Friday, April 22, 2011

Maintaining a Spirit of Play-Beginner's Mind

I Had a Sweater This Colour ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011   

 My work of the past year has been one of going into the studio with no preconceived idea of what I will do.  I enter in a spirit of play  I am balancing the technical skills I have learned over many years as an artist in one hand, with the idea of knowing nothing in the other.

"The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing." This quotation, attributed to Hemingway, (or was it Henry Miller?) is about this balancing point of knowing it all and knowing nothing.  In the  excellent book, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe, she says, "You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it." "In it's purest form, inexperience erases fear.  You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible".

There is a surrender to the process, a giving up of control to the dialogue between yourself and the work.  Anna Maria Maiolino in her artist's statement in her show in Barclona last fall at the Tapies Museum, spoke about art...She belonged to a movement called Brazilian Neo-Concretism, where the work of art is not seen as an 'object', but as a "quasi-body,  an organic being".  Maiolino's creates work that is co-produced through the relationship of her materials and her body.   She accepts that different work appears at different times in her life.  But it is inter-connected, all of the same body.

 On the blog, Zen Habits,  there is a wonderful post, "How to Live Life to the Max with Beginner's Mind".  Mary Jaksch gives us 11 tips for how to do this.  Here are two of them.

Discard fear of failure. When did you last start something new? Was it maybe a while back? As children we are always starting something new. Then, as we go through our twenties, thirties, and further, we become more hesitant about being a beginner again. Why? Maybe because we don’t want to look silly when we fail.
There are always plenty of people ready to snigger when we take the first wobbly steps. But it’s our choice whether to take notice or not.
  • Tip: Immerse yourself in your actions and forget the watchers.

Use the spirit of enquiry. Beginner’s Mind is about using the spirit of enquiry – without getting stuck in preconceived ideas. There’s a Zen story about this:
A professor once visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The master served tea. When the visitor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup and over the table.
“The cup is full!” said the professor. “No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” said the master, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
You can see how this story applies not only to learning about Zen, but to learning about anything at all. The spirit of enquiry is the mind that is open to the unknown, and empty of pre-conceived ideas.

  •  Tip: Focus on questions, not on answers.

Letting go of control is a key factor and not one that is easy to achieve, especially when as artists, we have deadlines and perhaps expectations from galleries.  It's necessary to embrace mistakes and surprises.  Uncertainty is our companion.