Capacity for Delight

IMG_2832

Untitled painting in progress

“The quality of life is in proportion to the capacity for delight,” Julia Cameron writes in her guide to creativity, “The Artist’s Way.” She points out that attention to detail and awareness are powerful forces.

For me too, taking time to notice the little things has been a valuable lesson. Sometimes I feel so rushed with work, deadlines and to-do lists that I struggle to even completely read an article in the newspaper or make time to do nothing at all but breathe in an afternoon moment.

The “New York Times Magazine” ran a fascinating article called “Head in the Clouds” by Jon Mooallem in May. The subheading read, “An improbably tale of 19th century adventurers, crowdsourced meteorological discoveries and the poetic wonders in the sky.”

Near the end, the author attends a conference of the Cloud Society. He writes “Somewhere in this story about clouds and cloud lovers, I’d found a compelling argument for staying open to varieties of beauty that we can’t quite categorize and, by extension, for respecting the human capacity to feel, as much as scrutinize the sources of those feelings.”

It’s essential to look, to listen, to learn. It’s important to allow ourselves to linger in emotion, to explore desire, to daydream.

I feel like too often we want to dwell in what we already know. It’s comfortable there. But the problem is, when we stick too closely to already categorized information, we cease to notice mystery, wonder and greater beauty. Instead perhaps we should strive to be explorers, pioneers, adventurers, seeking something more.

Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote in “My Struggle Book 1” about art — and its move into abstraction.

Now, art has gone even further, he explained:

“The props of art no longer have any significance, all the emphasis is placed on what the art expresses, in other words, not what it is but what it thinks, what ideas it carries, such that the last remnants of objectivity, the final remnants of something outside the human world have been abandoned.”

He seems to believe this applies to even more of our current culture. “Art does not know a beyond, science does not know a beyond, religion does not know a beyond, not anymore.”

He continues into a discussion of reality and death.

But my mind wanders. Isn’t there something spectacular to admitting there is something more than our own self, something bigger than our little worlds, larger than the constraints of our own egos? I think pondering wonder itself — no matter how vast or small — is also part of the capacity for joy.

 

 

Advertisements

On Time

IMG_2126

My friend Justin Dunford once told me that artists suffer, because they have something they want to do so badly it makes it difficult to do anything else.

I’ve been starting every morning painting in an attempt to remind myself that I have some control over my own time. But as soon as my morning session is up, the day descends into the chaos of working as a freelance reporter — non-stop phone interviews, looming deadlines and calls from stressed-out, frantic editors.

I am desperate for more time to create. And honestly just time to think clearly about things, and the space to not think, which is so essential to the artistic process.

Today I had the type of morning that made me just want to crawl back into bed and press reset. Instead, I had to keep calling sources, rearranging photo shoots, taking notes. Finally, I took a nap.

My phone kept ringing anyway, and I woke up in a haze. I couldn’t think clearly, and so just laying there, I read an excerpt from Brain Pickings — which noted that psychologist Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi felt “the poet’s responsibility to be a witness, a recorder of experience, is part of the broader responsibility we all have for keeping the universe ordered through our consciousness.”

Csiksgentmihalyi interviewed poet Mark Strand, who said, “we’re made of the same stuff that stars are made of, or that floats around in space. But we’re combined in such a way that we can describe what it’s like to be alive, to be witnesses. Most of our experience is that of being a witness. We see and hear and smell other things. I think being alive is responding.”

I believe that he’s onto something. If being alive is about being a witness, taking it all in and describing the wonder of the world — then being an artist is a worthy calling. At least for me, painting is about looking at the world, feeling deeply and trying to communicate what I see and learn to others.

Recently, I went to the True/False Film Festival and among the great documentaries I saw was “The Music of Strangers” about Yo-Yo Ma and his amazing music. He said the purpose of art and music is to “give us meaning.”

“You can turn fear into joy,” he says.