For almost my entire art career, I thought of art as work. Art came from my own initiative, and I had to do everything to make it happen. I had to come up with the idea, take the first step, solve problems along the way, and give all of my effort to earn a beautiful painting.
But recently I've had a shift in perspective. There's this idea from the mindfulness literature that thoughts and emotions don't come from us but instead through us. That is, when I'm feeling sad, it is not that sadness is a part of my being, but rather a passing experience. This way of thinking helps us de-identify with the thoughts and emotions we have on a regular basis and avoid getting wrapped up in our own melodramas.
I realized that this concept isn't just useful for mindfulness, but that it could also be applied to art-making. What if instead of coming from me, paintings came through me? What if making art was less about mustering enough effort to do something and instead about simply allowing the art to happen, that is, taking down the obstacles within myself that prevent it from doing so, that obstruct its natural course? What if ideas, inspiration, and art are part of this effortless creative flow, and our job is simply to take down our own mental barriers so that it can wash through us?
For me, the biggest barrier is my inner critic. The critic tells me me an idea isn't good enough, or the colors are wrong, or my brush strokes are landing poorly. In the past I've been so focused on making the art happen that I didn't have the bandwidth to combat my inner critic. However, now I've begun focusing less on actively trying to make a good painting and more on quieting the inner critic so that the art can flow. So far it has led to a painting process that is surprisingly easy and joyful, where oftentimes I lose myself in the act of painting. And most importantly, it takes the pressure off. It removes the self, the ego, from the game. Because the art is not ours, it is not us - we're just the vessel through which it passes on its way into the world.
"Ocean Beach Poppies," 11in x 14in oil on panel (2022)
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