Remember to forget

remember

For me art shouldn’t be a fixed idea that I have before I start making it. I want it to include all the fragility and doubt that I go through the day with. Sometimes I’ll take a walk just to forget whatever good idea I had that day because I like to go into the studio not having any ideas. I want the insecurity of not knowing, like performers feel before a performance. Everything I can remember, and everything I know, I have probably already done, or somebody else has

Robert Rauschenburg (1925-), American artist, quoted by Michael Kimmelman in an article about Rauschenburg, New York Times, “Arts & Leisure” section 2, August 27, 2000, p. 26.

Remembering and forgetting are key parts to the incubation stage of creative process. Images and/or ideas found in the foraging and gathering stage begin to simmer and cook.  In this chaotic broth, knowledge remembered is then forgotten, or let go of.  This alchemical creative process is transformational, allowing something new to emerge.

Once an experience is understood, remembering and forgetting is possible.  This transformative process of memory allows new learning, as well as a flexible and adaptive response to life.

Unsinging Bird

bird

silence

.is
a
looking

bird:the

turn
ing;edge of
life

(inquiry before snow

e.e. cummings

Look up….Look waay Up

giraffe

Head in the clouds. Feet firmly planted on the earth. This is the optimal creative stance. Why?

Groundedness and solid, secure connections provide the safe supports needed for creative exploration and the transformative risks that give life meaning.  Dan Siegel writes about cultivating the ability to become grounded in the tripod of mindsight

Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in…The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and, finally, to transform it (Siegel, 2010)

Being grounded in the tripod of Mindsight involves openness (receptivity to whatever comes into awareness without censorship, which allows clear seeing); observation (cultivating the ability to observe yourself in the midst of reactivity, which creates space); objectivity (developing the ability to remain present without identifying with particular thoughts or feelings and/or being carried away by them) (Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation 2010, New York, NY: Bantam Books).

In the optimal creative stance the feet firmly planted on the earth support a “head in the clouds” creative exploration. A multitude of vantage points, perspectives, options, hopes, dreams, imaginal possibilities and treasures may be found spending time appreciating the awesomeness of clouds.

Here is a short and beautiful meditation on clouds, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, creator of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

An animal eye

animals

What is animal presence?  Why do animals visit in dreams?  James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology wrote that from a depth perspective of the world

all things are displays, and imagination and perception, invisible and visible, intuition and sensation do not fall apart when discerned with an animal eye (Animal Presences, Spring, 2008).

So what is an animal eye? What is it like to look at the world with an animal eye?  Hillman speaks to using another kind of vision that moves beyond the usual correspondences, symbolization and metaphors that we usually impose on animals in attempting to define their meaning.  Through leaning into the mysterious otherness of animals, by

bringing our superior postures to the level of the creature, kneeling to it, condescension, we begin to see as they do;  a transposed eye [...] to see with the creaturely eye is an act of imagining the world so that it appears in continuing animation, in a continuing play of creation with which human consciousness participates by means of imagining acts. (Hillman, 2008)

Here the creative imagination is not a gift that is bestowed upon us in order to create great works of art, images or ideas.  Animal vision is a way of releasing what already exists. When we see with the animal eye we are able to see and connect with creative process that is ongoing and the possibilities that exist in play.  Hillman emphasizes that

the human imagination is not the creator, does not create; it sees the creative, creatively (Hillman, 2008)

Seeing creatively with the animal eye is a way to open, improvise and play your way into creative process.

holding on-letting go

outside the box

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love

~ e. e. cummings ~

(Complete Poems 1904-1962)

I recently facilitated a parents group where the conversation centered on the idea of taking risks in life.  The group seemed to agree that human curiosity and learning involve different and varying levels of risk and experimentation. We all have different comfort zones for risk taking. For some of us,  starting any type of creative journey feels overwhelming, often making it hard to let go of the familiar in order to enter unknown territory.

“I hate writing; I love having written,”  is a saying attributed to the writer Dorothy Parker.

The creative journey always looks easier in retrospect, after the project is finished.  Why?

Creative process requires the act of showing up and being seen.  It takes courage to put yourself out there and risk failure, feel emotionally exposed and vulnerable to judgements, from both inside and out.  At the same time allowing yourself to stand in this improvisational, authentic and raw place yields incredible rewards.  All plans have dropped away. You are fully engaged in the moment.  You embark on the hero’s journey to claim treasure from the dragon and the whole point is leaving your comfort zone. Research professor Brené Brown believes that vulnerability is the most accurate indicator of courage.    However, there is a paradox revealed in the act of being vulnerable in that it feels like weakness in yourself and appears as courage only in others.  Another paradox to think about is that in order to let go, you have to be holding on.  Weakness and courage, order and chaos are cyclical, dynamic and emergent states.

In the following video Brené Brown explains the ways uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure are essential to a successful creative journey.  I found it inspiring, hope you do too.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

newdirections

“…That’s why we have the Museum, Matty, to remind us of how we came, and why: to start fresh, and begin a new place from what we had learned and carried from the old.”  Lois Lowry, Messenger

The transitional space between old and new feels like a shifting energetic pause.  Time is marked by rituals of looking and stepping back, maybe even gathering up and holding on to last years moments. Review, reflect, let go….then into the New, clean slate and fresh start. A re-new cycle begins.

Part of moving forward includes looking back as a way of combining and integrating (hopefully) the best of past with future. The art of knowing where we are, includes knowing where we came from and where we plan to go.  Maybe this “looking in” knowledge is what allows us to stand in the now and direct fresh energy towards a renewed creative cycle.

Wishing you creativity, health and joy in the New Year.

Slowly looking with the Buddhist “good eye”

Slowly looking

Recently I came across the Contemplative Photography movement, which incorporates Buddhist mindfulness practice with Western ways of seeing the world.  Contemplative Photography practice is based on holding an intention of learning to look and see through a lens of nonattachment. Through practice, you begin to trust the gaps in discursive thought where clear seeing and inspiration emerge in your art.

Matthieu Ricard describes Contemplative photography as

seizing the present moment as one would delicately hold a poppy without shedding its petals.  It is about nonattachment; one has nothing to lose and nothing to gain, but everything to offer to the eyes of the viewer (from jacket of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the world with fresh eyes, written by  Andy Carr and Michael Wood, Shambala, 2011)

Miksang is a Tibetan word which means “Good Eye”. The practice is founded on Shambala  and Dharma Art Teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.  The word “good” relates to uncluttered vision and seizing the present moment.  In the following video “Miksang” practice is explained in a way I hope you find inspiring.

 

Looking into the Open

Looking

The Open

With their whole gaze

animals behold the Open.

Only our eyes

are as though reversed

and set like traps around us,

keeping us inside.

That there is something out there

we know only from the creatures’ countenance.

We turn even the young child around,

making her look backward

at the forms we create,

not outward into the Open.

R.M. Rilke, from the Eighth Duino Elegy

Madiba and the power of creative potential

Madiba

Madiba’s powerful words encapsulate many levels of meaning. Perhaps that is why they inspire and light a creative spark for so many of us. These words point to the idea that finding passion requires commitment and responsibility. The heroic attempt to live up to one’s potential and the power that entails is often an overwhelming challenge.  Marianne Williamson wrote

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? [...] Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do [...] As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The responsibility of owning our powerful creative potential requires knowing the shadow aspects of our personality.  Artist Louise Bourgeois had a deeply personal lens through which she artistically engaged with her shadow and what she felt was the burden of her own creative potential power.  Bourgeois wrote

I’m afraid of power; it makes me nervous [...] In my art I am the murderer, the man who has to live with his conscience… As an artist I am a powerful person.  In real life I feel like the mouse behind the radiator… By withdrawing, by recognizing that you have no power, you become more than yourself.  You get ideas which never would have occurred to you .  In my art, I live in a world of my own making.  I make decisions.  I have power.  In the real world, I don’t want power

Bourgeois was able to create powerful art by acknowledging her shadow side and fears. She played with both positive and negative aspects of power and its potential for both good and evil.

In his lifetime, Madiba also experienced both the dark and light sides of power.  His words are meaningful because they emerge from a deeply felt, impassioned life experience, a life that entailed great courage, risk and exploration of the unknown, all elements of the archetype of the creative hero.

the known unknown

 “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

the stars

Poetry

And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.

by Pablo Neruda

To paraphrase Dr. Jordan Peterson from a recent  TED lecture, “there are things that you know deeply, you just don’t know that you know them.”  Creative process is a way to allow the known unknown to surface through the arts.  Encountering the known unknown often leads to the emotional experience of awe.  We risk a leap of faith from what is known into what is not yet known. This is the experience of not having the words to describe, feeling deeply moved, touched, terrified and fascinated simultaneously.  Neruda’s poem conveys the experience of being summoned and touched, and then “my mouth had no way with names[...]something stirred in my soul”.  Creative process is a way to allow known unknown treasure to surface.  The expressive arts have the potential to inspire and reflect back what we most need to know in a form that may be both seen, shaped and shared.

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