Sunday, October 4, 2015

Visited by Awe

 Singing the Essence 46    29.5 x 39.5" ©2015 Janice Mason Steeves

Sometimes there is another presence at work when we make art. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, calls it "eudaimonia", a word coined by the  Greeks meaning an external daemon of creativity. All artists feel this at one time or another. Call it the muse, or an angel or a spirit guide or flow. It doesn't happen for me all the time. But that creative presence has definitely visited me. I remember early on in my painting career when I made a painting that was far above my ability at the time. Of course, I painted it, but there was a sense that I couldn't have. I remember the first time it happened. The painting painted itself very quickly and confidently and when I stood back, I was shocked. Something magical had happened! At first my ego puffed up and took full credit. Only trouble was, I couldn't repeat that feat. It took another year or so for me to bring my paintings up to that level. A similar visitation occurred sometime later. Yet another year passed by where I worked hard in order to be able to paint like that on a consistent basis. I realized that these paintings were gifts. They showed me what's possible. I still have that happen, where breakthrough paintings occur that point me in a new direction, help me think new thoughts.


Delicate Balance 15   12x12"  Oil on paper ©2015 Janice Mason Steeves

The creative daemon quite often visits my workshops. I see her presence when a student quickly does a painting that is beyond the level of their current work. It's like everything has suddenly clicked into place. She often arrives through play or when the artist isn't trying so hard. Often the student doesn't even realize that they've been visited. I might point it out, but they don't always believe me. Acknowledging her is important. It encourages her to come back and helps an artist realize that there's some magic happening.

"The Romans," Gilbert writes, called this daemon "your genius––your guardian diety". She goes on to say that "the Romans didn't believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius." This distinction Gilbert writes, "helps to keep the artist's ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work."

I don't have a formula for inviting him/her in, this genius. Most often I just show up in my studio and keep painting. The creative daemon will find me there if she's looking for me. I might try to hold her when she comes but she's slippery that daemon and can leave as quickly as she arrived.