heart connection to things. A real artist might not own many resources, but given the resources he knows how to create beauty. An artist deliberately transcends the power level to enter the heart level.
We all have doubts, too. Don’t ever be fooled that a lack of worldly success is a weakness. Instead, show how to live in the heart, be a steward of the earth, and create beauty regardless of who owns the resources.
A box is shaped around its content; a bowl shapes its content. A box is designed to fit into a space with other boxes; a bowl is awkward and outstanding. The content of a box is padded, sealed; the content of a bowl can breathe. To get to its content a box is irreversibly altered; a bowl is emptied and filled many times over. A box inside a box disappears from view; a bowl inside a bowl is elevated. A box can be flattened without breaking.
You may have something substantial to offer. Are you making bowls, or boxes?
Today I heard on the radio that durable goods are defined by the Department of Commerce as having a life span of about three years. I’m sure planned obsolescence has something to do with the in my mind ridiculously low number. It occurs to me that planned obsolescence has become part of art as well: popular art relies heavily on people’s short memories and short attention spans. Contemporary art thrives on novelty and supposed relevance to our day and age. What if the artist focused solely on expressing his or her humanity? Standing the test of time doesn’t depend on topicality at all, but on accuracy and depth of expression.
Dutch composer Hans Kox put it a different way: “If you choose to ignore tradition, tradition will soon ignore you in return.”
Research found that people shown silent videos of piano competitions could pick out the winners more often than those who could also hear the music. The actual competition winners were only correctly identified by those who were randomly assigned the silent videos. When the volunteers viewed video with sound, the accuracy dropped back to chance levels that were also found listening to sound alone. The findings were quite surprising, especially because both trained musicians and those without training had stated that sound was most important for their evaluation. The study concludes that the best predictor of a winner’s musical performance was the visible passion they displayed, followed closely by their uniqueness and creativity.
Everything is mimicking competitive sports it seems: politics, performances, artistic expression, even sharing moments of happiness in our lives with an online group of friends. When I pick a movie at the local video library, there are usually two, often more, Hollywood films with the exact same theme and even the same plot. At work, we jealously guard our ideas for the next season until the day of the press release. Artists, writers, composers, we are all guilty of trying to “get there first”. Our motivation becomes murky and our priorities become skewed, to say the least. What we sacrifice, if not originality, is openness, kindness, generosity and humility; too high a price to pay.
My teacher, an accomplished musician and an original and independent artist, recently rewrote a whole movement from his most recent piece, prompted by a casual conversation we had. He did this without losing his integrity, his authority, or the respect and admiration I have for him. Quite the opposite, in fact.