Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crazy Trains

Another "dying sculpture".

Mikel and I had a conversation last night about ephemeral-ness in art. It began when I admitted that I like the final "product" of my painting more than my sculpture (unless I consider the documentation of the sculpture the final product in which case I like it as much as a painting.) I think this is due to the fact that my sculpture is more of a stage performance, something that will exist for a certain amount of time before I take it down or before it totally deteriorates. Mikel suggested that perhaps there is more comfort in knowing that something will last (and conversely discomfort with something that deteriorates quickly). But he also talked about the value in lasting objects, like nice books, for example, that one can look at over and over again. They are a reserve or collection of information that doesn't change (or changes very slowly). There is value in both. I wonder why I prefer the more lasting collection of information more?

a black flower

Thoughts on thoughts: Have you ever walked into your studio, or sat down with your sketchbook and suddenly realized that your mind is super noisy and that there are obsessive thoughts repeating themselves over and over again in your head? Or have you ever been plagued with the desire to make the most unique things EVER and then felt totally slammed when you realized that someone else made the exact thing you did?

In Buddhism there is a tool called Dhamma Vicaya which allows anyone to step away from a thought, observe it, decide whether it is a helpful thought or not, and then to choose which thought(s) to move with. I heard a hilarious analogy last night at Dharma Punx. Josh, our dharma teacher, said that thoughts are like trains. We have a choice about which train we jump on but usually we just hop on the first one we see without any idea about where it is going. But we don't have to! I don't have to sit in my studio and hate myself or my work but how do I stand back and where is the train schedule?

Check out these ideas:

*Our thoughts are not our own. Everything we have ever said out loud or in our head we heard or learned somewhere else. By dis-identifying with our thoughts we are able to be more objective (less emotionally attached) to what we are thinking.
-For example, everything I write in this blog I learned somewhere else. Even the things that I learn through my own experience are colored by my socially constructed mind or by an experience that many other people have had. Even my art is not particularly unique: it references other artists' work, even art I've never seen. It's not because I copied it or they copied me. It's because our work comes from similar human experiences. It's true: that race to find the most unique idea EVER in the studio is a bunk idea. It's an idea that Modernism was fueled by. There's a reason Modernism gave way to new art movements.

*Our thoughts do not indicate anything about our identity.
-My thoughts are not "me". If they were I would be crazy! (although, who's to say I'm not ;-) I would be at once totally stuck on myself as I attach to the thoughts I love to attach to ("I'm so awesome and creative! I'm better than him. Everyone likes me!") and also totally depressed as I attach to negative thoughts ("I suck. I'm not doing anything worthwhile because I'm making any money. Will he be mad at me for not taking his suggestion?...) See? Crazy. And that's not all of it! The truth is, I'm not totally awesome or totally worthless. Maybe my thoughts or actions are, but I am not. I'm just a girl trying to move around in this life doing the least amount of harm and looking for lasting happiness.

It's also helpful to think of thoughts as friends/separate "people" that we are choosing to spend time with. Would I rather spend time with the friend who is telling me I am better everyone? Worse than everyone? Or maybe with someone who is telling me that I'm human, having experiences like everyone else and that we're all connected? (I choose that one!)

So what the heck do I do when I am bombarded with thoughts?

1- Take a breath.

2- Notice where you feel any tension in your body. Every thought comes from an emotion. Every emotion manifests in the body someplace. Find it.

3- Ask yourself:
-Is this thought true?
-Is this thought helpful or useful?
-Is this the right time?

If you answer "no" to any of these questions, you can step away from that train and choose a new one. These questions are the key to choosing which train to hop on. They are a sort of DIY train schedule. But first you have to breathe and come back to your body in order to be able to choose.

And seriously, if your ideas are true, useful and come at the right time, your work is totally awesome and valid, despite the fact that it may look like someone else's.

Happy making!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dying Sculptures and a Camel Ride

Happy Tuesday! Here's a glimpse into my studio. I took this image this morning after spending three rainy hours working on my new sculpture that reaches from the floor to the ceiling (the yellow creature and the squiggly stuff at the top are part of it). I had a new breakthrough last week. I am including ephemeral elements in my sculpture: balloons, live plants, lights, pieces that are pinned together rather than glued, etc. This lead to a whole new body of sculpture:
So far, I've been calling this sculpture sketch a "jar sculpture" but really I don't think it's a very good name because it has very little to do with the idea... maybe "living sculpture", "dying sculpture"...

In "fine" art there is an emphasis on, and huge support for, archival work (work that will last longer than we do). There are two reasons for wanting this for its own sake: so that it will stand in the world for us when we are gone (immortality) and so it will be worth the pretty penny we are hoping to sell it for. I am not making a judgement on these at all. I'm pointing them out because I don't think it is often discussed directly and I sometimes fall in the trap of feeling like it's against some mysterious rules for me to make work that won't last. When I am making a painting, I totally think about how to make it last, at least as long as I do (mainly so I don't have someone call me and yell at me when my paint cracks and falls off...) and I DO want to sell paintings! It's one way that I can make a living from my creations. But lately, I have been thinking about the fact that my ideas and my process have nothing to do with lasting forever. In fact I think much more often about impermanence. Everything will end sometime. We are all moving breath by breath to our own death. We totally regenerate every molecule in our body every 5 years. In in five years you and I will be totally different people. I don't mention this as a doom-n-gloom reality check as much as a reminder to appreciate every moment. Each moment is different.

To play with this idea I put stuff in jars that will decompose, change, mold, etc. In this one I have string, soap, food coloring, an egg shell, a banana piece, green onion bits and yogurt. I am interested in watching it change and photographing it as it is both living and dying. It is one changing sculpture... or is it many sculptures?

On the outside of the jar, I made a sculptural response to what was inside with less ephemeral materials. Is it a shrine? I don't know. I also don't know if I will keep the outside sculpture elements and that I would like to find large glass domes to create these in (hence the fact that these are sketches).

Yesterday's yoga class theme: Having the humor to notice when it's just not right.

"Damn Thirsty" by Hafiz
The fish needs to say,

"Something ain't right about this
Camel ride--

And I'm
Feeling so damn


Have you ever noticed that your job just doesn't fit your natural rhythm at all? Or that you are really a morning person but you stay up too late so that you are totally wasted when morning comes? Or that you thought you liked Pepsi all this time but when you really taste it you don't really? (maybe you just like the nostalgia it carries with it...) Often we are starving or thirsty for nutrients from life but we are really fish on a camel ride, doing something without questioning it while it is blocking or damning up the flow of ease and inspiration that exists infinitely out there for each of us.

What am I doing that is blocking my natural flow? For a while I was spending WAY too much time on the computer. Computers basically make me feel ill and I was treating it like I was addicted, checking it every few minutes, looking up random stuff on Google, stressing myself out reading horror stories about bad things that can happen to baby kittens, etc. Rather than being in my studio and just being there long enough for my process to start flowing I run back and forth to this damn camel disguised as a computer. Do I have to ride this camel in order to hop from one stream to the next? Is it OK to be a fish riding a camel as long as I jump in the water often enough? Can I really need something (internet access) that is not natural for me? Is there a way to make the camel go swimming?

Upcoming: I have some excellent writings and thoughts coming in about creativity, inspiration and spirituality from artists that I will be posting soon!

Keep it real and remember, the next breath you take is totally different from all the rest!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tools To Flip The Pancake of Struggle and Liberation

On Monday nights I teach yoga at a friend's house to a small and dedicated group of friends, most of whom are visual artists. Each class has a theme. The themes are all related to what is relevant in my life at the moment. I realized that these themes are important enough to me that I have much more to say than I can possibly say in a yoga class without it turning into a lecture. But, this is a good place to let it spill.

On choosing themes: As you may have noticed, I am interested in combining ideas that are usually lumped in the category of "art" and ideas that would more easily be lumped in the category of "meditation" or "spiritual path".

If I just freaked you out by using the word "spiritual" just for a moment allow your eyebrows to relax and take a deep breathe. I did not use the word "religion". I will never talk about following a certain doctrine or set of beliefs. I realize that the idea of spirituality is not popular at the moment for many reasons. Part of that is because we regularly and unconsciously, worship at the alter of capitalism without any awareness of how or why. The extreme capitalism monster would love it if we were forever unfulfilled, empty, and longing so that we continue to engage in the system at the expense of our lasting happiness. In my experience, a "spiritual path" is a path of increasing awareness of ourselves so that we are able to empower ourselves within the capitalist system, an in any system: not be slaves to it and not to discard the system.
That said, I believe that everyone is on some sort of spiritual path. We are all constantly evolving, even if it is impossible to notice from day to day. Some people get stuck in one bend of their path. Some people get confused or scared and walk backward for a while. Others take a detour off the path into the woods for a while (which is really still part of the path). Other people run full steam ahead into the dark path and then get totally freaked out and have to stay where they are for a while... OK, you get the idea: we all go about it in different ways. The funny thing is that many people don't realize that they are on a path at all and really, that's totally fine because you are still on it. It doesn't go away just because you don't recognize it. There are benefits, though, to recognizing it because there are inevitably struggles on the path, kinks in the road, that can pretty much feel like the end of the world. If you know you are on a path, these kinks can be approached in new ways: we can realize that they will pass, trusting that the path continues beyond the kink, and also realize that the struggle is an auspicious gift, which brings me to yesterday's theme:

Struggle and Liberation:
On Sunday I was pretty much having one of those days where I was totally bummed, irritable with everything that came in the general vicinity and couldn't do anything but watch three episodes of Northern Exposure to get past my sour mood. I still am not sure why I felt that way but I suspect it is related to the stress of new craft sale possibilities.... anyway, when I shared this with my yoga students last night they replied, "Wow! We should have an emergency phone tree so we can talk about this when we feel so bummed and lonely! I had no idea that other people feel like this!"
This was so amazing for me to hear! If there is one thing that all humans have in common it's that we struggle. I even struggle with struggling, sometimes tricking myself into thinking that I'm having the wrong kind of struggle or that I'm struggling the wrong way (what does that even mean?!) Every artist goes into his or her studio, and more often that other people think says/thinks, "Shit! This is all crap! Why the hell am I here? I'm not really an artist. I don't even know what any of this stuff is!" I pretty much think something like this about once a day, not all day, but it's there, waiting for my defenses to be down so it can bombard me with 1,000 renditions of "I suck!" (sung to various pop tunes.) I practically throws a party when I am stressed out by something else or when I get a rejection letter (which, by the way, happens O-F-T-E-N), etc.

OK, so what do we do with this common delicious, juicy challenge? (what? delicious? juicy?)

The basic idea is that struggle and liberation are two sides to the same pancake. Struggles are not delicious simply because they are half of a pancake (although, it doesn't hurt!) they are delicious because every struggle is an auspicious gift... one might say the are "like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get". In the case of being in a studio funk, if I choose to struggle with conscious awareness I can learn new tools to get out of it when it inevitably overtakes me again and learn new things about myself and my work in the process.

So what are these tools that I can use to find new treasures in my experience? It's one thing to be told, "Oh yea, struggle is awesome!" and it's a total other thing to be in that dark place and find something skillful to hold onto until it passes. The mind is an amazing tool for structure and problem solving. When it has nothing to focus on though, it freaks out and runs amok. It likes to worry. It's good at worry. It's not so good at the intuitive, creative stuff that happens in the studio. It is an amazing tool to use for creating structure and totally necessary in an art practice, but when it loses interest or starts to worry, LOOK OUT!

Some tools:
So here are some specific things we can do:

1. Do something that inspires you, ANYTHING. I'm talking: go for a walk, read Manga, cook a delicious dinner, watch Norther Exposure, make earrings, dance like mad to a radical jam, read about houses built out of recycled materials, etc. These things may not seem like they have anything to do with making art but they do. The inspiration you feel when you do these things is the exact same inspiration you feel in your studio when you are on a roll. Feed the source.

(Elliot Hundley's work inspires me!)

2. Call another artist. You can call anyone you want, really, but all artists know the studio funk and non artists may not recognize their own funk as related (although it is). Just call someone and say, "hey, today kinda sucks. I'm in a total funk. I just need a little bit of a lifeline." Tell them you're in a funk. It's important that we know that we aren't alone. We all go through the same thing and we all get out of it but for some reason we don't share this (are we embarrassed?) It may help just to know that the other person we called has felt the same way at some point or another (or perhaps at that exact moment!) and if we're lucky, they may have some new tools or ideas to get out of the funk that we never thought of.

3. Do something for someone else. Make a funny card for your grandmother who probably doesn't receive enough funny cards. Make chocolate coconut cupcakes for your roommate/husband/mother's Merry Un-birthday. Buy a balloon, blow it up, draw an awesome picture on it with a sharpie and give it to the next person you see wearing florescent pink shoes. Do something with the intention in mind that you are doing it as a sort of gesture or gift for someone else. It will remind you that you are not alone and that your actions actually make a difference in the world.

4. Just look:
"The mere act of observing something changes the nature of the thing observed."
~Physicist Werner Heisenberg talking about "The Observer Effect"
Just take a seat in your studio (I like to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and my sketchbook) and just look. Don't do anything except look around. Allow thoughts of "good" or "bad" to float by. You can even start by writing down all of your worries and criticisms until your mind gets tired (don't worry, it won't take as long as you think and by writing them down they won't need to replay again and again in your mind because they know they have been recognized and listened to) and then just sit and look around. See what you notice. Just sitting in your studio is sometimes (often) more productive that making anything because as soon as you observe something you are changing it. The mere act of observation is an act of creation.

With some combination of these recipes for facing struggle, you can flip over that struggle-flavored pancake and realize that the other side is liberation-flavored and you are free to keep moving along the breakfast buffet of life. You are having the struggle you are supposed to have. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. There's no wrong way to eat a pancake.

OK, yes, I am posting pictures of my cats on here, but seriously, Dr. Pancake finally opened his eyes and no one should miss it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cool Hats, Beanster and Blog Shiftings

Happy sunny Brooklyn Wednesday!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what my blog means, who I hope would read it, and why. I decided that my blog is the public reflection on my own path toward finding my "real" work in life (real meaning something that allows me to deepen my everyday experience and work that contributes to lasting happiness and peace). It truly is a path full of beautiful vistas where I can see the big beautiful picture of my life and also brambly forests and mud puddles where I wish I had just stayed home in my warm bed eating a mountain of pancakes and watching Northern Exposure.

I have noticed that there is a lot of writing and press about artists, what they make, and what inspires them. I love that wealth of information and am happy to tap into it whenever I need that kind of zesty, juicy pick-me-up in the inspiration, motivation department. For example, today I discovered this AMAZING hat maker, Zara Carpenter, on etsy.

What I notice about this focus on the products of the art making process I think that we are missing an essential dialogue about where these things come from. I believe that "good" art is the physical manifestation of one's inspiration that went into making it. That's why some art is well crafted but seems "dead" while totally untrained artists can make totally transcendent, stellar work. Why? How does this happen? How can art making be a fearless life adventure and tool for looking deeper into our experience rather than just a factory process to make something for others to buy? How can this process live harmoniously within the marketplace? (because I am surely not implying that we all just become art monks and nuns, giving up the possibility of making a living from what we love to do.) What does it mean to be on a path? Why would I even want to be on such a path? Can we be on a path and not even know it? (yes, I think so.)

What I have been curious about lately is collecting writing about artists' processes and the connections between the studio and the rest of life. Why do we make what we make? Why do we make anything at all? What is your individual experience in your studio? Is there a conscious link between spirituality and art-making for some artists? How does your art-making connect to the rest of your life? It's all about the process and less about the work (although there will be that too, of course!)

Therefore, starting soon, I will be posting the writings of other creative people on such topics while also continuing to blog about my own. I would like this blog to be a resource for anyone who is creative or wants to find more creativity in their life. I would like this blog to inspire and foster self-reflection and more awareness of ourselves as creative people. I believe that, as awareness expands, it increases the potential to live in a way that is true to ourselves, our real work, and leads to lasting happiness and peace.

If you find interesting readings, videos, artists, etc. please let me know so I can find a way to contact them (or you!) and allow this blog to grow!

On that note, I'll leave you with a new pic of Calliope and the beanster.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dr. Pancake and the Seedlings

"If I Were a Gypsy"
I finished this painting yesterday for a silent auction at Lohin Geduld to raise money for a Haiti relief fund.  I recently learned about an amazing band called Gogol Bordello.  They are a Gypsy punk band from the Lower East Side (I'm not sure how that makes them a Gypsy band... but whatever) and their energy is infectious!  They ooze freedom and authentic full self expression.  For this painting, I looked at a photo I took last Thanksgiving at the parade.  This one was from a Sesame Street float but it's totally not important that you can see it now. I was inspired by the energy of Gogol Bordello and decided I would paint as if I was a wanderlust queen (not too far off, eh?)

Ok, I swear I'm not a crazy cat lady.  I SWEAR.  Weird stuff just happens to me.  In fact, I like to think of these happenings as auspicious, not weird.  
Anyway, this morning I woke up to do my morning sit and I realized that Calliope was under the covers between us.  I thought, "Oh, how cute."  I sat down, lit a candle, decided to dedicate my sit this morning to wishing peace for everyone in the Universe (nothing big, really-- I just learned that it's common to dedicate a practice to something so that's what my sleepy mind picked today) and I suddenly heard Mikel go "Oh my gosh!" (or something like that) and I heard some very tiny and cute squeaking.  I turned around and into my life entered:
Dr. Pancake:  
the new orange addition to our little apartment.  I guess I should have dedicated my practice to a healthy birth or something like that but truthfully, we were so shocked because we didn't know Calliope was preggers!  I'm hoping this is the only new one.  It isn't rare for a young momma to have only one and since we weren't sure about keeping Calliope, even Dr. Pancake is a stretch, but more doable than if he had siblings.  Anyway, Calliope and Dr. P are snuggled in a box now nursing and snoozing away.  

Other new little additions to our apartment is our garden-in-the-making:

This is a view of our compost bin and purple cat bed on the fire escape which will be the new site for our garden.  I ordered seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Library (which now I realize I could have bought a the Co-op we newly joined, but anyway, both good businesses to support!) and yesterday I planted interesting things like "Prudens Purple Tomato" and "Dinosaur Kale" in little containers with organic soil (which, by the way, I'm very bummed about because I had no choice but to buy the Miracle Grow kind which has chicken waste in it from factory farms, I think, and smells like a turtle and it says on the package to wear gloves when planting which is totally gross)  Anyway, I hope I didn't ruin our future harvest!
There are all the little containers, mainly tofu containers, in our "greenhouse" which is really the large window sill in my studio.  I put plastic bags with holes on top of them so they are like terrariums, keeping in heat, allowing for oxygen exchange, and self watering for a while.  I'm very excited!

Finally, I just had a very inspiring conversation with my sister about marketing myself so I am off to get on that ASAPple.  Hope you all are having a great week!  I have some new blog transformation ideas of my thinking sleeve (which is like a thinking cap, but a place where I keep ideas rather than make them)  which I may write about tomorrow, but until then may you be peaceful!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Questions for Artists

Thursday afternoon studio photos.
(Paintings in progress.)

Comments on my last post have spawned a whole new batch of questions:

I am curious about why it seems that many artists do not notice the connection between their inner world/experience and their creative process?  Is it because the process of finding that inner self and learning to listen to it is a process that inevitably unfolds over time and I mainly am in contact with young artists like myself?  Or is it because there are not many resources in mainstream society for learning to cultivate this connection?  I wonder if other art school educated artists feel like their undergrad education offered such guidance or if it did not?  If not, do you wish it had?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

On a quick side note, I just published my yoga website!  
Pass it on!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Self Knowing

This is the temporary banner for my yoga website I'll be publishing in the next day or so.  (Temporary because I would prefer two photos of me doing yoga rather than one of me posing for a picture at a wedding and one of a random lady meditating by the sea... anyway, it expresses the energy I intend for the site and business.)  I have decided to call my yoga business "Yoga and The Art of Self Knowing".  This will allow art to enter into it when the time comes.  
To me, self knowing is the essence of being on the path of art and yoga.  Through authentically practicing both I meet my true self over and over again.  Each time I see myself, my relationship the world around is revealed.  This revelation allows me very little choice but to engage in the world in a new way (I could deny I saw anything new an just continue to live as I had before, but on this path it's sort of a choice of being honest with myself or not.  I usually try to choose honesty. It keeps the cycle going more smoothly).  This new, purposeful engagement with the world is a recreation of myself.  It is an act of art and creativity which brings the process in full cycle once again but this time at more depth than when it began.
So really, what the heck does that all mean? (Abstract much?!)  Here's an example in my studio:  I made very busy, colorful paintings for a long time.  I still make busy and colorful paintings, but the energy is different.  In my older paintings such as:
"Watching 1,000 Things" (2007)
I wasn't sure why I was making these paintings or what they would look like when finished.  The process of authentic making entails a mystery and a curiosity that brings me back to the studio over and over again and allows the hours in the studio to sometimes disappear in the flow of creating.  
Through the making of them, though, I noticed that they mimicked my inner space: busy, claustrophobic, noisy, unsettled, unwieldy, joyful and interesting (to me!).  When I moved to Japan I felt a shift, a desire for more space, more peace, more settling.  Now, about three years later, I am still shifting, painting to a new mysterious tune.  Trying to keep what is interesting to me, to keep my joy and energy, but to allow it to exist in more space and calm.  I am also interested in what it there when my joy is not.  My shadows.

Whatever comes from this shift, or any shift, the most important thing it to realize is that the way I engaged with the world-- what I look at for inspiration, what I read, what I paint from, what colors I use, etc.-- changed because I saw myself in my paintings and decided to actively recreate myself.  Just by making something I was able to see myself in a new way and then choose to engage in the world based on that self knowing.  

This is what I hope to offer other people in my work as a teacher.  This is what I will continue to do through my yoga and art practice throughout my life.

"Permeable Limits: Ghost and Squirrel Work Together" (2009)