I have worked out a method of painting that might be of interest to folks in the arts, including the art of living. Cezanne liked to speak of his paintings as “experiments,” his attempt to materialize an idea on a piece of canvas..
All forms of art are magical in their intent, which is to materialize for one or several senses one’s vision, passion, dream. It could be a song, a sketch, a play, a painting. Anything at all in daily life can be done with mind and heart, even the performance of a duty. It can all be done with or without art.
I like to think of art as a natural tendency to fashion some sign of our inward life; something of use, beauty, spirit. To make it tangible, visible, audible. Art is how each of us lives our life; it’s an art form we can’t avoid practicing—the way we shape and tune our lives.
We may feel inclined to try our hand at cooking or drumming or singing, or whatever, but it’s starting that stymies us. How to start? How does one launch an attempt at creating something new? I wonder how God got to actually creating the universe. Did She scheme and plot in linear fashion or was it a divine whim, an overflow of high spirits? My guess is that it was on impulse, a sudden uprush of cosmic inspiration.
Nobody knows, but I’m curious. I fall back on my method for starting a painting—creating an image de novo. First there’s an idea, a sketch, a feeling. And then I decide to do one thing to the canvas, a line, a brush stroke, a quick outline. I work rapidly, following my first impressions, letting my unconscious blithely cover the whole canvas, without hesitation, undeterred by crude gestures. I let things go their own way, wipe things out, paint over. I’m at it until the first thin layer of paint covers the entire canvas or sheet of paper.
Now I look at what is before me. Because I let my mood go where it wanted, the forms I painted were touched with chaos. Certain patterns emerged I had not consciously planned. But they open possibilities of composition and color I hadn’t thought of. Chaos and spontaneity create opportunities for expressive composition that were unplanned and unexpected. Risking a little chaos we may see new connections. Too much order can stifle our inventive potentials. Crisis and uncertainty can make us more alert to creative coincidences.
As to my method, I set to work exploring latent possibilities of the image I’ve begun to materialize. What I have so far is a ghostly presence that may appear at first depressingly lackluster. And so it is with many of our ventures into the art of living, we start out with a rush of enthusiasm but run into difficulties, and the whole idea now seems hopeless and we feel feel like losers. But my stubborn self and dream hunter goes on, a brushstroke here and there, and for a while I am in limbo (oh yes, how like life, I say to myself).
But my method is to keep going until the moment comes when finally I see the arc of my efforts, the form of my fantasy. The shivering ghost is partially embodied, but now I see how the whole painting will look--the sight of my idea taking shape in space before me, each stroke making the image more real, more completely present.
It always surprises me, painting the mental image in my psyche onto the physical canvas. The end of the experiment is the painting—a materialized psychic image. This way of looking at the art of painting is also a message about the art of living. If you want creative coincidences in life, you may have to be willing to entertain a little bit of Chaos.
Not the chaos of violent insurrection, rather the chaos of creative imagination, the ability to cut loose from stale habits of perception and travel on new roads of thought and feeling. You don’t have to travel far to change your mind. Sitting still, we can expand our worldview. Our days are pages in the unfolding artwork of our lives.
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