Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mindfulness in Art: Non-Judging

Iceworks 28 12x30" Oil/cold wax/sand on paper on panel © 2017 Janice Mason Steeves

Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book, Mindfulness for Beginners, identifies seven fundamental attitudes of mindfulness, all of which apply to painting. They are: non-judging, patience, beginner's mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go.


It's so easy to judge ourselves every step of the way in painting whether we're a beginning artist or a more advanced one. One of my recent students berated herself continuously for two and a half days of my three-day workshop. She was extremely frustrated that her work wasn't going as she had planned, even though she'd only been painting for a year, and was new to the cold wax and oil process I was teaching. I urged her to be more gentle with herself but she seemed unable to stop.

Finally, on the third day, when she was totally frustrated and ready to listen, I suggested that she work very quickly, without thinking or judging, giving herself permission to make 'bad' work. I also recommended that she silently thank the work and the process for teaching her about painting.  Finally, she found some release. Whew! At last she was able to let go, and in the remaining few hours of the workshop, pumped up with renewed energy, she produced some exciting work.

"When there's a crack in my mirror, I can't see myself as I am––all I see is the crack. The crack tells me that there is something wrong with me, that I'm not enough and that this is how others see me too. It's not a question of finding a better mirror. It's about seeing beyond the crack. I am not, nor ever will be, perfect. But I don't need to live for approval. I need to live for acceptance and joy in the unique, worthy, loveable, beautiful, sacred being that I am and to celebrate the same thing in others. That's seeing beyond the crack. I'm learning to love my imperfections; in the end they make me who I am, in all my flawed glory." Richard Wagamese from the book, Embers.

Iceworks 32 12x12"  Oil/cold wax/sand on paper ©2017 Janice Mason Steeves

Iceworks 34 12x12"  Oil/cold wax/sand on paper © 2017 Janice Mason Steeves

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Mindfulness in Travel and in Painting

Iceworks 35   12x22"  Oil, cold wax on paper ©2017 Janice Mason Steeves

John Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Mindfulness for Beginners describes mindfulness in this way: "Mindfulness is awareness, cultivated by paying attention in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."

I don't pretend to be an expert in Mindfulness but I do find two occasions when I am naturally more mindful: when I travel and when I paint. When I travel, especially when I travel to artist residencies where I have an uninterrupted month of time to explore myself, my surroundings and play with ideas, I find I am very present. I photograph, I walk, I listen to the land. I make note of the way that the colours and the light change from moment to moment. I watch storms come and go. 

"And that's why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy.
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road."
Pablo Neruda

I am much more mindful when I travel than I am when I return home. Except for in my studio.

In the studio, I try to allow for mindful and non-judgemental listening to my work: giving a painting or the beginning of a body of work, the space to speak to me. While I encourage working quickly in my workshops, in order to engage the interplay of no mind and mindfulness, I mean for artists to work somewhat differently at home where there is more time to sit and listen to the painting. Often after I've worked for a while, I'll sit in the comfy chair in my studio and spend time not thinking. Just sitting. Quietly. No music playing. Trying to feel where my work will go next. Listening with my body. It means being mindful of how you feel in your body as you work.

"ME: You always repeat things three times.

OLD WOMAN: Just the important things.

ME: Why? I hear you the first time.

OLD WOMAN: No. You listen the first time. You hear the second time. And you feel the third time.

ME: I don't get it.

OLD WOMAN:  When you listen, you become aware. That's for your head. When you hear, you awaken. That's for your heart. When you feel, it becomes a part of you. That's for your spirit. Three times. It's so you learn to listen with your whole being. That's how you learn."
Richard Wagamese from his book, Embers