I received an interesting comment after posting last Sunday's Salon, The Three Stages of Growth. The author is Dale Lang, originally from the south of Montreal, Quebec, and currently living in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, Ontario. I responded to her after visiting her website, thanking her for her kind comments about Ancient Artist. It turns out that she found this blog quite by accident, while researching ancient art. I can tell you that's probably not so far off for me as I sometimes feel old enough to have painted those antelope in Lascaux.
What followed was a delightful exchange of emails over the next several days. I asked if she would be interested in a Sunday Salon, thinking I would have to craft some formal questions, but as our emails progressed I realized that our conversation was far more fascinating. So, with her permission, I am sharing our discussion with all of you.
"Sue...I have been reading your blog for awhile and really enjoy it...but this piece hits so close to my experience that I had to connect to express my gratitude for your sharing. i so relate to the "what used to be so exciting and promising about creating art has come to a difficult and painful crawl" experience. I graduated with an art degree in 2004 at 52. The past 4 years have been about...processing expectations, beliefs and growth, My struggle kept me from creating but at the same time it also would not let me give up. So in a sense I have been standing still.
The image I feel is of standing in the eye of the storm with chaos and destruction around me. In that place, with courage, curiosity and determination, I have learned about patience, openness, kindness, willingness and acceptance of who I am. From that a new way of being has emerged and a new direction for art making has revealed itself. It is like a rebirth/renaissance/revival of artistic purpose and meaning and it feels sooo much better or maybe that's relief from weathering another of life's little crisis of meaning..."
I responded that I could completely identify with the feeling of being in the eye of the storm, and that I felt like I had been wasting a lot of paint lately.
Dale responded, "Here is another perspective on 'wasting a lot of paint.' I have come across an exercise in a Buddhist magazine with the following instructions: use oil paint and paint while being mindful and present. When you feel the image is right or dine, appreciate it and take turpentine and wipe it away. Begin again and do this process repeatedly. This develops an experience of detachment and it eventually creates a space where your image making comes from a deeper source. Aviva gold refers to this as painting from the source. It also reminds me of 'drawing from the right side of the brain.' Sometimes I feel like I stand in my own way and find these exercises helpful."
Dale, I am intrigued with your Buddhist exercise. Have you used it often? What else have you found out like this? I am always open to learn different perspectives that I haven't encountered through my own wanderings. i do relate t being mindful and present, but this seems to take things further and I would like to hear more of what you think."
Dawn, Archean Series @ Dale Lang
I have only just set up what I need to do the exercise. I work mainly in acrylic but for this I will use water soluble oils and non toxic water soluble turpentine and I gessoed a couple of masonite boards. So I am ready...but for the moment I am still in the midst (eye of the storm) with a lot of transitions...back injury, my daughter moving back to England, moving my studio up to our cottage for the summer. when I stay grounded this is all good and exciting.
However, since graduating in 2004 my art practice has tended to fade to the background yet my calling to create has been ever present.
What do I do when I don't do the thing I want to do?
To get past the frustration and confusion I have had to figure out the place art making has in my life and its place in the world at large. What I have come to understand through some of my personal challenges is that if I am attached to outcomes and expectations then I find myself desperately holding on to the suffering with both hands. If I can let go and cultivate detachment, then I can experience some peace and calm. It makes room for better things to happen through really what often happens is that it lets me notice the good things that are in front of me.
Cultivating detachment is not that easy so this exercise is intriguing. What happens when i am not attached to what I create, when I don't judge, when I just appreciate what appears and then let it go? What rippling effect will this process have in m life? Since I am questioning how art making fits into my life right now this exercise has the potential to move my investigation from the intellect (which has been spinning its wheels for some time) to something deeper...patience and curiosity...don't leave home without them."
Wow. I so relate to what you're saying, Dale. And I'm beginning to see how my fascination with the Elements Series I create stem from these ideas, since it is very much a letting-go process. when you were in art school, did you emerge with an idea of what art should mean and then over time, realized that your understanding had deepened and changed?
"You are right on the money about what happened to me after school. I loved every second of school but found the constant reference to "emerging young artists" disorienting and isolating. i did "emerge with an idea of what art making should mean" and I am still working out what it means to me, how I fit in and how I can make a contribution. As far as an art career, I am still working on art practice."
You know, I have dreamed of having a cottage or cabin in the woods or near a lake or river, even the ocean (although that would be 5 hours away) where I could get away and just paint. i talked to Jo-Ann Sanborn awhile ago and her studio is right along a canal in Florida, where guests could arrive by boat...I live in the middle of the High Desert, not very glamorous...does your art making change when you change studio environments?
I do think your environment influences your subject matter. For example, my archean series is based n the rock that my cottage studio is built on. In the suburbs I live in a park area with electric hydro structures that were the subject of a photography piece and collage series. then there is psychological space...when that is good then environmental space isn't as important.
The first summers after school I was surprised at how little I got done at my cottage studio. My home studio is a small room at the end of a one car garage. the room is a bit claustrophobic so I have some tables set out in the garage, but that space is always encroached upon by lawnmowers and snowblowers and I get frozen out of the garage in the winter. It is not ideal yet when I was in school and had a project due i would do it in the kitchen if I had to. In that case, psychological space trumps environmental space...my fantasy studio is a loft in Paris overlooking a park with a cafe, bookstore and cinema close by."
Going back to an earlier comment, you are right about holding on to the suffering and disappointments, and how really urgent issues often demand our attention...yet the call of art making remains so strong and necessary through all this...why, I wonder? Is it because there is something in the act of creating that grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience?
"Fundamentally, I feel that art is about communication and I am particularly interested in the first signs of the creative impulse in ancient humans. As a matter of fact, it was during a search for ancient art that I came across your site and had to laugh when I realized what you meant by ancient artist. What a relief to find someone else like me! Don't get me wrong, i love my young artist friends but the experience just isn't the same.
I would agree that the act of creating grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience. As a visual person, the act of creating images is where I can uniquely express myself and my experience. When that expression feels difficult it is a sign that my inner and outer world are not aligned."
I then confessed to Dale that I probably had enough material for the interview.
Generous as always, her response was good-natured: "Wow, that was easy...if you had told me I was providing material for an interview I would have reacted like a deer in the headlights,,,I didn't know, I didn't react...pretty cool strategy, Sue...by the way, I have an iMac...
She then gave me a list of shortcuts that solved my "right-click" withdrawal. I even managed to successfully download the images she sent me, get them in the right file, then upload them to typepad. Yes, I am smiling right now!
Souvenir, Archean Series @ Dale Lang
So Dale, just one more question...are those your feet in the Ascension Triptych photographs?
You can see Dale's work on her website.
Sorry for the many typos - Typepad has been going through "improvements" and the bugs have been getting worse and worse. Last night I tried to use spell check and the entire post froze up. I saved it because the last time this happened I lost an entire post and 2 hours of work. Now it wants to underline everything and I can't make it stop...eeegggaaaddd!!!!