Lately, I’ve been painting a lot of abstract environments/mindscapes, and I’ve found that my art practice has been pretty akin to a survival tactic of sorts for me. Especially in recent months, I am definitely noticing this. And when I say this, it’s not as much about the actual finished piece that I’m referring to, but the act of painting, the creative process. The aspect of creating that’s about being mindful and resourceful, accepting challenges and problem-solving, and being spontaneous and attempting new things. And really, just.. getting lost in the act of making art.
I’ve been asked a lot of times how I came to work the way I do, and I think for most artists, there really isn’t a short answer because the way we work tends to evolve over time. I can definitely say that my art has been synchronous with shifts in my life. In hindsight, it’s in moments of adversity that I can really notice where there were noticeable artistic evolutions that occurred. These were things that were completely out of my control, and each time these things have happened, they’ve reinforced how important it is to learn to be malleable and more accepting of the unexpected and unknown. I don’t intend to go into all of these life changes, but one instance a while back had me studying up on neuroplasticity and it had me realize that I’d been using my art practice as a means of forming positive cognitive habits and replacing other less positive habits in the process.
What I’ve learned by many life experiences is that the things that have caused humility also allowed me to truly appreciate firsthand the value of integrity. The things in life that have caused fear also allowed me to eventually see triumph and strength in adversity. This couldn’t be more true when it comes to the evolution of our art experience too.
I found that what intrigued me the most about when things unfold like this was the something new I’d learn by being faced with the unfamiliar. By being thrust into a state of being so very aware of the utter chaos that is our everyday existence, I learned to live with it a little better each time. Over the course of my creative endeavors, my process of making art has become a reflection of that. It’s become a means to welcome unfamiliarity and the unknown, so that each time in my art-making – a new challenge I’m confronted with, a new artist I learn from, a new tool I attempt to use, gives way to new ways of doing something and those new ways are exciting instead of fear-inducing. By doing this in my daily art practice, I’d helped to mold myself to be more familiar and comfortable with change and the unknown in the other aspects of my life as well. I’ve always felt that my art and life are essentially intertwined and connected, so the practice in one having an influence on the other is not a stretch anyway, but point being is that I tend to continuously make a conscious effort to immerse myself in that feeling of unknown in my art practice and I believe that has helped not to feel derailed by the unknown in other parts of my life as well.
Way back when, I used to paint much differently than how I do now. A younger me would have had much more trepidation about slinging paint and using a kitchen spatula to move it around. There are a couple ways that I’ve learned to overcome this trepidation. One is to be relentless in my pursuit to hone my skills (because skills help to make more informed decisions) and gain the understanding of a wide array of tools and methods, and the other is to regularly put myself in what I used to see as uncomfortable situations by trying new ways of working in order to work my way through them. And to do these simultaneously.
Over time, I’ve witnessed that the aesthetic of my art itself has become a metaphor of how life never stands still, and how change is the very nature of our existence. Our output is a conglomeration of everything that came before the time in which it was made, as well as during the moment it was made. Over time, I’ve developed a way of working that has gradually become about seeing unexpected occurrences (often times called mistakes) as a chance for something new – a new beginning that may lead to something possibly even better or stronger than what I might’ve initially set up to do. Continuing to build new skillsets can help to set ourselves up to adapt when thrown for a loop. It queues up our intuition about things because intuition is based on experience. In the moments of making art, being mindful and remaining open to the new is how and when we learn what that subconscious plan is. To pay attention to when and how we react to things in order to gain an understanding of our own tendencies as well as the things we could be stronger in. This requires patience too. Without allowing for that or by attempting to project a precise outcome every time, we wouldn’t truly be allowing for the opportunity to learn this about ourselves.
Over these last few months, I’ve had many conversations and zoom hangouts with artist friends getting together to chat while we paint. I’ve been teaching workshops and classes, and mentoring some artists as well. A lot of the time, these sessions include all sorts of conversation topics and one that is a constant underlying theme lately is the unknown. Whether it’s regarding the story of the last few days in the news or social media, or it’s about personal challenges and questions about what we do in these uncertain times, the theme seems to be about uncertainty and change. The Unknown. As a collective, we’ve seen some unknowns come to light and some challenges be met with what seems like even tougher times ahead. There are questions about whether making and sharing our art even matters during this time, and how to make a living at all doing it right now. These are the sorts of topics that I’m sure everyone is having no matter what line of work we are all in or pursuing.
Throughout our lives, we artists have had our art to turn to to fill the void of uncertainty or lack of clarity. Often times, a session of creating something solves problems and helps to answer questions. Just the act of sitting down to draw or paint breathes life back into what felt like stagnation or emptiness. So, the answer to whether it matters lies right there. Yes, it absolutely matters, even if only for that sole purpose: to breathe life into our existence. That’s a pretty important one, in my opinion. This doesn’t answer the question that an artist may ask me like “What should I be doing with my art in order to make a living?” or “how do I make money with my art?” but I can honestly say that it will in the longer run. And that’s where that bit about neuroplasticity I mentioned earlier comes in too. By making the practice of art a constant in our lives, we will see other pathways clear ahead of us that are connecting our present daily habits to future ones. Honestly, there isn’t a cut and dry answer for what the best career path is for an artist anyway, because that’s too broad a query to pin an answer to. The best answer is to keep doing it, and the connection will happen. To keep working at it and to keep playing at it. As we work at it, we find avenues that we are drawn to, and set our sights accordingly, learning the ins and outs of those specifics. It’s also important to keep living in other ways too, to experience the world around us and to discover new ways to experience this new existence we all find ourselves in now. We are not going back to before. We human beings have never gone back to a before in all of our existence prior to this, so why would we be doing that now? We’re moving forward from here, and most importantly, we are here now.
Something to keep in mind, and something I’m grateful for others around me who remind me of this is that not only are we enriching our own lives by fulfilling the necessary life blood of acting out a creative process in some way or another, but others are affected by it as well when and if we share it. Whether it’s by telling a story that needs to be heard or it’s the sharing of a piece that helped calm our souls. There can be many reasons that we may connect with or affect something or someone else out there, but the only way to do that is to make our art, share our art, share ourselves. Each one of us is not too small to make a difference, and the things we do don’t have to be grandiose. Like one flap of a butterfly’s wings can change the course of all else, we are capable of doing something much larger than ourselves just by doing our humble act. But honestly, if for no other reason than to help to make ourselves or someone special to us feel better, it’s quite amazing how much this could change things on a much broader scale. Just think if everyone focused on healing and doing something positive for the sake of overcoming a fear of the unknown how that would affect our world overall…
If you’d like to read about some of the other tools I use when painting, check out Using Unconventional Tools as well as many other articles I’ve posted here on Muddy Colors