Art as relationship
As I say often, art saved my life. I'm not talking about fine art - although it is certainly part of the treasure house. What I'm talking about is the waking up of sensory life, and as such, the refinements and insights that come with this awakening. How does it happen? It happens like this: I begin to draw a lady who is posing in front of me. I start with an outline of her thigh, hip and torso, flowing up into the shoulder. Then i move my pencil a bit to try to capture the shape of her tousled hair, with her arm crooked just so across her face. It's hard because the way she is sitting, her upper body appears so much smaller than the lower, receding as it is into the background. As I draw it, however, it doesn't work. I'm trying to figure out, where did i go wrong? Why does my drawing look like a puppet lady, and not a slouching lady? This is how the senses awaken. It's not a harsh judgment, not a critique, but rather a wondering, how do i keep the truth of this living being in my renderings, giving her life?
Art teaches me to observe. While other activities such as cooking, washing, and gardening are about achieving specific ends, art for me is an experience of really noticing, and appreciating, what is beautiful. What are the shades of light and shadow, and how do they fall? Where does the light emanate from this lady, and where does light bounce off of her? What frame do I put around what I see? Where does the tip of one hand meet the middle of another, and what shape is formed at that intersection?
Learning to draw taught me everything about wholeness - that everything is related to everything else, through size, scale, angle, shade, placement, context, and sequence. And this noticing has translated into other kinds of appreciation. I moved to the country and slowed down. I gave up nearly all of my speed-oriented convenience gizmos in favor of an old-fashioned tea kettle, an italian press, a clothesline, and a claw foot tub. I found that relating more fully to each movement, each gesture, each object, gave me more fulfillment in life. Having LESS, but appreciating MORE, made room for art. And art made me feel rich. I realized that what i enjoyed was not having, but making; and in the making, appreciation oriented my intuition. I began to make art out of other daily tasks and events - to-do lists, dinner parties, laundry hanging.
Art as a way of living puts me in a state of appreciation, which is good for the heart. Ask the scientists at the Institute for HeartMath, and they'll tell you: appreciation heals the heart. Through observation of the intricacies of all that is available to the eye, I am filled with gratitude. There is so MUCH to see and perceive! I am also fulfilled by the process of noticing the graceful lines of nature in its endless variety. Just taking time to notice the thousand intricate edges of a sunflower’s center, or of an artichoke’s leaves, amazes me. Then when I try to draw them, well, I can really appreciate the mastery of nature! So much beauty there and the slower I go, the more my whole being absorbs and appreciates – even loves – what I am observing. Nature is always showing us so much. I spent many years running back and forth in my car, and now I make more time to just notice everything. And then i take that joy and do my best to beautify life. I pack my suitcase with art. I fold clothes with art. I put rugs on the floor in a way that pleases me, with little attention to conventions. And so on.
While our culture pays attention to, and lauds the work of outstanding fine artists. art as a practice if available to all who dare to step beyond critique and into the realms of beauty and appreciation. Most importantly, I ask myself, what is the intention behind this action? Is it beauty or is it impatience, or resignation? Having a relationship of awareness to the source of my actions creates a kind of opportunity for multi-dimensional beauty. And like a good tailor, if my motivation and my action are coherent, there is real power in the simplest gesture.