Sunday, December 11, 2011


Influence of Hue 40 x 40" oil/cold wax on panel ©2011 Janice Mason Steeves
Each time I begin a painting, I wonder where it will go.  I begin intuitively,  holding a thought in my mind of what I'd like to express. My paintings are abstract investigations of landscape, symbols, memory and process.  I know artists who are fully confident that even if they can't see what the finished painting will look like, trust that the process will resolve itself and become a painting.  I can't say that I am so confident.  When I step into the studio each day, I feel to some extent that I'm stepping into the abyss. This is the excitement of abstract painting.  I have no idea where the work will go or how I will get there or if it will resolve itself.   And yet they do, they always eventually do.

I love that razor's edge though, between safety and the abyss.  I think it keeps the work honest.  There is some sense of terror there!

Yesterday,  I reread a quote of Joseph Campbell's from the book, The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau.  Campbell had just made a speech in Chicago about the nature of the goddess and the role of the artist in society.  Afterwards, a woman came up to him to tell him that she was going to Greece to 'find the spirit of the goddess'.  She showed Campbell her detailed itinerary, which included precise calculations of the best times to visit every major cultural attraction.  "Do you think this is sufficient?", she asked Campbell.  He took her free hand in his and with great kindness said, "Dear lady, I sincerely hope that all does not go as planned."   When Cousineau later asked him about this response, Campbell replied, "How will the gods ever find her when she has done everything in her power to make sure they never will? Unless you leave room for serendipity, how can the divine enter in?"

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Red-Mark Rothko and Hotel Art

Thoughts of Stones #5   ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011   
Yesterday I went with my friend Jane Lind to see the award-winning play, Red, at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto.  What an experience!

Director Kim Collier describes Red, as 'a play about faith versus doubt-in the artistic process, in ourselves, in our work, and in our place in the world.  I think we all are confronted with the sturggles that faced Mark Rothko: what does my life's work add up to?  How will I be remembered?  Have I been true to myself? These are all questions that eventually demand an answer from us."

 Red is set in Rothko's studio in 1958 in New York City where he was working on his mural commission for the Four Season's Hotel.  The play documents a fictionalized account of Rothko's conversations with his assistant, Ken.  We get a look into Rothko's intense artistic vision- to create art that expressed archetypal human emotions and communicated with the viewer at the deepest level. His assistant, Ken, challenged Rothko's thinking and accused him of not being in touch with the world, of living in an ivory tower, of becoming a has-been, while the world moved on to Andy Warhol and Pop Art.  Rothko held to his beliefs that art can change the world but felt he was betraying himself and his own ideals by 'selling out' to the Four Season's with this lucrative commission.  Finally, he went for dinner there.  Horrified to see only very wealthy patrons, overcome by the clinking of glasses and forks, the inane conversation and artificiality, Rothko impulsively withdrew from the mural commission, believing he was protecting his paintings and his own ideals.  In the end, Ken was fired from Rothko's studio, soon after he declared, "It's only a painting.", betraying Rothko's deep-seated belief that these were much more than paintings.  They were like living beings.
I am reminded of Sean Scully's comment, that in his work, he is trying to show, "Everything, all at once".

On the drive home, Jane and I found ourselves wanting to discuss all of the topics that came up for us in the play, besides the gorgeous set and production.  The actor who played Rothko, Jim Mezon was fabulous in his intensity, and looked amazingly like Rothko.  Ken (David Coomber) was the perfect foil for that intensity.

We wanted to discuss that intensity of Rothko's and what the situation is in art now, is there any of that sort of passion left in painting?  Do artist's want to communicate emotions, or the absence of emotions?  What's the future of painting? What makes a good abstract painting?  Jane will be writing a blog post on her experience of the play and our conversation that would be interesting to check out.

And then as conversation does, ours shifted and flowed along to other related things. I remembered this week, an artist friend, who was at a workshop a few years ago, where the insensitive instructor told her that her painting was 'Hotel Art'. My friend said her feelings were hurt, her ego was bruised and she just wanted to hide.

I can understand that there are artists who paint Hotel Art, but those are not the ones who usually take classes or have their work critiqued.  On that same thought, another friend, who is not an artist, suggested I look up the work of an artist she likes.  I did so and was simply horrified.  This was an example of Hotel Art.  It's painted for decoration. Very slick.  She has a formula: texture the background with moulding paste, then add drippy washes of transparent colours with a dab of dark here and there. Passionless, poorly painted.  It sells well.

Rothko knew his paintings weren't Hotel Art. These paintings, originally intended for the Four Seasons, eventually went to the Tate Gallery.

“Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.”-Mark Rothko

“Pictures must be miraculous.”-Mark Rothko 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thoughts on Inspiration

©Janice Mason Steeves 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Helen Hagemann, an Australian poet who was in residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at the same time I was, emailed to tell me that she had written a poem  inspired by one of my paintings she saw there.  A section of that painting took her eye.  I am honoured by this. I was also delighted at how my work was interpreted so differently than my intention as I created it.  I include her blog post here with her poem:  Her Blue Dress and encourage you to check out her website to read more of her poems and see the books she has written.

Helen's writing this poem,  makes me consider sources of inspiration:  what inspires us, keeps us creating?  Maybe it's different for everyone.

I have just finished reading "The Aran Islands", written in 1907 by J.M. Synge, the famous Irish playwright.  He spent time on each of the three Aran Islands, mainly, Inish Mann where I visited in early October. Synge was clearly inspired by the islanders, especially by the folktales, songs and stories of fairies, told him by these simple, rugged people. But he was also inspired by the remoteness of the place, the difficulty of making passage there.  The sea, a very powerful living being, played a pivotal role in the lives of the islanders, dependent as they were on it.  Their only boats (the same kind used today for fishing), were small canvas-covered currachs, each rowed by four men. Today though, ferries ply the channels to move passengers and cargo.  Synge's experiences there and the folktales he collected were to form the basis for many of his plays.

I am also inspired very much by place: In my last series of paintings that I exhibited at Agnes Bugera Gallery, in Edmonton, my thoughts were about the prairies where I grew up.

In Ireland, at my artist residency, it was interesting to find that the colours of my paintings became so much more muted than at home.  Often when I travel, I don't paint.  I only photograph and absorb and write my thoughts.  When I get home, and after some weeks, or months, I find that my paintings begin to take on the feel (at least to me) of the place I visited.  And what surprised me in Ireland, was how quickly those changes were made while I was still there, like this painting that Helen was inspired by.

So thanks very much to Helen, and with her permission, I am printing her poem.
Her Blue Dress
                      for Janice

You will want to know
the season
how a gown can slip itself over nose and cheek
and be visible from art
how Emily Dickinson stood by a window
pressing her pink hips
through a passage of time
lifting a blue taffeta dress
over her shoulders
to reach
cool, upturned toes
where poems lay like stepping stones
on the hardwood floor.
The long blue dress
was too big for this slip
of a girl
but she proceeded down the hall
where a mirror
motioned her to look
at the poet she would become.

(3rd draft)

I was instantly drawn to Janice's artwork at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland where we met and were housed in rather large cottages.  Her series included separate paintings joined as one.  I have used one panel only from her work titled Thoughts of Stones to represent a mirror and a blue dress. I saw Emily Dickinson's blue dress inside the painting (and, I guess, I was also inspired after reading Billy Collins' poem Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

So there we were ( including Rebecca Crowell from Wisconsin- another fine artist!) each in our separate units, inspiring each other, and both encouraging me to visit the Megalithic art at Loughcrew.  I have many more poems to come!  Janice's Thoughts of Stones and her full art work can be viewed at Janice Mason Steeves

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Art Gallery of Ontario Through a Child's Eyes

On Saturday I took my granddaughter for her first visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario. First things first, we had to climb onto the inviting Henry Moore sculpture near the entrance!  My granddaughter brought her own camera and I thought it was fun to see the AGO through her eyes. Other than this first photo and the one of her in front of the Chagall sign (way down below), the rest of the photos were hers.

Designed by Frank Gehry, the building is an exciting one for children of all ages.  It took us perhaps one-half hour to get past the front lobby,  where she delightfully scampered up and down the ribbon-like wheelchair ramp.  Then on to the winding staircase that actually goes outside the building for a few twists and turns.

From up on top of this twisty staircase, when I lifted her up, she could see a panorama view of Toronto. 

The staircase, like the wheelchair ramp, was incredibly exciting and we could have spent the rest of the day right here, running up and down, if only my legs could do it!

Then onto the Galeria Italia and where you feel you're in the hold of a glass ship, with enormous trees growing out of it.  

This sculpture was created by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone and will only be in the Galeria Italia until January 2012.  We were glad to have seen it.

Now on to the Chagall exhibit:

We stayed there maybe 10 or 15 minutes, walking steadily through the exhibit, stopping only to look at the last two very large and colourful paintings.  Then on to the really important thing: lunch.


 And a stop to buy a little souvenir of the day:

Then home on the GO train where we found a ladybug crawling near our seat on the train. 

What a fun day!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Power of Limits and the Walls of Aran

I'm aiming to hold onto the feeling of Ireland for a while yet.  Not so easy though since my re-entry into life hasn't exactly started. I've just recently returned from Edmonton, where my show, Memories of Home, opened on Saturday, Oct. 15th at the Agnes Bugera Gallery. Being in Edmonton, where I lived until I was 17, many memories of growing up under the big open sky of the Prairies came back to me.

In this suspended state between returning home from Ireland and opening my show in Edmonton, my thoughts keep returning to the stone walls on the island of Inish Mann.  Perhaps it is because I was born in the Prairies that I felt so claustrophobic there, hemmed in by legions of stone walls.  There I was, on the middle island of the Aran Islands, that is whipped by constant winds which blow up tumultuous, ever-changing clouds, and surrounded by a grey sea that is often covered by white frothy-capped waves.  A wild, open environment.  But there was not an inch of the island that was not covered with stone walls.

The physicality of such limiting walls, made me consider the idea of limits in art.

In her book," Prospect, the Journal of an Artist", Anne Truitt writes about going on a driving trip across Canada and arriving in Carberry, Manitoba.  She said that she 'understood for the first time that limitlessness might be a threat, that it might induce the reverse of claustrophobia, a desire for enclosure, for protection from the naked eye of the sky."  She muses that it would take a store of courage to live on land that so emphatically does not need a human hand, and that people may have fallen in love with the prairie, as sailors fall in love with the sea. Truitt wondered aloud to her travelling companion if they would "have been moved to art if we had been born on this prairie?"

Perhaps the reason for acres of stone walls on Inish Mann was for enclosure and protection.   Surely the walls were built to clear stones from the land, as well as for protection from the wind and to create delineated pastures for the cattle and sheep.  But because of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of walls, my sense is that something more is at play.  The walls give limits against the limitless.

Creativity comes from limits, not freedom.

Stephen Nachmanovitch, in his book, "Free Play, Improvisation in Life and Art", says, "Sometimes we damn limits, but without them art is not possible. They provide us with something to work with and against.  In practising our craft we surrender, to a great extent, to letting the materials dictate the design. Limits yield intensity.  Working within the limits of the medium forces us to change our own limits.  Improvisation is not breaking with forms and limitations just to be 'free', but using them as the very means of transcending ourselves."

The poet Wendell Berry writes:
"The impeded stream is the one that sings."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ireland-Sean Scully

Sean Scully Exhibition
Cut Ground

Kerlin Gallery

On my last day in Ireland, October 6th, my friend Mary and I went to see Sean Scully's show at Kerlin Gallery, in Dublin.  It was just opening that day and I was hoping to see it before I left Ireland.

I spent some time in the gallery and just as I decided to leave, to my surprise and delight, there was Sean Scully coming up the stairs.  He was to be interviewed for Irish television by the Irish painter, Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh.  Scully is a very tall and imposing figure, balding, with a fringe of short grey hair and a stubbily grey beard, looking every bit his sixty-six years until he begins to speak.  Then his entire demeanour changes and a fire comes into his eyes.

I was really privileged to be able to listen to the entire interview as I stood in the gallery.  Scully and Sinead roamed around the enormous white space as the videographer moved the huge rolling camera in and out and around the conversation.  Scully discussed his thoughts on painting and life, talking about how his work is informed by grief, particularly the loss of his son in the 80's, which forever transformed his use of colour.  Listening to his wide-ranging and intense thoughts on the future of art, his disdain for conceptual art, his love of painting, I felt like I was hearing a man who is a warrior for the importance of  deep, emotional, resonant art in the world.  His work is informed by his own brand of spirituality and he is unafraid to say that.  In fact, when asked which two people he would like to meet, living or dead, cited Jesus Christ because he was such an independent thinker, and Mahatma Ghandi.

Sean Scully with Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh for Irish Television RTE

I asked him to sign the stunningly beautiful boxed catalogues that accompanied this exhibition.The catalogues included three inserts. The covers of two of them are written in Arabic.  One catalogue will accompany his exhibition at Kerlin Gallery at Abu Dhabi Art Fair, November 16-19 and refers to time Scully has spent in Morocco.  That part of the exhibition is called Tin Mal, which refers to an important spiritual site in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Scully has painted a series of major works dedicated to sacred sites, the first being Iona, 2004-2006, now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This exhibition is called Cut Ground and refers to a story from Scully's childhood where he stole candles from his church and hid them away in his garden, in an effort to keep the light.

My residency and visit to Ireland are over for now.  I will be processing this journey for some time and will write more of my thoughts about it as I go along.  But I know I will be back in Ireland next September.  I've already been accepted into the artist residency, Cill Railaig, near the Ring of Kerry, in County Kerry.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Final Days at Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland

Thoughts of Stones    33 x 42" ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011  
The last few days at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre were spent photographing around the lake (Annaghmakerrig), the buildings and the grounds, as though trying to gobble it up to hold in my memory. It was a stimulating, hard-working time for me.  I completed five multi-panel paintings of various sizes while I was at the residency.  My colours really changed for this period of time.  They became very muted, reflecting the greys of the stones at the neolithic sites, and the overcast skies and soft tones of the landscape. I'm already looking forward to another residency in Ireland next September.

The best part of the residency was the intensely stimulating, creative contact with other artists: writers, musicians, poets, playwrights and visual artists.  Many gave spontaneous 'sessions' in the evenings where they improvised with other musicians, singers, poets or tap dancers.  What a huge gift!  Many gave away their books of prose, poetry or musical CD's.   It was also a huge delight to have the companionship of my friend, the American artist Rebecca Crowell.  Our shared dinners, stimulating conversations and times of screaming hilarity added a huge piece to this residency.

Improv tap dancing to the sax

Collaboration with poet Ann Egan (L), Little John Nee on ukelele and Anka Draugelates on piano

Anka Draugelates on viola
I echo the words that Little John Nee signed in the Tyrone Guthrie Guest Book:

I leave here a better person.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Language of the Stones-Artist Residency Ireland

After spending time in the sacred sites of Loughcrew, and  Newgrange, I have been wondering about the meaning of the carvings on the stones.  Were they a language of some sort, telling about the purpose of the cairns, did they track the entrance of the sun into the chambers, were they simply a kind of decoration?  

When I came into my cottage here at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, I found some words scratched onto a heart-shaped slate that a previous tenant had left behind.  Lovely that the word is Brave.  The word 'courage' comes from coeur, French for heart.  Be Brave.  What a wonderful motto to begin my residency here.  And now I'm in the final few days of the residency and so I'm looking at my work and hoping that I have been brave.

In response to the Be Brave carving, I found a Yeats quote about courage.  I did a small installation piece down by the lake, carving the quote onto some small slates that I found by the boathouse.  It reads: "Why should we honour those that die upon the field of battle?  A man may show as reckless a courage in entering into the abyss of himself".

Here are a few of the pieces I've created in Studio 2. 
 At home I use cold wax medium and oil paint, but for ease of transportation, I brought along acrylics and heavy body gel medium.  I brought 11x 14" multimedia artboard panels to paint on, giving myself the challenge of working in a new medium on a new medium!  The panels are made of paper that is coated with resin. They need no priming or sealing.   I normally work in a fairly large format at home and found the 11 x 14 " size a bit constraining.  So I made them into multi-panel pieces. 

I'm working with the idea of the language of the stones.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Artist Residency Ireland-Newgrange and Lough Crew

Before I came to the artist residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, I stayed with my friend Mary in Dublin whose passion is visiting the sacred sites across this country.  She took Rebecca Crowell and me out to Loughcrew, Slieve na Calliagh, the hill of the witch or hag's mountain.  Read Rebecca's blog posts of this residency too.

The remains at Loughcrew are passage tombs, a particular style of neolithic architecture.  They have a passage, ordinarily long and narrow, which opens into a domed chamber.  We first went to Carnbane East.  It was a long, rainy and wildly windy walk to the top of the hill to Cairn T (sometimes called the Hag's Cairn).  We had collected the key for the passage tomb at the Loughcrew Historic Gardens Coffee Shop.  Imagine that we were able to go into this cairn and sit inside, in the dark, beside these incredible stones! Cairn T is oriented to the autumn equinox, which happens within the next three days.  At the autumn equinox, the rising sun shines into the back of this chamber, lighting up the carvings in a sequence as the shaft of sunlight makes it's way across the chamber wall.  The two photos below were shot with only with the available light that was shining into the tomb on September 10th.

After taking our fill of photos, we sat quietly for a while. in the dark of the chamber, amazed and grateful to be here. Afterward, Mary, Rebecca and I had a picnic lunch and hot tea in the shelter of the rocks just outside the door of Cairn T.

We hiked over to another hill, Carnbane West on this windy day that was sometimes sunny, sometimes pouring with rain.  We couldn't get into the chamber there, but climbed around the stones and took photos of the carvings and lichen on the megaliths.

Last Friday, three of us from the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, hired a cab and drove to Newgrange, a world heritage site in County Meath.  Estimated to be 5000 years old, it is  the largest and one of the most important prehistoric megalithic sites in EuropeIt was a whole different experience than Loughcrew, but also one not to be missed.  The area is called the Boyne Valley complex, which consists of three sites: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.  We went only to Newgrange.  I came to this site in 1998 when I did a workshop at Dunderry, here in Ireland.  We had the tremendous privilege then of going into the chamber in a small group, before the general public came in and chanting for 1/2 hour.  It was an incredible experience. On this trip, we went with a group and a guide and stayed for probably 10 minutes in the chamber.  All is carefully orchestrated.  No sitting on the floor of the chamber in the dark, leaning against the stones, as we had done at Loughcrew.

Approaching Newgrange in the rain.

Waiting to go into the chamber.  Pouring outside.

One of the kerbstones along the outside at the back.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Artist Residency Ireland

For the month of September I'm doing an artist residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan, Ireland.  The 450 acres and buildings are stunningly beautiful.
Tyrone Guthrie (1900-1971) was an acclaimed English theatre director who also wrote plays for radio, including one series that he wrote in Montreal on Canadian history for the Canadian National Railways Radio, which eventually became the CBC.
In 1953, he was invited to help launch the Stratford Festival of Canada. Intrigued with the idea of starting a Shakespeare theatre in a remote Canadian location, he enlisted actors Alec Guinness and Irene Worth to star in the inaugural production of Richard III. All performances in the first seasons took place in a large tent on the banks of the Avon River. He remained as Artistic Director for three seasons, and his work at Stratford had a strong influence in the development of Canadian theatre. 

I'm staying in one of the self-catering cottages, pictured above.

The sitting room of my cottage.

The walking path along the lake in front of the Centre.

Horses in the field at the end of the lake.

My artist friend from Wisconsin, Rebecca Crowell is here at the same time as me. We've been here three days now and I'm beginning to settle down from all the newness and excitement.  As he was showing us around on the first day, Paddy-the "go-to" person here-said that this place is the 'centre of loveliness'.  What a positive way to begin our residency here.

 We went for dinner in the big house last night and met the artists who are residents at the changes constantly. Twelve artists were at the table for dinner last night.  Some people come for a month or six weeks, others come for one week.  Many are from Ireland and many are writers or poets or multi-discipline artists.  Most have been here numerous times.  One of the musicians is leaving tomorrow and so someone suggested that we have a 'session' in the music room.  The music room is an enormous open space, with a wide-planked wooden floor covered with a thick blue carpet.  Tall windows open up to the courtyard below.  A huge, ornate chandelier hangs from the 15' ceiling and a grand piano sits ready to play.  One slim, intense man from Switzerland plays electric guitar.  A small slender blonde woman from Germany improvised with him.  She plays viola and does voice improv along with her own playing.  She used every sound imaginable with her voice, nose and throat (although not a beat box kind of sound)...and was accompanied by the was absolutely incredible. When I closed my eyes her voice became another instrument playing every range of sound and emotion.  Then, another man in the group, who is an Irish-born poet, spoke one of his poems to the voice/guitar sounds while another women artist did some improv chanting.  The performance made me cry it was so haunting and lovely.  The poet/voice/guitar group improvised three pieces together, and another woman read a story she'd written, then sang A cappella. 

If I get nothing else out of this residency, this one evening would be enough.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Excitement of a Workshop

What will you do with this one wild and precious life?  36x60" oil/cold wax on panel  ©Janice Mason Steeves 

Tomorrow I teach a two-day workshop here in my home studio.  Today I am preparing. First things first, I'm cleaning my studio.  What a job that is, sorting papers, cleaning shelves, vacuuming and moving paintings to the garage to make room for eight students.  Each time I teach a workshop, I plan what I will do that is different. I consider what I have learned from teaching my last class.  How can I teach better?

We come with high expectations into a workshop, everyone looking for something from it.  Some might hope to find their artistic voices.  Some want to come and learn a fun new technique.   My own sense is that people come because they want to move somewhere else in their painting.  Many want the inspiration to 'get back at it' if they have stopped making art for a while.  Some want to break through to new places in their work.  I believe  we all want  to grow.  We all want to 'change'.

I have only been teaching for a year, and although I bring nearly 30 years of painting experience with me, I feel like I am walking on new ground each time I teach.  I am loving the experience. It pushes me to explain about colour and design, principles  that have become second nature to me.  I find myself constantly reading with the view to teaching what I learn, rereading  colour theory and the elements of design so I can more easily explain them, so I can be a better teacher.  Each time I go into a workshop to teach, I feel that same anticipation, "Can I do this", "Can I give them what they are looking for"?

For me, the main tool I use in  teaching and in encouraging students to move through blocks and fears, is encouraging play, creating a safe place where freedom can play unbounded.  This method of working with cold wax medium and oil, using a dough scraper to move the paint, is a completely freeing experience in itself.  Giving up fine detailed brushwork and moving into wide sweeping strokes  loosens up the body and the spirit.

Stuart Brown, M.D., author of "Play",  says that "play is anything but trivial.  It is a basic biological drive as integral to our health as sleep or nutrition.  When we play we are open to possibility and the sparks of new insights.  Play-defined as any kind of purposeless, all-consuming, restorative activity-the is single most significant factor in determining our success and happiness."
So let the play begin……….

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Considering Solitude

Heaven Can Wait 42x42" oil/cold wax on panel © Janice Mason Steeves
Still feeling the effects of my week long home retreat (how long can this feeling last?), I'm thinking about  solitude and it's place in the creative process.   In Paul Tillich's quote, solitude is the 'glory of being alone'.  Solitude is something you choose.  It's different than loneliness.

- In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone. ~Rollo May

As I went into my home retreat a couple of weeks ago, I had many people tell me that they just wouldn't be able to do a home retreat.  "Oh I wish I could do that", was a very common response. Several friends-many of them artists- told me that they thought I was courageous to be alone for a week.  Courage is not spending a week alone and unplugged. Courage is Harry Potter fighting Voldemort to the death. Courage comes from the latin word "cor" meaning heart, which is a common metaphor for inner strength. Courage is having your first solo art show.  Courage is changing directions in your work when you have no idea where you're going or how you're going to do it.  Courage is following your heart no matter where it leads.  Courage is choosing a life in the arts even though it may not pay the bills. It is not spending a week alone.

Ester Buchholz, author of The Call of Solitude, says that "Life's creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems.  Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers."

She goes on to say, "The natural creativity in all of us-the sudden and slow insights, bursts and gentle bubbles of imagination-is found as a result of alone time.  Passion evolves in aloneness.  Both creativity and curiosity are bred through contemplation."

The retreat sort of re-booted my awareness of how much I need space or solitude to create.  Space that is created through unplugging and leaving long open-ended days.  I think that the 'rules of engagement' that I set for the retreat can be modified for daily use.  I guess the word is self-discipline.

Buchholz says, "Alonetime is a great protector of the self and the human spirit. Ultimately, we might follow the message of every practiced meditator, who suggests living each moment as a new moment, with greater sensitivity to one's thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. That is the real message of alonetime, and it is through that profound self-awareness, that inner aloneness, that our lives will flower".

Kafka said: "You need not leave your room.  Remain sitting at your table and listen.  You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet and still and solitary.  The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked.  It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet".  Or what about Picasso who said, "Without great solitude, no serious work is possible."

And then in the words of Gertrude Stein, "When they are alone they want to be with others and when they are with others they want to be alone.  After all, human beings are like that."