Full Steam Arts offers arts classes to artists of all ages & experience levels.
I invite you to open up to your creativity and have more joy in your life!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mining for Gold--What to do about Mistakes?

Recently, a student of mine was attempting to rub out a contrasting stray mark that ran through her "perfect" box of saturated color. I quietly watched while she talked her way through her anxiety while she continued to paint adding to the offensive mark. First she was irritated, then disappointed, then sad, then resigned, then neutral, then curious, then exploratory, then generative, then pleased, then lastly, proud. I held my breath, waiting for her to need help from me, a word or perhaps more, encouragement, acceptance, disappointment, to basically assist her in her time of stress.

Because she was absorbed in her own experience, I has some moments to reflect on how I should best respond when the time came. I was preparing myself for a brilliant comment. My moment did not come; she figured it out on her own--she stayed with her image, narrating aloud her feelings as listed above. By staying with her "mistake" and exploring the negative feelings that arose, she was able to transform her image and her experience.

This is what some might refer to as the Alchemical Process of Art--when we trust some inner intuitive impulse that creates gold out of coal--something out of nothing. Similar to practitioners of Mindfulness who report when they enter a feeling with non judgement and exit the other side transformed.

Why do we fret over a drip or mark or poorly rendered figure? Anxiety. A desire to have things "right." I want to encourage you to trust your mistakes as unconscious messages, as opportunities to accept yourself, to let go of the pursuit of perfection.

Imagine the last time you made a mistake. Remember any bad feelings that this generated. Notice what arises, anger, fear, rejection, shame. As you find yourself reacting to these feelings as "bad" or "good," purposely change your inner dialogue to label these feelings as "painful" or "suffering." Imagine your heart expanded and radiate this heart energy towards yourself, radically accepting your mistake and the resulting painful feelings. Allow the pain to dissolve like sugar in hot tea. Breathe. Accept. Love.

Now go out there and make some mistakes!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art Rule: No Put Downs or Put Ups

I have a golden rule in my art classes: "There is no such thing as good or bad art" and logically it follows that: "No put downs or put ups in Art."

Well, technically there is "good" and "bad" art, but folks have been debating that for centuries & it largely comes down to individual preference. (See my earlier post on Meaninglessness.) And if you are one to view a lot of artwork, you might get that inner "buzz" which signals a resonance of universal recognition in a piece of artwork. Like a gut reaction; you are attracted to an image. This attraction can be beautiful or repulsive. And you can like or dislike a "good" piece of art.

But how does an artist create such a piece that speaks universally to people? Some have the ability as if it were channeled from a higher source; others work diligently for decades and may only hit it on occasion. Others struggle with it their whole lives, either loving or hating (or both) the ride.

But back to intuitive painting...

As we are accessing our internal material as creative expression, we struggle to not judge the result. Like with dreams, we can have preferences, but ultimately dreaming is a necessary part of restoring our body's vital energy and not up for debate on whether or not the act of dreaming itself is good or bad.

There are waking exercises one can do to influence dreams. Often discussing a positive dream topic can help a young child fall asleep peacefully at night. And with conscious effort, one can increase their ability to lucid dream and have some ability to alter the outcome of a dream. For example, turning around to face your pursuer or, in my case, I put the brakes on my out of control car and get out and walk to safety. But I didn't choose to have that car dream for the tenth time; I can only alter my actions and see how that affects the outcome.

Like painting, we should allow the topic to come through us and then sense into how we want to treat it when it appears on the paper. This can be a wildly liberating experience! We paint things we would never really do in real life. The sense of personal agency revitalizes us, much like a full night of REM sleep!

When I am teaching an art class, especially to kids, the artists struggle not so much with the put downs--they get that part-- but the put ups. This largely comes back to a child's recognition of what is universally accepted as "good" technique.

I cannot prevent each person from coming to the process of creating art with all their individual personalities--whether or not they jump into the project or hesitate & erase all efforts several times over. I have watched some kids have a little cry & then return to a satisfying, unrestricted effort. Sometimes I pat them gently through this and sometimes I let them struggle alone.

When we "put up" an image, we are forcing the range of human experience into a hierarchical preference. And the artist within hearing distance of our comment is affected by wondering where they fall on the hierarchy. It takes away from the individuality of the experience of art-making.

Is my dream of an out of control car ride a good one? Does it show that I have lost control over my life which points to some sort of defect in me? How do I come to understand these dreams and make meaning for myself?

For the child who hasn't developed the fine motor ability to work in small strokes--is he bad? Or what about the child who hasn't developed the cognitive ability to apply my verbal instructions to a visual representation?

I have always maintained that there are roughly two categories of art: representational or "photographic" and abstract or "interpretive." To develop your ability to create representational art, you must train your eyes to properly see what is there; not to draw what you know to be true about an object. This takes years of practice for most people.

To develop your ability to create interpretive art, you must trust your inner vision of the world, take major risks in both technique & personal vulnerability. This takes years of practice for most people.

Practice. Practice is the key to developing your artistic abilities. And an unwavering sense of entitlement. Each one of us is entitled to create art and develop our images without concern for put downs or put ups. If we worry about each image looking a certain way each time, we loose out on the important task of practicing and discovering what comes next in our images. Often, the "mistakes" are where we have the most juice and opportunity for growth.

My last car dream was fantastic: I discovered in finally crashing the car, I had a whole pit crew who came to my rescue and I was carried out safely on the their shoulders.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Full Steam Arts Studio Guidelines

What is intuitive art? What will it be like in the studio? These ten guidelines will explain a lot!

  1. Everyone is creative! What matters most is your sense of aliveness & connection to your internal process. Focus on the pure, unfiltered process of creativity. Let go of technique. Paint like a four year old! The materials are here for you to explore; enjoy yourself! It is ok to make a mess. Step outside of your comfort zone & take risks!

  1. There is no such thing as “good” or “bad” art. Explore your creative impulses; don’t judge your images based on the right-brained, logical mind. Trust your intuition. Don’t worry about getting the representation of an object “correct,” explore your own style instead. This is an inner critic-free zone!

  1. Respect yourself, your image & your process through radical self-acceptance & compassion: do not crumple or throw away images or put yourself down. No orphan paintings!

  1. Maintain silence in the studio; it helps to create safety & respect. From time to time, I will be checking in with students individually to help you stay connected to yourself and the process. Overhearing parts of these quiet conversations can help others deal with similar issues.

  1. Refrain from commenting on the art at all times. Practice silent witnessing of your fellow-artists instead. Even positive comments can activate our inner critic’s need for approval. No “Put-downs” or “Put-ups.”

  1. Be needy & proud of it! Ask for help; don’t suffer alone! All of your feelings are welcome in the studio. Intuitive art can open up powerful feelings which trigger deep unconscious healing and growth. Sometimes this process can be surprising!

  1. Open up to the possibility of meaninglessness; don’t rush understanding in your images; practice simple curiosity and mindfulness.

  1. Finish one painting or collage at a time. Most will want to stop painting when they hit a rough spot and may not actually be done. Please see me at the end of each painting to help you check this out. Sign & date every painting.

  1. Practice the acceptance of any and all emerging imagery. Resist the urge to cover up or fix anything that shows up on your paper. Embrace the unknown, shocking, “forbidden” or difficult symbols & imagery that may appear. Notice your internal reactions & ask for help, if needed.

  1. After taking your artwork home, carefully decide who sees them & educate them on silent witnessing. Remember they will be viewing your artwork based on their “judging” minds. It is ok to ask them to celebrate your creativity, rather than commenting on or asking for meaning in your artwork.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The case for meaninglessness

After completing their drawings, people will say, “I don’t know what it means!” and look to me to explain it to them. I can do that and have done it occasionally when I am caught off guard, sometimes to “show off” my knowledge to a colleague. I always feel guilty afterwards, like I betrayed the image & the artist.

The thing about it is this: I have no idea what it means. I can have educated guesses based on archetypal symbolism and my relationship with the artist. But, still, it is just that--a guess. Only the artist can know her meaning and sometimes there is no meaning at all!

So why bother with interpretations?

Interpretations can feel containing, safe. Think of a doctor giving you a diagnosis and prognosis. “That lump is cancer and you have 3 months to live!” Well, maybe not always welcome information, but a label or a box that defines a series of symptoms into a “thing” which has a typical course of action. We spend much of our energy either inviting or rebelling against others’ interpretations our choices in life.

And when I am wrong about an interpretation?

What a position to put the artist in! Now they have to disagree with me and find a way to explain or justify their own interpretation. And often people are highly suggestive; they will forgo their initial “hit” to consider my idea.

Moreover, when I make an interpretation of an image, I am placing primary importance on the function of the images’ message, rather than on the creation process or simple existence of the image.

What are the alternatives?

Sitting with the unknown, the discomfort of not labeling, not being the expert, letting go of preconceived ideas about things like, say, slender columns with two round spheres on the bottom. Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar, as Freud himself is infamously quoted.

And were would this take us?

Meaninglessness, curiosity, exploration, surprise, release. We can reach a place where the most beautiful painting was the one where you set out to explore grief or death or pain. We find a place within us that crosses back and forth from darkness and light, feminine and masculine, effort and relaxation. We can let the meaning unfold slowly, taking shape from one day to the next, only to change again in a month. Or we can simply PLAY, give in to impulses. Experience a melding of body and mind through simple exploration of colors, shape and texture. Explore things on paper that we can’t safely do in real life.

Like my five year old who unabashedly takes up the entire kitchen table with her papers of swirls, smudges, rainbow unicorns with diamond wings and butterfly-flower-swans. She is busy enjoying her imagination and exploring her capacity to create without the need to know why she does this or what exactly she is making.

Flow, health, wholeness, and acceptance. We embrace our rapidly changing states of mind with grace and humor. We laugh, we cry and we are silenced into awe. Making meaning can be healing, but it is not the object of the creative process. We create because we must, because we can, because it makes us feel better without always knowing why.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Finding Your Art Style

I was talking to my friend & fellow art teacher, Nadine Hamil, http://artfuldreamers.com, who described her experience teaching a class of 13 year old girls. One girl had been pointed out to her as "the artistic one" of the group. This particular girl struggled to paint intuitively, requesting a pencil for detail work. In contrast to another girl without the official title of "the artistic one," who was engrossed in the process using her hands to explore shapes and color combinations. Without the burden of the label, this particular girl was able to find her unique style with the medium of paint and create a heart-felt representation of her creativity.

I have watched many children (and adults) struggle with their internal notions of "good art." Which really translates to a photographic representation of an object, complete with perfect shape, tone and perspective. Well, as any trained artist will tell you, getting this replica takes lots of practice and for most, lots of training. And these same artists will also tell you that while this is a respected style in the world of art; it is just that--one style in the world of art.

Over the years of teaching art and sitting with clients during an art therapy session, I have had the pleasure of watching participants relationship to art develop from tentative to robust and confident. When the image gets juicy, is not when we can recognize a particular shape as a cow or turtle, but rather when the energy or color or even white space conveys an accurate "felt" experience for the creator.

And at this moment what we are witnessing is each artist's unique art style. This is what all those art students spending hours in their tiny cubicles at art school are searching for. It takes time, patience and an open mind to find your own unique style, which will be recognizable from all other painters, sculptors and dancers.

This is where the juice lies. This is what we talk about when we stand in front of a Picasso or Kandinsky at the museum.