Sunday, January 20, 2019

Art Workshops and Mary Oliver




Pathways 4  12x24"  Oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves

To begin each day in my painting workshops, I do a short mindfulness meditation to bring our focus into the studio, into the workshop. And then I read a poem. Words that might inspire. Poems that might, in the words of John O'Donohue, "create an invisible cloak to mind your life".

My workshops are filled with women (mostly) who are generally between 55 and 75. The Boomer Generation. These are women who have worked as teachers, nurses, doctors, professors, engineers and who are now retired or near the end of their careers. Many are also mothers of grown children. And grandmothers. They've come to art later in life and are ready for a second career, finally able to follow their hearts to discover their creativity. But still, many are tied to their roles as mothers and grandmothers and find it difficult, as women do, to allow themselves space and time where they are not nurturers and caregivers. Time for themselves, for their creativity. 



The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver ~ 
(Dream Work) 

Pathways 1  12x18"  Oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves

I read Mary Oliver's poems in every one of my workshops. Her words are so accessible and go straight to the heart of our lives. I was saddened by the news of her death this week, but I celebrate the great gift of words she left us.
And on the afternoon of the last day of the workshop, Mary Oliver asks in her poem,
The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


May Mary Oliver's words continue to encourage, inspire and cover you with an invisible cloak to mind your life.

Pathways 2   12x24" oil on paper on panel  ©2019 Janice Mason Steeves






Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Please let me try that one again!




What Can We as Artists Do for this Earth?


Storm-watching workshop at Long Beach Lodge, Tofino, BC

I tried to post a video on this blog but it obviously didn't send when I sent out the post.

My apologies. I wasn't able to send a test email first so just took my chances.
I thought I'd resend this blog post and give it another go without the video.

The video I tried to post is really beautiful and well worth a look. Click HERE to watch it. It was a Greenpeace initiative fro. 2 or 3 years ago but I just came across it. I found it incredibly moving. Pianist and composer Lodovico Einaudi floated along on a platform in the Arctic near the island of Svalbard. He played Elegy for the Arctic, a gloriously haunting piece, while great chunks of ice broke off from the glacier behind him, crashing into the sea, almost overwhelming his music. So powerful, shocking, sad and beautiful all at the same time. I cried.

"It's time for a different formal defence of nature", suggests Michael McCarthy, one of Britain's leading environmental writers, in his book Moth Snowstorm.  He goes on to say, "We should offer up not just the notion of being sensible and responsible about it, which is sustainable development, nor the notion of its mammoth utilitarian and financial value, which is ecosystem services, but a third way, something different entirely: we should offer up what it means to our spirits; the love of it. We should offer up its joy."

"This has", he continues, "been celebrated, of course, for centuries. But it has never been put forward as a formalized defence of the natural world. Firstly, because the mortal threat itself is not centuries old, but has arisen merely in the space of my own lifetime; and secondly, because the joy nature gives us cannot be quantified in a generalized way."  "We need to remake, remake, remake, not just rely on the poems of the past, we need to do it ourselves––proclaim these worths through our own experiences in the coming century of destruction, and proclaim them loudly, as the reason why nature must not go down"




Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and author of the book One Square Inch of Silence, writes, "We've reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life-style changes. More than ever before we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place."


As a silence activist, Hempton says, " Silence is an endangered species." His art is collecting and recording natural sound. He records the soundscapes of prairies, mountains, and forests around the world and defines silence not as an absence but a presence. Hempton has made sound recordings inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, of thunder in the Kalihari and of dawn breaking across 6 continents. Hear his interview with Krista Tippett in the podcast On Being

Do you ask yourself what you as an artist can do for the environment?  I do. 

In my own small way, I'm aiming to do that by organizing Workshops in Wild Places. The idea behind this initiative is to travel with small groups of artists to remote, silent places, and to encourage them to really experience these places, to fall in love (again) with this glorious earth and to paint from that place.


Messenger
By Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.





Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Can We as Artists Do for this Earth?



Storm-watching workshop at Long Beach Lodge, Tofino, BC


I posted the video below on Facebook the other day. It was a Greenpeace initiative from 2 or 3 years ago but I just came across it. I found it incredibly moving. Pianist and composer Lodovico Einaudi floated along on a platform in the Arctic near the island of Svalbard. He played Elegy for the Arctic, a gloriously haunting piece, while great chunks of ice broke off from the glacier behind him, crashing into the sea, almost overwhelming his music. So powerful, shocking, sad and beautiful all at the same time. I cried.





"It's time for a different formal defence of nature", suggests Michael McCarthy, one of Britain's leading environmental writers, in his book Moth Snowstorm.  He goes on to say, "We should offer up not just the notion of being sensible and responsible about it, which is sustainable development, nor the notion of its mammoth utilitarian and financial value, which is ecosystem services, but a third way, something different entirely: we should offer up what it means to our spirits; the love of it. We should offer up its joy."

"This has", he continues, "been celebrated, of course, for centuries. But it has never been put forward as a formalized defence of the natural world. Firstly, because the mortal threat itself is not centuries old, but has arisen merely in the space of my own lifetime; and secondly, because the joy nature gives us cannot be quantified in a generalized way."  "We need to remake, remake, remake, not just rely on the poems of the past, we need to do it ourselves––proclaim these worths through our own experiences in the coming century of destruction, and proclaim them loudly, as the reason why nature must not go down"



Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and author of the book One Square Inch of Silence, writes, "We've reached a time in human history when our global environmental crisis requires that we make permanent life-style changes. More than ever before we need to fall back in love with the land. Silence is our meeting place."

As a silence activist, Hempton says, " Silence is an endangered species." His art is collecting and recording natural sound. He records the soundscapes of prairies, mountains, and forests around the world and defines silence not as an absence but a presence. Hempton has made sound recordings inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, of thunder in the Kalihari and of dawn breaking across 6 continents. Hear his interview with Krista Tippett in the podcast On Being

Do you ask yourself what you as an artist can do for the environment?  I do. 

In my own small way, I'm aiming to do that by organizing Workshops in Wild Places. The idea behind this initiative is to travel with small groups of artists to remote, silent places, and to encourage them to really experience these places, to fall in love (again) with this glorious earth and to paint from that place.

Messenger
By Mary Oliver
 
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.