Friday, May 16, 2008

Art Making

As the whirlwind time of generating new work for this upcoming exhibit is winding down, my thoughts are turning in a more reflective direction. Books seem to pop off my shelves right into my hands at exactly the right point in time and these past few days have been no exception. Just as I was contemplating why the works I am creating are not geared to selling or branding or commercial success, I revisited Art is a Spiritual Path by Pat Allen. I had read the book several years ago, found it worthwhile and informative. But it seems that Pat's ideas and mine are connecting again.

When I opened the book a day or two ago in the midst of feverish, last minute completions for the Notations exhibit, I landed on several pages near the end that I had bracketed and underlined. Here's what my eye landed on -- "With the marketing of products as our culture's highest value, even the self comes to be seen as a commodity to be 'branded' and sold. What is art in such a world?"

An important question. I could not have felt free to flesh out this body of work had my focus been on marketing and selling it. The heartfelt engagement that I have experienced has been so far removed from the external world that it has felt like being in a separate dimension, moving at a much slower speed in one way and whirling faster in another. Now that I'm almost finished with the last piece for this exhibit, I seem to be shaking off the spell I've been under, waking up and asking myself, "What does this experience mean to me?". On one level, it actualizes a goal that I set several years ago to produce a cohesive body of work and have a solo exhibition. I felt deeply that I needed to draw myself in and discipline myself to stay with a body of work to develop it rather than abandon it before it had a chance to grow.

On another level, creating this work has been about something much deeper. Allen says that new cultural forms must allow for inquiry, heartfelt engagement and celebration. Those words seem to describe my past year's work, particularly "heartfelt engagement." Engaging with my work in this way is a means of engaging with the Creative Source. If creativity is our natural birthright and art is a spiritual path, then those of us who choose to create may very well be participating in an evolutionary process.

Perhaps we are part of a bigger picture, one in which multitudes of individuals are moving towards a more spiritually informed way of looking at the world and developing a new vision for our culture, one of generosity and compassion. But I do understand that it's personal change that spurs cultural change. So my work of this past year has been to engage with my way of being in the world -- to hone my appreciation for the gifts of each day, to celebrate the creativity inside of me seeking expression, to engage in authentic, heartfelt work, and to be more truthful to who I am as a woman and an artist. I feel as though I am a "witness" to my own growth and evolution and seeing myself through this perspective is an amazing gift.

We all have the ability to live passionately and connect fully with the present. When we do this, we feel vibrantly alive and engaged. This is the heart of any practice, whether it's art or parenting or gardening -- to open our hearts and live with passionate attention and appreciation for what we have, to celebrate something, to touch someone's life with compassion each day.

So my tiny little exhibition in my tiny little corner of the world has huge tidal waves of impact for me and the artistic process itself that have nothing to do with commercial success. The actual event will come and go in a sea of other such exhibitions, all here and gone and quickly forgotten, so in the eyes of the world it is just the tiniest drop of water in a huge ocean. I have not been contacted by a reviewer from Art in America, nor will I be appearing on next season's Art 21! Yet I contend that my exhibit, while not generating a huge tidal wave in the visible world, is throwing out wonderful currents of energy in the invisible. These currents that emanate from each authentic, creative act cannot help but become a network of roots through which wonderful currents of positive energy flow and connect.

The power of each small manifestion as an artist is not just what takes place on the outside, although I think it is important to flesh out ideas into form. The power of the experience is that the process becomes part of the artist. In steadfastly engaging with the work through adversity, fatigue and a variety of diversions, the artist -- and the work -- grows. It fills me with awe to recognize how very deep it is possible to go into a subject and how a small avenue of exploration can fuel a lifetime of work and study.

I deeply appreciate that Creative Source within me for showing me my very own Technicolor version of "It's a Wonderful Life." I have loving friends and family around me, a great curiosity and zeal for living and continuous surprises from the amazing treasures that I keep uncovering in this most fascinating era of human civilization. Each day brings new delight in "exploring the surface."

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