The Creative Epiphany – High on Life

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As I write this blog entry I am high on life, pumped with electric adrenaline and refusing to feel the pain. Of anything. Through no particular effort on my part the day began with a rare mind set even for me, the optimist, that was already in working order before I woke and enabled me involuntarily to feel exhilarated by nothing more than the air I was breathing. The day seemed brimming with potential. My unspoken plan was to ride the wave as long as it lasted.

I could not believe what a fine snack a triscuit can be, first thing in the morning. It has fiber, wheat, potassium and great flavor. I chose the kind with olive oil and dill. I ate six, but could have eaten the entire box. Add hot tea and you have a mini-breakfast.

Sitting down at my PC, I saw the video of the dolphin off the Kona coast who approached the divers seeking help in rescuing him from the fishing line tangled around one fin and attached to a hook in his mouth. Quite a stunning example of cooperation between two species who speak different languages and are eons apart in lifestyle and life purpose, yet manage to understand eachother enough to accomplish a basic rescue, born of communication and kindness, that most probably saved a life.

I did some errands, stopped at the grocery, and in the olive aisle while searching for my favorite in the red can, was asked by the adorable little barely two year old boy toddler in the cart next to me, “May I help you?” as he grinned from ear to ear. His Mom looked over at me and gave me a proud look that said, without words, “He does this all the time….”

Later I heard from one of my art students who was proud to say that she was working on a collage to  enter into our class competition with the possibility of being chosen to exhibit in the public showcase of fine art in the community lodge. Very satisfying news to hear. Student of mine. Talented. Never took art before in her life.

The day was punctuated with fun when a dozen or so of my favorite people arrived for a Happy Hour and Pot Luck dinner. It was a small enough group that we could all have a common conversation and everyone contributed interesting stories told with humor and honesty. It was a rare and wonderful evening.

It was not too long ago when I might have perceived all this joi de vivre as the prelude to some inevitable catastrophic episode, by the law of my averages. Not Murphy’s Law but my own. I would have been glancing over my shoulder to see what was creeping up on me. I was in a dark place for several years and experience had etched that theory into my consciousness. I had learned not to be too ebullient because it is built on a house of cards and something wicked this way comes. Pattern born of personal experience is a harsh teacher and you don’t forget the lessons she brings. Except that I have…finally and permenantly…blocked that way of thinking. It took a while, the process of erasing years of unhappiness that had polluted my creativity and left me only part of who I used to be. But gradually and subtely I was transformed back to who I really am – and I began seeing myself again for the first time –  happy to be happy. High on life.

So you might be wondering, what is the recipe for that transformation? The transformation that resurrects your creativity, demolishing the writer’s block or the artistic boredom, or is even able to thwart sad dullness from coloring your days. I am in no way attempting to provide a quite unprofessional cure for serious depression here, but rather a way to look at life in a different way that dwells in the light rather than the gray. In my opinion it involves seeing everything again for the first time. Notice the details. Watch people, listen to conversations, understand the language of bodies, ask yourself questions constantly – what color would you call that? What are you going to have for lunch today? Are you going to visit a friend? When is your next walk? How many cookies will you allow yourself to eat? Keep the colors of your life warm and lively.

Make each day a composition and fill it with the rewards of living. Take care of yourself and make sure there is something to look forward to when you open your eyes in the morning. Dwell in the positivity within yourself, because you owe that to yourself, and over the long haul a positive attitude actually does out wit, out play and out last (a nod to SURVIVOR) the negative. Yes much of the world is a mess, but in your world you have the responsibility and the power to practice peace and joy and to be as creative with what you’ve been given as you can. Your humble efforts will spread out beyond your private world and contribute to the greater good. Life is a trip and it does barrel along. Buckle up and get on board! Make sure you sit where you can  see the view. There is so much out there!

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The Creative Epiphany – Richard Blanco

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If you were fortunate enough to hear the poem that Richard Blanco wrote and recited at the Inauguration ceremonies then I would imagine you were as moved as was I by his eloquent words. Simple words. No lofty vocabulary leaving you eager to grab your dictionary – just humble, everyday words carefully selected and artfully arranged to describe ONE TODAY in our United States of America. You can read this poem to yourself, but far better it is to see the video of him reciting it in his own deep and reverent voice, pronouncing words with his own accent and placing emphasis where he wanted it to be. The poem is a celebration of the common man and common woman going about their business on a common day in a most uncommon country – the USA. It is a poem about quiet courage and consistent hope. It is a poem about continuing to persevere, doing what we do, adding our percentages to the common whole, all under one common sky, with the hope that change will gradually happen and our children and their children will see an even better time than we have seen.

It seems to me that if there is one common thing we all share, it is that hope.

The Creative Epiphany – Abstraction in Art

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As if….

I have been painting in a contemporary abstracted style since I was a student of fine art at CU in Boulder. I could not wait to get past all of my classes in realism so that I could set myself free. I knew I was a student at a school with a great art department at a point in history where I also knew instinctively that I fit in. My professors in the sixties where cutting edge and adventurous. You do not, of course, just jump right into abstraction until you have an understanding of realism and composition and all the basic principles of art and design. So I did that and it was fine but I was itchy to get past it and start taking risks in art. Through the years since then I have sometimes turned back to my own loose version of representational art and I do enjoy that, with my semi-abstracted landscapes and recently with portraits of Africans and American Indians in particular. But I consistently paint non-representational abstractions as my most fulfilling style of artistic expression. Still, after all these years it is not as if I can predict the outcome of the process even as I am doing it. The entire abstract procedure is serendipitous, improvisational, riddled with shock and surprise and the finished product is absolutely impossible to predict. And that is the charm and the excitement of it for me. The journery is the thing – listening to the paint speak to you, understanding your tools and what they will do, hearing the language of the papers in your mixed media collage, knowing how to achieve great texture and depth, knowing your canvas and being aware of the weather and the time and the mood of the day and the music that you have playing – it all factors into your art when you are feeling the abstract process in your bones and you are truly in the zone. Thus the term abstraction – you are capturing the essence of things.

Ok so let me put it another way. I am usually not painting in the abstract style so that people will “see” something in my composition. Much abstract art, yours and mine and thousands of pieces of noteworthy art down through the centuries, does indeed have a suggestion of a particuler image of some particular thing, but of course much does not. One of art’s irritations for me is when I have completed an abstract image of nothing in particular and people start their wierd process of attempting to find an image in it that will “reveal” something about my motivation for painting the piece. Because that makes them more comfortable – they need a comfort zone to crawl into. They assume I have purposely hidden stuff in there to be mysterious and provoke chatter and speculation about who I “really am” and what I am “really thinking”. That makes me crazy. Many times I am standing right there next to them as they do it. They begin to “see” stuff and then they look over at me as they “explain” what they see and what they believe is so obviously my motivation for the art. What are they looking for from me? A nod and a wink, indicating they have busted me and figured out exactly what I was thinking as I painted it? Sort of like “gotcha”? Come on. As if….

Abstraction does not always have to carry the weight of a major statement that smacks you in the face or a hidden agenda that creeps up on you or even evidence of a noticeable mood swing on the part of the artist. Some of it is there to be appreciated for the simple balance, the beauty, the freedom, the energy, the force, the quiet, the sensuality, the essence, the whatever. Please don’t take one of my paintings and turn it upside down or stand on your head or rotate your eyes all around each side of it looking for a duck or a funny little man or an angel or some other stupid thing that I did not put in there. And if you purchase it, please hang it in the proper orientation in which it was painted, not the direction in which you are comfortable viewing it because you “see something” that way. It is all about respect.

The Creative Epiphany – It’s Time

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I used to hang a row of time-zone clocks on the wall in my studio, each labeled with a  location on the planet where I had friends or family that I cared enough about to keep track of. It is a habit I began years ago when I had Yemen to deal with, then Nepal, then London and the Arctic Circle and  the South China Seas…it got out of hand a couple times but I kept it going. I moved once or twice and rehung the clocks each time. Singapore showed up out of the clear blue sky one month….  Hawaii, Sweden, Cape Town, Madagascar and then Peru (which had to be up there all the time since it kept repeating itself), Guatamala, Panama, New Zealand, Poland, Buenos Aires  – just some of the changing places on the wall. But I had to shut down my global tracking operations. I ran out of space and removed them all when it became too long a row to devote to just clocks. Visitors were starting to look at me funny. But really it was a display that outlived its usefulness since I can check all the time zones I need to check on my IPhone now. Why do I need to check times, you ask? Are you a mother, a friend, a significant other? Do you have a pulse? So that I’ll know when I can be expecting a call or when I can safely make a call and not disturb sleep. And I wanted to see the times because in some odd way it made me feel closer to the people. Of course most people come and go and travel here and there but this core group of special people I am close with live, work and play in exotic locales on a regular basis. It has been a steady phenomenon in my adult life for so long now, to have my most important peeps in faraway places, that it has become my “norm.” It has become part of my own lifestyle as well as theirs. When they come home, they really COME HOME – it’s not like they just arrive back home from a state or two away, yawning hellos to me as they come shuffling in the door – the word HOME has weight to it when you are seldom there and you can compare it to primitive locations where you have missed it. It is a place you dream about when the heat of where you are is so oppressive you can’t breathe and it is a place safe from wild chimpanzees and elephants. I travel some too, but these crazy-good fun people in my personal tribe have taken the concept of traveling to new heights. They go to some extraordinary places! When they walk through my door there are bear hugs and kisses and shrieks of delight to finally see eachother again.

There is much to be gained from these travels – I lap up the stories and I view the pictures and I learn from each person’s experiences. Sometimes I follow them to their next targeted area, if it is a trip I would find fascinatng.  Some of those  who are dearest to me actually live permanently in exotic places, enjoying careers that enable them to happily live abroad, and I mean really abroad. If a location requires a full 24 hours for travel home for the holidays, that is a far piece abroad in my book. As a mother, I have developed a fine selection of coping mechanisms for times when I know that a trip is approaching for one of my core people that involves great risk. I have learned how to sustain optimism, have faith and deny any middle-of-the-night terrors from taking hold of me for months at a time when cell phone service is impossible because for instance a loved one might be trekking with some guides and few yaks around the base of Everest. I am practiced at these coping habits; usually they work. They have to work, because my sanity is at stake. One person in particular who is in oil exploration criss-crosses the globe, leaping across time zones and oceans, accepting work that often involves great danger in politically unstable regions or areas where animals will gnaw on you. When my phone rings, and it’s a special satelite phone code showing up on caller ID, I hang onto the nearest immovable object and brace myself, as I hear “Hi! It’s me! Don’t worry  – I am OK – but you won’t believe what happened on this trip…it was much more hairy than Gabon when I was almost trampled by those elephants. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home.” That’s a good call to get – it proves he is safe and able to make phone calls.

I can receive a text message from Singapore in the same few seconds I receive one from two streets away. I heard from my son in Madagascar as he stood out in a remote field near a watering hole where he pitched his tent. My friend Chris called me from the bush of Kruger Park in South Africa so that I could hear the roar of the lions at night.

Some nights when I forget to turn off my cell phone I hear, across the distance from my bed to the dresser in my bedroom, a series of pings and bongs lasting until morning, representing all these travelers checking in by email or text message, and I actually sleep very well. It is reassuring that we are in touch. The world is our backyard here in the 21st century, and we are enjoying the greatest time possible for communication. How did we get so lucky to have those two situations at the same time?

The Love of Making Art is like the art of making love….

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Originally posted 3 years ago and brought back by popular demand, in honor of February, the month of love and passion. Happy early Valentine’s Day!

With regard to affairs of the heart, be it your love for people or creative pastimes, it is priceless and rare to find one particular passion that will carry you through all the decades of your life.  I am referring to the profound kind of passion that consistently remains the “bottom-line passion” basic to all of your other activities and interests. It is the foundation for your life. It is your rock, your salvation, your reason to get up in the morning. The attraction, the pull of this passion must be magnetic enough, it must be intriguing enough, it must be changeable and mysterious and challenging enough to keep you fully engaged – hooked – with a tight hold on your heart and soul so that as the years go by its importance is not diminished but enhanced with age. This passion makes you a better person. It gels you into who you authentically want to be, and you would not know how to be anyone else. When you have a love for a creative pursuit to that high degree, it is not dependent upon whether or not it is earning you money or fame – it is light years beyond that. If the money follows it, that is certainly a great bonus, but in the times when it does not, you are no less the lover of that passion than you were before. And you are no less gifted at it than before. You must not allow the lack of an income stream to diminish your confidence in what you do. Your true passion remains alive and well no matter what.

Making art is very much like making love; it is making love in a sense. Art and love transport you; they bring the potential for taking you out of the moment and into bliss. The ritual begins as always but you are never sure where it will take you. You are leaving on a journey. It comes over you like the ebb and flow of powerful waves on a beach you have visited somewhere before in time. You are one with the rhythm of the moon tide. You are traveling on a light breeze whistling through tall lavender-tipped grass on a distant seaside meadow and then you are following a procession of some ancient people winding high to a mountaintop. You have left the confining time of your life and are in a moving sphere where ages and universes overlap and you see the space of time stretching back to the beginning and then coming forward to now and beyond to the ever. You hear nothing but you hear everything. You understand the perfection of life and why snow falling softly on mountain evergreen trees in deep December can make you weep. You understand the loneliness of the sea, why men are still drawn to it and why the aching moan of the wind can move you to unutterable emotion. You sit on warm buffalo robes while Indians chant and their images dance in the firelight reflected on the walls of your tent. In the space of one afternoon you can be gone to everywhere and back to here again, all rosy-cheeked and out of breath. Exhilarated. Renewed. Wondering where you have been.

You have experienced passion.

(Based upon an excerpt from Chapter Eighteen, “The Love of Making Art” in “The Creative Epiphany” by Jo Ann Brown-Scott)

This is the Day of Epiphany

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Welcome to Sunday, January 6th, the Day of Epiphany – for the Christian definition of epiphany you can Google or Bing or go to the Bible, but in essence we have come to believe that to have an epiphany is to have a sudden realization of a great truth. Many of my own interpretations of the word appear on my website www.epiphanysfriends.com. It is a subject that fascinates me. I know epiphany well and count her among my most treasured friends.

If you have ever experienced an epiphany, and I am sure you have although you might not have acknowledged it at the time, you will agree that it is indeed a rare and wondrous thing.  Oprah says you are having an “AHA” moment. But it feels so much bigger than that. I like to think of it as that moment when a lightbulb in your consciousness switches on, illuminating the darkness and offering you a solution or an insight that had previously escaped you. Sometimes it happens exactly when you need it the most, but sometimes years go by until you finally have an epiphany about some issue that has seemed unsolvable to you. An epiphany can be as simple and humble as a sudden understanding of a relatively small problem. An epiphany can arrive during chaos or calm, during joy or sorrow, tragedy or even violence. It brings a message that travels in to your consciousness informing you of a truth, and perhaps telling you of an action you must take.

An epiphany is always truth – you can trust it. It comes from so very far within – a soul place where only truth resides, and where there are no agendas other than your well being and safety. Listen to its information carefully when it arrives because to ignore the information it brings might result in calamity and confusion. And the epiphany, unheard and unheeded, will return with greater force and a louder presence. If it is ignored again and again the lesson of the epiphany will slam into you with such force one fine day that you will wonder what hit you. The consequences of not listening to your soul’s voice will be unfortunate. This is precisely why people tell us to be aware and live in the NOW. An epiphany can be life-changing, bringing vivid realization, new purpose and certitude. Take time to listen.

Phew – glad that’s over

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It is January 1st of 2013 and I for one will admit that I am glad we’ve opened a new door. A different door. Phew. That last one was a rough one.

It will be nice to begin painting on a clean canvas again instead of trying to make that old canvas into something great. There were too many flaws on it – too much tragedy happened on that canvas…and in spite of the good parts that I certainly enjoyed, last year was just too bad for too many and it will always be tarnished with global dysfunctionality.

I knew someone once, an artist who was a fine watercolorist, who could not bring himself to start the agony of a new painting – the whiteness of the paper, the clean-ness of it, the size of it that he knew he had to cover, and the enormity of staring at a pristine piece of expensive watercolor paper just scared the crap out of him. It intimidated him so much that he couldn’t bring himself to make the first gesture of creativity. Days went by….so he developed a habit of taking the paper outside and running over it with his car, or leaving it out in the weather for a couple days. Then it seemed more inviting and forgiving to his imperfect touch. The pressure was off.

As with life experiences, it pays to revisit past paintings that you were never happy with and see them in the light of a new day. Doing that is a teachable moment in which you learn volumes about yourself and your work. In my Mixed Media Collage class I put aside special time to be devoted to second chances. I call this class DAMAGE CONTROL. I invite students to bring in a couple older pieces that were shoved to the back of the pile and left to die a slow death so that you can save these dysfunctional attempts from suffering and breathe life back into them. You must undertake the challenge of this process on a day when you are feeling like you could rule the world and be the best leader anyone has ever known. You must be confident and in control and ready to see possibilities you never saw before. Whatever you do, do not accept any personal blame you might insist on giving yourself for the “failure” of this sad art. Ignore that inner voice who always wants to criticize. Shake it off and prepare to take some risk. Make painful sacrifices, if necessary, of areas you love in favor of the greater good of the entire composition (I call this Democratic Painting), and then go about covering up/exposing, enhancing/destroying, editing/embellishing and loosening up/refining. I realize those terms are contradictory but in painting it is what we do best.

What you get after a day or so of doing this might astound you. In a good way! When everything is finished, let it sit for another day in a room where you cannot see it at all, and then one morning allow yourself to walk in on it unannounced and LOOK. Really LOOK, using someone elses eyes to “see” the results because you do not want to be judging with your same old raggedy stuck-in-a-rut eyes. Wake up and drink it all in as if you never saw it before.
I predict you like what you truly see. And so a new day has begun with you and the paint.

Some would argue that today is the same as yesterday and January 1st means nothing. But I happen to value life’s demarcations, thinking if something is official then it carries importance and I can track my life by the changes that come with those red-flagged days on my calendar. I say this – let’s open the door today to life’s fresh offerings. Let’s boldly open it – not just peek around it as it remains mostly closed. We are going to see and do things this year that we have never done before. You need to believe that most of what happens will be better than it has ever been. Some of what happens won’t be pleasant or positive but all of it is the life-force flowing through us and as long as we have a pulse we should embrace it and walk directly into it so that we can came out on the other side.

Seldom do you get a second chance, a re-do, an opportunity to tweek what has kind of fallen flat once before. But with art, and sometimes with life, you do. Let the new games begin.