There are two kinds of pursuits in life – the pursuit of outside physical things and the pursuit of a deeper inner-life. Many times we get so wrapped up in pursuing temporary things that we miss pursuing more important and lasting things like love, developing relationships, making the world a better place, kindness, and gratefulness. I think most of us really want to focus on developing our inner life, but the outside world is constantly demanding our attention.
One thing I do to help me keep my mind on the important things is to create sacred objects. A sacred object is a tangible symbol or piece of art of something intangible.
For example, a few months ago, I found myself worrying a lot about finances. This is a very common worry, not only for me but most people I think. I kept noticing my thoughts going towards the fears of not having enough. I determined that one of the ways to stop worrying was to replace those thoughts with something positive. I needed to become more grateful for the great things I already had in my life.
I decided to create a sacred object to help me focus on being grateful. I made a small stone out of clay and carved the word “grateful” on it. I fired and glazed it. I carry it with me in my pocket all the time. Every time I put my hand in my pocket, I feel the word grateful carved in the clay stone. It only takes a second, but it’s enough to interrupt my thoughts and cause me to think about all the good things that have come my way. I find that this helps me to stay positive and keep things in perspective.
I made the clay stone because I believe it was important to create something visual. Sometimes positive emotions have to be intentionally created. Emotions are a result of our thoughts and a visual reminder can shift those thoughts. We of course don’t need to create a visual for the negative emotions. Life seems to offer those for free.
Other sacred objects I use include a small notebook in my pocket to write down ideas and inspirations. In this notebook I write anything that inspires me, quotes, goals, great ideas, etc. I like to look through it often because it’s like a little pep talk in my pocket. I also keep a card in my wallet with my life purpose statement printed on it, so when I go to make a purchase or hand out a business card, I am reminded of why I’m here. I believe that having visual reminders can help us to focus on the important things in life.
I encourage you to take some time to create a sacred object. What would you like to see more of in your life, more peace, abundance, or kindness? Create something that will help you pursue the important things. Your sacred object can be anything such as a painting, sculpture, statue, or card. I like things that have some kind of other senses involved. The more sensory it is the better.
You can buy inspirational items at gift stores, but I think making it yourself is better. When you make something, you put your heart in to it. You are the one who decides what is meaningful to you. For some the color red means love, for another, it means peace. As you create your object, it will be come very personal to you. The more personal it is, the bigger the impact it will have.
Creating sacred objects will help remind you to develop your inner life. Someone once told me that if you get the inside right, the outside will take care of itself. I believe it will.
Art Save Lives!
Many people have this romantic idea of artists as reclusive eccentrics. Locked away in their studio, feverishly making art into the wee hours of the night.
And although I do believe there is great value in solitude, I also think there is also something very rewarding about making art with other people. Making art can be a great social activity.
One of the things I liked about college was that there were a bunch of artists hanging out together, making art and talking about ideas. Just having other creative people around helped me be more creative by spurring on ideas. But a tragic thing happens with many art majors after they graduate. They stop making art. I believe it’s because the social part of art making is taken away. They go and get jobs. And the creative, supportive environment that was conducive for making art disappears.
You don’t have to be an art major to experience the benefit of making art with other people. When people gather together on a regular basis to make art, they begin to spark creativity in one another. They come up with new ideas that trigger other ideas. There’s something synergistic about hanging out with other artists. We see this all the time when groups come in to our studio.
Years ago, I used to be the designated babysitter for my married friends. I always enjoyed doing this because I was really able to cultivate a relationship with the kids. They loved coming over as well. And I didn’t even have cable TV or Nintendo. I didn’t call it babysitting. They were coming for an art weekend.
We would paint, draw and build things. It was great because art was something we could all do together. While we were making art, we had conversations about all kinds of things. They would talk about things that were important to them. I really got to know them as individuals. We would have such a good time that any time I got together with their parents, they wanted to come home with me. Now that they are grown up, we remain friends because of the relationship we formed by hanging out and making art together.
Many times, our quality time is spent around the television set. And conversations consist of strange text message short hand. I don’t think we were meant to be isolated from one another all the time. We as humans are in desperate need of connection, and I don’t mean DSL. Making art with other people is a great way to connect.
There is a real bonding that takes place when people make art together. We had a family come in a few months ago to make clay projects. There were parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and kids. When their clay pieces were completely finished, they had a family art show at their next family gathering. Doing things like this is a great way to build memories that last.
Here’s an experiment. Try social art making. When looking for something to do with friends or family, instead of going to a movie, find someplace to make art. Get your family together and make something out of clay. Or invite some friends over. Put on some music. Tape some large pieces of paper to the wall, and paint. It may be unconventional. But you might have a great time.
Art Saves Lives!
Following our intuition can lead to an exciting life of opportunities. When I decided to start my own business, I started with nothing but a crazy idea. I believed, that people would love to hang out and make art together. But other well-meaning people informed me that starting a business was risky. And there was no existing model for this kind of venture. But the feeling would not let go. And as I followed my intuition the right people began to appear to help me. I’m not sure how my life is going to unfold, but I still believe that what I’m doing is right and everyday, I look for clues as to how to go about building what I set out to build.
Intuition is a great thing. It gives us guidance. But, sometimes, I think we get so bombarded with outside stressors, that we ignore our intuition. I think this happens to us all. We often go about our day thinking so loudly and reacting to circumstances in the ways we always have. We fail to hear that still, small voice inside. By doing this, we may be making life harder than it needs to be.
When we keep our minds busy all the time or engage in worry, our brain waves increase in intensity. This is the flight or fight brain wave pattern. When we are in this mode, we are in survival mode. No creative thinking is going on here. We cannot hear intuition because we are reacting to outside stress. If we continue in this state for long periods of time, we will no longer be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.
It’s important to cultivate intuition. Just like anything else, with a little practice, we all can become more intuitive. There are some people who seem to be very intuitive. The only reason they are is because they exercise their intuition. Anyone can do that.
Because making art is primarily an intuitive process it is a great way to develop your intuition. The brain frequency actually slows down when a person is in the zone of art making.
When I start a painting, I usually have an idea of where I’m going, but as I start the project, I find I need to stand back every so often and listen to the painting. The painting process consists of stopping, looking, evaluating, waiting for a suggestion from intuition, and decision-making. Adjustments are made here and there until I decide the painting is finished. When a person is engaged in making art, the mind relaxes. It is free to wander.
I encourage you to take a little time and immerse yourself in a creative project. This will help calm and relax your mind and put you in touch with your intuition. As you work on a project, an idea will pop into your head. You begin to explore that idea and as you are working on that idea, a new one will appear. Or an idea about something completely unrelated will spring up. The goal is to get your mind to a place where you can hear what’s going on inside.
I find it interesting when people come in to paint pottery. So many tell me how relaxing it is. We try to make the studio as relaxing as we can, but the real reason they feel relaxed is because they have slowed themselves down and have engaged in a creative activity.
The “aha” moments in life come during times when we are engaged in activities where our minds are in a calm and relaxed. The most successful people are those who have learned to trust their intuition. Once you get used to listening to intuition, you’ll find new opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.
Art Saves Lives!
I love art supplies! I am lured by the endless creative possibilities that lie within the soft, unstained paintbrush and the crisp, clean, blank canvas. Oh what potential these items have to be the tools of a great work of art! When I am in an art supply store, I become overtaken by the call of the “art supply sirens”. They tell me stories of the great masterpieces I will produce. So eventually, I end up purchasing the items and bringing them home inspired to make art.
You would think that this spiritual experience would cause me to dive right in and start painting with reckless abandon. However, strangely, the opposite is true. Once I get home, a type of creative paralysis sets in. Excuses arise. “ I should really wait and set aside a nice block of time to paint.” or “Right now I have other things to do.” Or “This is such a great expensive brush, I don’t want to risk using it just yet until I’m working on a serious painting.” Or, “this canvas cost so much and I want to make sure I paint something worthwhile on it.”
Ten years ago I bought a piece of paper for ten dollars. My plan was to make a handmade book. It is still lying unused in my studio because I don’t want to ruin it. I am going to guess that I am not alone in this practice. We all have great creative aspirations, but because we are afraid of failure, we do nothing.
In contrast, there is another interesting behavior I’ve noticed. When I have a couple minutes, I’ll grab an envelope, or a sticky note or some half discarded piece of paper and start to draw. These little drawings are spontaneous and void of laborious concept development. They’re just meaningless drawings. I know of others who practice this same behavior. Check your desk, you’ll probably find some of your own creations lying around.
So why can we create so easily and effortlessly on a discarded napkin and freak out in front of a ten dollar piece of paper? I believe it’s because we don’t value or trust our own creative instincts. We think that if the work can’t be perfect, it shouldn’t be done at all. I believe it’s important to give yourself credit as being an artist. That means embracing the process. All work has value because, it was made by you. Whether or not it’s good, or validated by others is not the point. Perfectionism is a deadly poison that will paralyze you.
We’ve done workshops at Art Village called Life Paint and Passion where we invite people to come in and paint spontaneously. We have large pieces of paper, nice brushes, and paint in all kinds of colors. I love these workshops because for two hours, you just stand in front of an easel and paint whatever feels good in the moment. It’s all about the process. Nobody cares what the end result is. The workshop is basically doing what you do unconsciously when you doodle, but on a larger scale and in color.
The thing that is intriguing to me is that many of these free expression pieces are really quite nice. They have a freshness to them that can be lacking in the over thought projects. But more importantly than how they look, is the fact that, work was actually made.
I’m going to encourage you to get out those sleeping art supplies, yes the good ones and make some art. Approach it like you would the doodle. There is no penalty for a wrong move. There is no judge. This is for you. You may find a cathartic release as you allow yourself to journey down the path of spontaneous expression. Art Saves Lives!
Have you ever gone on vacation and ended up running around snapping photographs and moving on to the next attraction, only to feel like you missed something? I have some friends who took a trip to Paris. They hopped on the metro, sped to the Louvre, took some photos of the Mona Lisa and a few other well known works of art and quickly moved on the the Musee D’Orsay, Versaille and other popular tourist spots. Not wanting to miss anything important, they zipped though Paris so fast that they never actually experienced Parisian life, but they had photographic proof that they were there. Their vacation consisted of brief glimpses of this famous landmark or that piece of architecture.
A year and a half ago, I also visited France. I did not go to see how many places I could cram into 10 days. I went to slow down and paint. The interesting thing about this kind of agenda is that you don’t see many different places, but the places you do see, you get to know very well. When you sit down to do a drawing or a painting, it takes a little longer than snapping a picture, so you are literally forced to look at it longer. You have to work your drawing or painting, make adjustments, look harder, make artistic choices to include items or leave them out. You become obsessed with the detail of that spot and that moment. Later, when you look back at the drawing or painting, (regardless of how closely it resembles the actual spot), you remember it vividly.
I love looking back at journals from trips. I usually do some drawings and watercolors. I glue ticket stubs and receipts into them. I write a little something about the day. Then when I return home, I really have a nice book of memories. I remember the trips where I did some drawing and writing much more than the ones that I just took pictures.
I always enjoy keeping journals and sketchbooks on vacations. However, there is a lot of life that goes on between vacations. I think keeping a sketchbook with you on your daily journey is an excellent way to slow yourself down and really experience your life. There is no need to go zooming through the days, weeks and years. Life goes fast enough as it is.
We are beginning a new year. Many people begin diaries or journals. I encourage starting a sketchbook. The great thing about your own personal sketchbook is that it doesn’t need to be a great work of art. You don’t have to show anybody. You can do half finished drawings, glue stuff in it, write silly little stories or random thoughts. Our lives are not lived in clear-cut, easy to follow story lines, so most likely our journals will reflect this kind of meandering as well.
I have a habit of buying new sketchbooks but then I hesitate to start them because I don’t want to ruin it. So to get past the perfectionist in me, I’ll let my 7 year old niece and 4 year old nephew draw in it with me.
The question always arises “What should I draw?” Sketch your lunch. Draw the scene while you’re waiting for your food in a restaurant. Draw a family member watching TV. Draw the pile of laundry on the floor, or the sink full of dishes. Create a still life from the items on your desk or the contents in your fridge. It doesn’t really matter what the subject matter is. If it’s part of your life, it’s worth documenting. You’ll find you begin to look at your world in a different way. Our lives are made up of small moments. Pay attention to those moments as the tapestry of your life journey unfolds. Art Saves Lives!
Do you find yourself standing on the outside, pressing your nose against the window of creativity? Watching those who you think have artistic talent with envy? Wishing that you were on the inside creating something worthwhile? There are many of you out there.
In her book The Artist Way, Julia Cameron calls these people shadow artists. They hide in close proximity to practicing artists. They buy art. They support the arts. They find occupations near the arts, or occupations where they can use their creativity in a sensible way. I believe there are many shadow artists living among us.
When I took my first painting class in college, I remember telling someone it was my hope to finish school and be a painter someday. When my professor heard me, he said, “If you paint, you already are a painter. And if you continue to paint, you will continue to be a painter.” That comment really took the mystique out of making art. When I make art, I’m an artist. There’s nothing special about it.
These labels we place on ourselves like artist, dentist, banker, clerk, painter, potter, are just words to describe what we do, not who we are. And the interesting thing is, is that we are never just one thing all the time. We are complex creative beings capable of holding many interests, and passions.
Are you a shadow artist? If so, it’s time to come out of the shadows. What excuses do you give for not making art? “If only I had more time. I can’t even draw stick people. My spouse, friend or family member is much more talented than I.” These excuses are based in fear. Don’t let the fear of not being good enough, or the fear of looking like you’re wasting time, or the fear that other people won’t understand stop you from making art. Making art is not about them. It’s about you.
Ask yourself, “If I could do any kind of art, what would it be?” or “If no one was ever going to see the result, what would I try?” Write these answers on a piece of paper. Then decide to explore that path in some way. What do you gravitate towards? Painting, film making, writing, quilting, making pottery, computer art, photography, drawing, collage. I am giving you permission to do it? You will find that as you start making art, your inner artist will come out of the shadows.
If you already are involved in some kind of art making, try something different that you’ve always wanted to explore. If you paint landscapes, try a self portrait. If you make pottery, try sculpture. If you seem to make similar types of art, think of something completely different and try that.
It’s good to let yourself take an artistic risk. For some reason, we tend to put so much weight to making art. Like we will die if it doesn’t turn out the way we want it. Try making art for the sake of the process instead of trying to create a product. So many times we fail to start because we think we need to create a final product that will be validated by others. We do not need a reason to make art. It’s in the doing that the magic happens. Just like life is not about your final day here on earth. Art making is not about the final result. Life is about the journey of daily living. And making art is about the journey of the process. We learn about ourselves in the making. What happens after the art is made is a completely different matter all together. Art Saves Lives!