The big painting is coming along, slowly, but still something visible emerging. I am in a seriously contemplative place these days, and everything is tied to everything else. It all speaks and it all sends the same message....
Finished this coastal sketch today... the one that was taking me away from a bigger project and helping me avoid.... not a bad way to not deal with things...
It's the Shavuot holiday so the office is closed today and tomorrow. The kids are both gone for the summer, my son studying in Israel and my daughter further east in Canada doing an internship in social work. The nest is feeling extra empty this time because I know they aren't coming back for any great length of time anymore. I was going to say they're growing up, but the truth is they've grown up.
So the new reality has me thinking about new direction. What to do with all this Mom time no longer needed. Easier said than done. First thing today was a trip to the art supply store, my version of a candy store. It's a wonder I ever get out of there without spending hundreds of dollars.
But today I just got some charcoal pencils. They're for the large portrait/abstract painting that was leaning against the wall behind me as I painted the smaller coastal picture. It's like it was standing in line, waiting its turn, and not letting me forget it's there. The charcoal will be mixed with the paint, a rare mix of mediums for me; the right way to go for this piece, but adding further anxiety to the process. Look at it as a challenge, I tell myself, instead of a difficulty. Perspective is everything.
Last night at the Shavuot service my Rabbi was telling us that our creativity is how we most fulfill G-d's purpose for us in this world. Our personal creativity is our way of contributing to tikkun olam. No doubt he is right. For me painting is davening.
I'll need to redirect that creativity into the new painting and the new life. I have no idea what it will look like just yet, neither the painting nor the life. And not really sure where to direct all of my efforts. I do know that if I give it as much dedication as I did raising the kids, I'll be happy with wherever it is I go. And the sense of belonging will be the telltale sign that all is well.
The next painting is a turning point, and the first page of a journal recording everything that is changing. Painting is prayer, longing, finding one's way, and coming home. I am hopeful that it will both record the journey and lead the way.
Sitting on the sofa with my daughter, feet up, legs stretched out, after a long day at the office for me, and she recovering from a long flight. We're sharing our space, because that's how she likes it. She's loading pictures from her trip to Japan and listening to Beyoncé. Which means I'm listening to her too. Some of it's good, some of it I ignore. My daughter tells me that Beyoncé and sharing the sofa with me makes her feel peaceful. Never thought I would be in such cool company.
And I'm looking too at how a couple of paintings are coming along. One of them, a large watercolour (30x40") is abstraction mixed with the beginnings of a family portrait. It's a harder piece for me. Portraiture doesn't come naturally for me, I can do it, it just doesn't come easily and I'm not too often that interested by it, at least not my portraiture. But that's not all that's keeping me from this one. It's digging into family history again, and while I may feel compelled to go there, I don't necessarily feel like it that much. I'm drawn and repelled. I want to go there, and I don't. But it draws...
While I try to well up the guts to address what needs answering in that painting, I take a break and start a small (4x16") landscape. It's coastal of course. It's a peaceful, easy place, and the sky has a lot to say as usual. Yet it says it so minimally. Less is more when I hear what nature has to say. It's poetic.
Like the evening I am having with my daughter... peaceful, poetic, comfortable, beautiful. Lots of details that may not be right in life, but there's always something perfect and lovely if I look for it. Sometimes it comes all on its own....
I'll keep writing as these two pieces progress, and as I in turn progress as well.
At Kabbalah class tonight, Rabbi was talking about energy, and our portion, and how the smallest energy can have such a huge impact. Our smallest action can change the world. So pay attention to the small things....
My kids laugh when we are driving somewhere and I react with amazement at the colours of a wonderful cloud or the beautiful tulips that have bloomed along the road. But I realize I am amazed at the power in seemingly small things. And my son and daughter aren't laughing because they think I'm silly, they laugh because somewhere inside they know my response to the wonder of it all is entirely appropriate, just unusual. But they recognize joy.
And then, my Rabbi explained how there are times when just before a great action we need to step back first in order to come at it with greater energy. Like stepping back to kick a ball. The stepping back can feel like things have been taken away, when in fact the stepping back is part of moving forward.
It reminded me of this song of Leonard Cohen, it has always been indicative of my relationship with G-d, and tonight the Rabbi's thought...connected with Leonard's...connected with G-d's...connected with mine. Everything is One....
"I swept the marble chambers,
But you sent me down below.
You kept me from believing
Until you let me know:
That I am not the one who loves
It's love that seizes me..."
I was sitting with my son a couple of nights ago at the first night Passover Seder held by my shul. We were seated at a table of people we didn’t know at all (because the high holidays brings out all sorts of people you don’t see at other times of the year), in a very large room that was really loud. I love my shul and my Rabbi and am so grateful there is somewhere to go for Pesach now that I live in a tiny apartment in Vancouver with an even tinier kitchen and no dining room. I feel very embraced and supported by the community I’ve found. But I sat there thinking not so much about the observance of Pesach as it was happening that night, as I did about rebuilding vision and where I belonged. And I couldn’t stop thinking about the kitchen I once had and wished I could have again so that I could host those family Seders as I had done for so many years. A picture came back to my memory of a kitchen. It is my dream kitchen, and judging from the surroundings it’s also a dream location. And I saw me and my partner, who also does not yet exist in my life, serving a wonderful dinner that we had created together, to the sound of loved ones talking around the table. It was what I had, and what I want again.
I realize now that rebuilding vision does not mean everything old is taken away and replaced by all new and unfamiliar things. The people I love won’t change. They, and the desire for connectedness, are things I bring with me into the new vision. As well, the things I already love to do may be added to, but the core of them won’t change either. I will always love to paint.
So another piece of this vision has always been the success of my art career. I had a bit of a setback last month when I had to pull out of a gallery that was representing my work. After a month-long solo feature of my art and no sales, suffice it to say it was not a success. And yet despite disappointment, I don’t feel that bad about it. The gallery was beautiful, the owner and I had an excellent relationship, I came across more people for whom my art resonates, but this particular gallery was just not the right fit for my work. It seems it was another place where I did not belong. The crux of the issue with galleries is not just getting into them and convincing them to represent you, it is getting into a gallery where your work is actually a good fit and can sell. Just as I resonate with the people I love most, my art will resonate with the right audience.
So once again, life imitates art, art imitates life. You’re not going to feel comfortable where you don’t feel like you fit it. And you won’t fit in if that’s not where the vision is going. Following the vision is key… to Pesach dinners, to dream kitchens, dream locations, to a future partner, to connectedness, to being in the right gallery. It’s not a reflection on others at all. It’s only about where you really belong. And when I follow the vision, there is no one I need to convince to let me in. They just want to participate because I’m part of their vision too. Likely the only person who really needs convincing is me.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t work involved. As with relationships, finding the right gallery means being sensitive to what you hear and careful about what you do. I still have to send out submissions to galleries. I still have to work independently and sell on my own as much as I can, and I still have to expect that while I have the vision for my own work, it may take time for the right galleries to get on board with what I see. And as always, when other people become part of your dreams, the dream changes somewhat to accommodate everyone’s vision. As with all parts of the vision, when you’re doing what you love and are surrounded with people you love, adjustments that help make everyone feel they belong are a labour of love. It is not hardship to adjust so that things run smoothly and continue to flourish and grow.
That’s the thing with vision, it’s built one step at a time, it takes turns in the road you don’t expect, but it always does what’s best for you. And of course it throws the occasional curve ball…. Just to keep things interesting. Which is okay too. I love surprises!
Make Something Worth Seeing...
It's a recurring theme. It comes back to me again and again. And I write about it often, because it keeps telling me it's most important. Keeping my vision front and centre. Spreading light as much as I can. Using my creative gift to speak to hearts and souls.
I was talking with a very close friend this week about how women are portrayed in film and other media, specifically the romance film, the chick-flick, and this is something she shared. We had a great laugh over it! Truth is always easier when served up with a little humor. :)
I said to her that they forgot to include "Pretty Woman" which to me has always been the ultimate rescue bulls**t. And then I saw this trailer later that same day and thought this might be something more like real love. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks promising.
Part of the conversation with my friend that day was about a couple of high-profile divorces happening right now. They are public people she and I have both appreciated for various reasons, and so it was disappointing to hear the news. Being divorced myself, I realize there is a lot that goes on behind closed doors that people outside the situation never know about. And I know about getting to the end of a road after spending years trying to fix something irretrievably broken.
But we also recognized that marriage, and love for that matter, are not what they could be. And even though I don't want to go back to everything that the 50s culture stood for (see trailer above), things do seem much more disposable now. People walk away more quickly than they used to. If it doesn't continue to stroke the emotions or the ego, if it isn't romantic anymore, or it's gotten to the place where it requires going to difficult, deep and vulnerable places, then it's time to jump ship. Casual everything has made living on the surface very easy.
To me, the vulnerable, harder places, are when you are just getting to the place of real closeness, of bonding with someone on the soul-level, of honesty and safety to a degree never before experienced because you've trusted each other with your deepest selves. That place you've spent a lifetime protecting and running away from. The only place where real communion lives.
So what does this have to do with making art?
Something else that brought an answer was the Kabbalah class I go to, taught by my Rabbi. I love this class. And he has got to be the most high-energy Rabbi on the planet! I love his insight. And I love that he loves being who he is. He inspires me. Anyway, he was talking one day about G-d's mission statement. Huh? G-d has a mission statement? I hadn't thought about it before but when he mentioned it I assumed He/She was just the One who ultimately called the shots. But he told us that day that G-d's mission statement could be found in the first few verses of Torah and it is this: "Let there be light."
It knocked me flat. It still does as I write these words.... At first I was shocked and then, "Of course!" He went on to say essentially that since this is G-d's mission, it is ours as well. This is where our gifts, our vision, our longings step in. For me, that takes the form of art-making. It requires digging very deep, being really honest with myself, and putting down what I see and feel in such a way that it truly brings light to others.
This is what we are all meant to do. Whether it's through film, writing, painting, mothering, fathering, "spousing" or whatever it is you know you've been called to do. It might be spreading light and love through the job you already have. Or it might be through something you've always wanted to do but have been too afraid to try. My life needs to be one that spreads the light, and spreads it further than it could otherwise go, if I did not do what I know I need to do.
We're here to spread light to each other in all things. To embrace and love at a level we all know is possible and we all secretly want. The reality is, we have to give it to receive it. And a good part of the time it will require hard work. It will mean commitment and going places we like to shy away from. It will mean saying no to the plethora of other choices. As my Rabbi said that day, maturity means you've learned what to say no to.... But living this way will spread light. And I know, as with G-d's light, it will embrace us and never let us go. What we can do is an eternal thing. It has that kind of everlasting staying power.
What an amazing life this is, that we get to take light and love to everyone and everything we do. It's stunning! I am called to be brave in everything. And so are you. We are called to be there for each other. It is no small thing this mission. But what incredible reward there is in it.
So make something worth seeing. Make of your life and work something worth sharing and giving away. Make something of your art and your life that speaks to people, whether it's someone who sees your painting or your film, hears your song, reads your book; or someone you make a meal for, someone you go to work for, someone you embrace every day, someone you share a bed with every night, someone you send off to school every day and teach life lessons through the example of your own life.
G-d came up with an amazing, wild mission. We haven't been given something impossible to carry out. G-d is not counter-intuitive.
We can do this!
Today for the first time I intentionally turned away from the daily news. Artists, for some reason, are junkies for this stuff. A quick glance at my Facebook page and I see there’s been another police shooting in the States. This after the previous one in Dallas a few days ago, the attempted coup in Turkey, and yet another terrorist attack in France. And countless tragedies before that. Maybe because artists are so often emotionally driven, we watch all of this and end up getting too much of it. We’re all getting too much of it.
It seems to me that there are very large global shifts taking place. When the smoke embers die down the world will be a very different place than what we now know. There is something happening spiritually. This isn’t just political, or racial, or religious. Pandora’s Box has been opened. The lid has been removed from all the worst parts of human nature. G-d isn’t gone, he is just silent, letting us take ourselves wherever it is we want to go.
So I think about what I can do. What is my part? What kind of difference can I make to shed light on all this darkness? I think about what artists in the past have done. Like Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat”, Picasso’s “Guernica” and Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’.” They painted and sang and made statements in an age before the internet and social media. Those kinds of statements are drowned out in an age that sees everything in the moment it happens. But they are powerful statements nonetheless, timeless. The artists before me have something to teach me about the power of my gift.
The story of Pandora’s Box tells of the worst aspects of us being unleashed on the world and all that is left in the box is hope. And I think this is where artists come in. We have the tools to make and spread hope and peace. I don’t mean something fluffy. I don’t mean something that denies what is falling apart all around us. I don’t mean we ignore the convulsions on our planet. I mean we speak truth to power, we point to what must change, in each of us and in whole systems, and we lead the way back to the one thing left in the box that can turn the tide. We point to the transcendent picture, to what is possible. We paint, we write, we sing, we speak, we take from this revolution and lead the way. We have the power to shift its direction. We have the tools to get people to take notice, even above the noise of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. But it means stepping out of the flow of everything that is happening and going against the current. It means being daring and fearless. It means following in the footsteps of others who took a brave turn and created another way.
Revolutions, and counter-revolutions, start small, sometimes only with one person.
And I am one person. You are one person…