Seeking balance

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“Tell me where you’ve been, and I’ll tell you where I’ve been” one of my paintings inspired by Art Farm Nebraska

The title for my last show at the Jung Center in Houston, “Unconscious Conscious,” was pulled from Jung’s quote: “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Jung essentially made a battle cry of the importance of realizing your “unconscious.” It can seem like murky territory, but I think of it as understanding your soul, your gut, your dreams and desires, your fears. It’s your real underlying essence — that sometimes gets placed on hold in the name of work, relationships or trying to be whatever you or someone else thinks you should be.

Yesterday, I was talking to my friend Chance, a talented musician who is doing important work at an important nonprofit. Still, despite having the job and skill set, he has this drive to run away, live in an RV in the mountains, take long road trips, explore.

We spoke about finding balance. Knowing that we have to work jobs, trying to find ones that don’t suffocate us, continuing to find opportunities to expand, be creatively stimulated and better ourselves. It can be difficult.

I recently started reading Jung’s “Man and his Symbols.” He writes about how “primitive” cultures often believed in several types of souls — one might be linked to an animal or even a tree.

“This means that the individual’s psyche is far from being safely synthesized,” Jung states.”On the contrary, it threatens to fragment only too easily under the onslaught of unchecked emotions.”

We have vulnerable souls, in other words.

And we live in uncertain times, where things are changing so quickly that it’s easy to get out of breath. It’s easy to feel unsure of our footing. At the same time, we are bombarded with images, stories, social media, ads that can make us question our self worth, that can disrupt our priorities and can command our total attention, distracting us from other important aspects that make us whole.

I’m making some changes in the near future with the hope that they will lead to a more balanced life. I know I’m not alone in this, that a lot of people are searching for more meaning and more authenticity.

“Human consciousness has not yet achieved a reasonable degree of continuity. It is still vulnerable and liable to fragmentation,” Jung writes.

All the more reason for us to take time to fortify it, to do our part to promote understanding and togetherness in our world and in ourselves.

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A little more magic, please

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Work in progress, a painting of my friend Ben Viscon’s wine bar

Sometime during my Life, Examined exhibit a woman came up to me and said, “I don’t understand what you’re doing here at all.”

I tried to explain about installation art — but she stopped me. “No, I mean, you can’t sell any of this,” she said.

The comment shocked me. “Art’s not about selling,” I told her. “It’s about connecting with someone visually and emotionally, communicating an idea or a feeling in a different way than words.”

But I knew what I was saying wouldn’t click for her. And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve gotten to this place culturally, where the role of art has changed so drastically.

Art was probably our first way to communicate. And sometimes with a painting or an image, I believe we can still speak more directly, straight to the heart, straight to the gut. You can be moved to tears, or nausea, by a powerful black and white photo for example — without even thinking or putting into words why. You just feel something immediately; you can describe what it was later.

In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, painting was used as a way to connect people with the feeling of the divine — and even now those frescoes in cathedrals retain the power to take your breath away.

How cheap it would be to make art all about money, about what sells and how to market it. Of course, much of the “art world” and many “artists” are doing just that.

When I invite people to my art shows, it’s not with the hope that they will buy my paintings. I want to share my experiences, thoughts and emotions. I want to see if anyone connects. I hope to put some beauty out into the world.

We all have an opportunity to learn from art, to discover what moves us visually, to connect with communities even. Think about how molded your identity can be by music,  politics, philosophies, religion. When you learn to be an artist, you do the same thing. You discover what symbols speak to you, what visions you have, what visual memories shaped who you are, what pictures hit you. Then, you form your own visual voice.

Everyone can do this — artist or not — and I believe everyone will benefit from this exploration.

Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s ex-wives who was an amazing painter and writer, quoted him as saying, “Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation. It’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires.”

And can’t we all use a little more magic in our strange, hostile lives?

Being an enigma

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A photo from the Seattle Underground

In preparation for my show at the Jung Center, I’m rereading “Undiscovered Self.”

In the chapter entitled “The Individual’s Understanding of Himself,” Jung writes “Man is an enigma to himself.” He discusses the difficulties of relying on religion, politics and psychology to probe into identity. He outlines how humans struggle to see ourselves, because we have few other animals that closely resemble us. We turn instead to our relationships with other people to try to gain insight into who we are.

I’m preparing to tear down my installation “Life, Examined” which has been up for about two months at a gallery in Issaquah, WA. The piece is a lab that serves as a stage for exploring emotion and memory. The title is from “The unexamined life is not worth living,” a quote Plato attributed to Socrates during one of his lectures.

Putting together the show required me to do some life examining as well. I read old letters, leafed through journals and searched through the boxes of memorabilia, which usually remain tucked away in a corner of the closet.

Jung says that people are afraid of diving into the unconscious. They worry perhaps they will find something buried there that they do not like. He says that often it is easier to follow the masses than to discover the basis of your individuality, to remain a child with a parent figure to tell you who you are or what to do.

He urges his readers to take another path.

“It is, unfortunately, only too clear that if the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either, for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption,” Jung writes.

A few sentences later he adds that the “salvation of the world consists of the salvation of the individual soul.”

And when talking about salvation and redemption, Jung is addressing the need for greater understanding — of ourselves and each other. If allowed to develop our own inner strengths, and band together as authentic individuals, imagine what a world we’d live in.

Responsibility for quality

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My new painting, “What a planet we live on, that allows us to love”

On August 1, my friend Mac wrote an interesting post on my Facebook page:

The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on or blame. The gift is yours, it is an amazing journey and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.

The message was strangely right on target. Just the day before, I received a work-related phone call that drastically changed my life. Due to budget cuts and media mergers, I found out I was losing most of my income source.

At first, I was angry, then hurt. Next, I felt a sense of relief. I woke up in a panic the following few days, worried that I was way behind on my to-do list. Then, I remembered that my to-do list had been dramatically reduced.

Now, I worry about getting by. I think being a professional artist is basically a myth. The “art world” often doesn’t take painters seriously if they have a day job. But unless you have a trust fund or a wealthy partner or overly generous parents, not having a day job for an artist means not having a place to sleep or food to eat.

I have always had multiple jobs and struggled to make ends meet. I’ve painted during the hours that I didn’t have to work. While I wish that painting could be my one and only, I am also keenly aware of the reality of not having an income.

But I have been working so hard for the past few years that I have lost touch of the quality of my life. I want to take a chance to mold my days more around what I love to do. And I welcome a new beginning.

Will You Dance?

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Painting in Progress — “So Many Dreams We’re Not Prepared to Know”

Yesterday I was lamenting to my roommate about the start of another year. I said, I can’t believe that this one went by so quickly. And I was even more distressed that in less than a month, I will be another year older.

Last birthday, I promised myself that I would get my shit together this year, I told Rob.

“What’s the point of that?” he asked. “All you’re left with then is a pile of shit. And no one wants that.”

I laughed at the absurdity of the phrase. But he’s right. It’s no way to think — the constant pressure of finally figuring everything out. And I am certainly on a quest to make a change, to do better — and I have to remind myself constantly that it is just a journey. One that will most likely last a lifetime.

My friend Chance spent some time talking later in the day about how easy it is to focus on what’s wrong in your life instead of all the good that surround you. It’s something that I am working on improving. Instead of running over and over the things that hurt me, the people who wronged me and the several bad memories, why not think about the love, the support, the sympathy and camaraderie that I have most days?

“The world isn’t tidy,” the fantastic street photographer Garry Winogrand said. “It’s a mess. I don’t try to make it neat.”

It’s not our job to fix anything or to make the chaos of life fit into some neat tidy box. Instead, look, learn, watch, accept, create — repeat.

“Life is an ecstasy,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said.

Peter London said, “Sleep surrounds us. Keep awake.”

He said some people see the world as a supermarket, a place to acquire things. Others see life as a dance — a world of partners, experience, music, whirling – and we can opt to go twirling out among the action.

He asks:

“Will you? Won’t you? Will you join the dance?”