Do you see things differently, too?

I was passing, and then I stopped.  There’s something special I notice about the scene.  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that captivates me – the architecture, the light, the viewpoint, but it does.  I have this experience every day with a telephone pole as I walk through the town of Aberystwyth.  Now this in itself might sound ridiculous and you may find yourself asking how can I possibly find beauty in something so…pedestrian? Truth is, I’m not entirely sure.  Each experience I have with the telephone pole is completely unique.  The light is always a little bit different, I’m a little bit different.  But alas, every day in my walk to the library I still stop for a moment.

It’s often remarked by family and friends that I’m extremely observant.  I notice colours in reflections, strange textures in tiles and make shapes in my mind with woodgrain.  I don’t observe everything, but I’m aware that certain things that most would consider unimportant captivate me and wholly capture my attention becoming the most important thing in the world for a fleeting moment.

It’s taken me years of this kind of seeing to bring it to full awareness and begin to realise what it means. I was always under the impression that it was my creative temperament that led to this appreciation of ordinary things, but the more I learn, this seeing is not exclusive to the ‘creatives’ amongst us.  Everyone without limit can find beauty in the banal.

Christophe Andre in his book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art uses Gas by Edward Hopper to illustrate this idea of seeing ordinary things.  Hopper was renowned for his oil paintings of American Life that were all simplistic in composition.  Somewhat reluctant to discuss himself and his art, he famously summed up his Art by stating “The whole answer is there on the canvas.”  This feels like an apt statement when weighted with the appreciation for the ordinary.

gasGas, Edward Hopper (1882-1967) 1940, oil on canvas, 66.7 x 102.2m, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Andre suggests that when you begin to look, and really look you become aware of the silly detail of the Pegasus on the sign.  Then you see his three little brothers on the pumps which anchors your attention. You start to assume what could be happening inside the lighted house.  Is there music playing? Where does the darkened road lead to?  How long will it be before the man pictured sees anyone else?  For Hopper to paint this, it must have captivated him.  This moment is completely unique. You stopped because you will never again see what you are seeing now.  In the same way that you will never experience exactly what you are experiencing now.  This is the point – you understand.  This becomes the most important thing in the world – this seeing, this experience, this awareness… and this is living!  You are living life.

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All too often we find ourselves going through the motions in life. A work/rest alternate.  We absent-mindedly wander through our days, only to get up the next morning to do the same.  We’re programmed on repeat – ‘active but absent.’  Our lives are directed with signposts ‘Look now!, listen now!, taste now!, feel now!’  to ‘carefully delineated moments where we ‘have to’ be enchanted or moved (cinema, theatre, museums and galleries).’  If we allow ourselves to be victims of this signposted and dictated awareness we become robot-like.  This is why moments in appreciating the ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ are so vital to enriching our soul. We must appreciate and respect normal things. I agree that is much easier to become aware and mindful in a beautiful landscape but it is true to say that it can happen anywhere and at any time – with a little effort to ‘remain awake and present.’

How do we do this in our daily lives?

I went to grab a coffee yesterday in a busy coffee shop.  While I waited for mine to be made, I watched the barista work efficiently calling out different orders for collection.  After a few minutes she exclaimed “banana latte and a watermelon chocolate!” A woman came and lifted the tray with a quick thank-you but didn’t pull the barista up on her comical drinks.  She looked at me and grinned “I have a theory that if you shout anything, people will come and take whatever is ready.  Last week it was items of clothing, this week it’s fruit.”  I laughed, but after I left with my non-fruit flavoured coffee it really made me think.  People hear but how often do they listen?  We’re always in the doing mode, but we’re not often in the being mode.  Take the painting, how often has people just filled up the tank, paid, left, not experiencing the sights to be seen?  It’s important to practice listening to sounds around you, observing the light, smelling around you, tasting, touching – awakening your senses if you like.  Looking with the eyes of the new-born, as if everything is new.  You’ll be amazed at how much there is to see and sense.  This isn’t robot-like, but it is human being-like.  ‘We must be aware that we are alive. Living in awareness, touched by ordinary things, jostled by normality.  It means being enlightened by the benign and ordinary- dazzled and delighted by life.’

‘Never forget that every mind is shaped by the most ordinary experiences.’ – Paul Valery, Mauvaises Pensees Et Autres

Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, Christophe Andre, L’Iconoclaste, Paris, 2011 (p.112-121)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

http://www.moma.org/collection/works/80000

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Approaching Happiness

“We enter paradise every second – either that or we leave it.” – Christian Bobin

Turner-Approach-Venice

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775 – 1851 ), Approach to Venice, 1844, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

Venice to Turner meant ‘delight.’ A misty city, quasi-visible across the Venetian Lagoon through a golden twilight. John Ruskin, the major art critic who was one of Turner’s few champions later in his career, hailed the canvas as “the most perfectly beautiful piece of colour of all that I have seen produced by human hands.” In the Royal Academy catalogue for 1844, this entry was accompanied by a quotation that Turner himself rewrote from Lord Byron’s poem Childe Harold:

“The moon is up, and yet it is not night,
The sun as yet disputes the day with her.”

This painting is a fleeting moment captured by Turner.  Soon we will be there.  We will be captivated by the sights, smells and the sounds the city has to offer.  The Sun acts as a guiding light, welcoming us.  It illuminates the City with glory, turning the lagoon a golden yellow.  The moon too reminds us of the freshness and urgency of the night.  The golden light will have disappeared by the time we land, and been taken over by the crisp darkness.

I’ve been blessed to see a painting of Turners’ for real.  There’s something about the way he paints that draws emotions from you – it’s mostly not even voluntary.  The canvas becomes an object in which you portray your emotions, hopes, thoughts and experiences onto.  The gesture, colours and light-heartedness are all strong enough to withstand it. You associate your own personal experiences with the subject, making it appear different to each individual. And isn’t that the simplest purpose of Art? That it makes you feel something?

Christophe Andre uses Approach to Venice as an illustration for happiness in his book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art.  Approach to Venice is a metaphor in seeing Happiness gently emerging in your life.

Andre suggests that there is no happiness without awareness.  Have you ever found yourself looking back at something in your past and thought about how happy you were but you didn’t realise?  This is something we all fall victim to.  Even just now, I thought about my experience with the Turner painting in the National Gallery and how happy I was to just look and be…and often now I find myself going to extreme lengths restlessly looking for this calm again.  This retrospective happiness is human nature.  As French writer Radiguet writes ‘Happiness, I knew you only by the sound you made as you left.’  Without awareness of the present we long for these past moments of happiness which we didn’t know how to embrace at the time.  This happens when we are too busy…there are simply too many things on our minds to revel in happiness- work,eat,sleep,repeat.  It happens too when we are sad or worried…our minds become uncertain about the future or regrets over the past.  I’ve always admired Turners’ enthusiasm to ‘be’ in the moment and it is something we can learn from.  His drive to capture these transient moments are influential to not only my own painting practice, but my way of living.  I remember reading stories when I was a child of Turner supposedly strapping himself to the mast of ships to experience the moment in later, more stormy work. Even as a child I was inspired by this act of living.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775 - 1851 ), Approach to Venice, 1844, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

How do we become aware then?  If we regularly open our mind, not looking for happiness but just looking, we will see happiness in things.  When I’m sad I force myself to go outside and just look.  It’s not long before I realise beauty in things- it could be something as simple as a tree or a flower.  As Andre puts it, these fleeting moments of happiness in our everyday lives will be ‘slight, brief, imperfect and incomplete, but multiple, changing, alive and constantly renewed.’

Venice mightn’t be as promised – but there are glimpses of happiness to be found in everything.  By being mindful, we can train ourselves to notice everything, pains and pleasures alike.  In times of adversity we should stop and accept snippets of happiness.  It’s a fleeting comfort, but later, we will do it again.  Thus, it becomes an endless cycle.

“We will keep on making misfortune breathe alongside everything that resembles life – in other words, happiness”.

https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg57/gg57-117.html

Andre, Christophe Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, L’Iconoclaste, 2011, 232-238

What we can learn from Chupa Chups

Bizarre title, right?

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I’m halfway through reading a book called The Art Of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins. (St. Martins College of Art) Judkins hasn’t so much taught me anything through his clarity of thoughts, but instead has made me realise my make-up if you will.  Creativity isn’t a switch that can be flicked on when you arrive into the studio or grab a pen to write, just in the same way it can be turned off when relaxing in the bath or climbing into bed.  The very crux of creativity is a way of seeing, engaging with and responding to the world around you.  Judkins suggests that creatives are creative when ‘filing documents, cooking, arranging timetables or doing housework.’

We are all guilty of compartmentalising Creativity for as and when it is needed in our daily lives.  It’s exhausting to be alert and responsive all of the time.  I dedicate set time to be creative amidst applying for jobs and working, a routine that’s an unhealthy one. Why? Because I feel most alive when I’m doing something I feel that is worthwhile… and that’s usually creating something.

You may ask, what does Chupa Chups have to do with all this?

This is where Salvador Dali comes in.  Judkins uses him as a perfect example of a ‘switched-on’ creative.  Dali too felt alive with things that he felt were important – devoting his time and energy to a range of projects.

On January 20, 1952, Salvador Dali appeared on American Game Show Whats’ My Line? , in which a panel of four blindfolded celebrity panellists guess the identity of a mystery guest by asking questions that have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Taking almost nine minutes to reveal his identity, the guests become more and more exasperated as Dali answers yes when asked if he was a writer, a leading man, a performer, a sportsman etc. One of the ladies laughs and exclaims ‘There’s nothing this man doesn’t do!’

And that’s exactly the lesson that should be learned here. Throughout his life Dali was a film-maker, a jewellery maker, an architect, a designer, a writer as well as a painter. He needed a house, so he made one – who knows your taste better than yourself?  He created a person – Dali’s Frankenstein – Amanda Lear.  Dali renamed her, made her over and constructed stories about her. His creativity wasn’t under a time constraint, it ran through him.  Dali designed the logo for the Chupa Chups lollipop.  Already having a name for himself as a famous surrealist artist and a place amongst treasured Artists in the Canon of Art History, it wasn’t necessary for him to design for confectionery.  He was open-minded and it to him it mattered, so he did it.  Not everything he turned his hand to was successful, and some endeavours are more celebrated than others, but what matters is the willingness to try.  Dali didn’t attempt to turn the creative ‘switch’ on and off.  Instead, he embraced it and is Internationally respected as a result.  His creativity went far beyond his surrealist Paintings that he is most renowned for, and when you delve a little deeper you can discover a man that breathed creativity, not confined it.

His attitude is something we can all learn a little from.

Judkins, Rod, The Art of Creative Thinking, Sceptre Books, 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXT2E9Ccc8A – Salvador Dali appearing on ‘Whats My Line’

Mindfulness

How do you practice mindfulness?

I’m currently reading Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art by Christophe Andre.  Hearing much about mindfulness and the buzz that surrounds it, I picked up this book in Birmingham Airport… it seemed perfect. Mindfulness AND Art?!

I had no expectations of this book, but it is truly beautifully crafted.  Andre uses paintings both modern and of the masters to illustrate his concepts and teachings.  He doesn’t overstate the benefits of mindfulness (which I believe is a trap that many authors have fallen into) instead he demonstrates that Mindfulness is not a way out of life’s problems – but a way of being present in a way which fosters self/other compassion, and a clear-eyed awareness of the miracle of being in the moment, existing.

Even reading it makes you become more mindful… absorbing the images and words, looking at details of paintings over and over again – it creates some kind of tangible awareness which is all too hard to find in this fast-living world.

I have not only come to love the paintings more, but understand them in a different and calm dimension.

I started to think about my own practice and when I have the chance to be mindful when I create.  This has led to a series of map pieces.  I don’t think about the colours or the lines or the composition really.  I simply paint and be.

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How are you Mindful when creating?

August 4, 2015

I’m a graduate…again!

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I enjoyed graduating for the second time, despite it being the largest and (no doubt) longest graduation ceremony that Aberystwyth University has ever seen.  In fact, I enjoyed it more than my Undergraduate ceremony.  Why? It was relaxed, I stormed about in my robes because I knew what was expected of me on that day – it was comfortable.

But this term ‘comfort’ is one which I have too easily associated with Aberystwyth.  In less than a month, I’ll have been here for 5 years…which has happened almost by accident.  There’s a saying in Aber that “If you’ve been here for more than four years, then you’re stuck…forever.”  And while I love having a network of people who care for me here, I’m aware I need to move on.  I want to make myself uncomfortable immerse myself in new things, surround myself by new faces and places, and fill the yearning in my heart to do something different.  As an Artist, I crave new experiences.  These experiences keep me feeling alive.  I’m not a student, nor am I an adult with a career.  I’ve found myself in a strange ‘limbo’ trying to find my way.  I’m ready for the next move and to carve a career, it’s just not happened yet.  I’m persevering because I want to do something that I love.

I’m reading a book called The Obstacle Is The Way by Marketing Genius Ryan Holiday.  Now while I often am sceptical of  these airy-fairy self-help books that centre on loving yourself… this has me instantly hooked.  Holiday is not so much cut-throat, but extremely honest which means this book has become a manual for me in this time of ‘limbo.’

– Perception

– Action

– Will

Holiday writes of an old Zen Proverb that tells of a King who is worried about the decline of his Kingdom due to the attitudes of the people. To prove his theory that his people had lost inspiration, a king had a giant boulder placed on the only road into his city. Then, hidden and perched on a hill, he waited to see what would happen. First, some merchants came upon the rock and said, “Well, this boulder is blocking our path. Let’s turn around and go home. No work today!” And they turned around and left. Next a group of soldiers came upon the boulder. “This rock is blocking our path,” they said. “I guess no one will need our services today”, and they turned around and went home as well. The king watched person after person continue to come upon the rock, see it as an impasse or excuse and turn and go home.  This was until a lonely peasant came upon the rock.  He was excited by the challenge.  He first examined the huge boulder and tried to push it with all his might. He realized this would not work and began to think of other solutions. Then the quote from ancient mathematician Archimedes popped into his head, “If you give me a large enough lever and a fulcrum on which to place it, I shall move the world.” The old man was instantly inspired, and found a long wooden pole. He placed the pole under the boulder and using leverage, moved the boulder slightly. He repeated this process until the boulder was completely off the road.With his challenge finished, the inspired man was about to set off down the previously blocked path toward the city, but he noticed a bag lying where the boulder once stood. He looked around, picked up the bag and found inside a large amount of gold and a note. He carefully opened the note and read, “This gold is for you, since you know that great obstacles can lead to bigger opportunities.” The king, happy with the actions of this man, left his hiding place and went back to his castle with hope for his people.

When I read this proverb, the meaning was crystal clear to me.  Things that I consider ‘obstacles’ such as the competitive job market, lack of experience, restlessness etc. has been a massive opportunity to develop and learn for myself.  I’ve become patient and driven.  Without these ‘obstacles’ I’d be less, not more.  When I came to understand this, I’ve learned that the obstacle is the way.

Things are happening, as vague as that may be… I’m ready for my break.  I’m waiting on the perfect chance to seize it…I’m on the path!

“If you want more, you have to become more” – Jim Rohn

Sources:

http://www.trainingforwarriors.com/the-obstacle-is-the-path-2/

Holiday, Ryan The Obstacle Is The Way, 2014.