Monday, February 26, 2018

Mindfulness in Art: Trust

Iceworks 44  12x15"  Oil/cold wax on panel  ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves


Iceworks 45  Oil/cold wax on panel ©2018 Janice Mason Steeves

Last fall I started a series of blog posts based on John Kabat-Zinn's 7 attitudinal foundations of mindfulness from his book: "Mindfulness for Beginners".  I thought it would be interesting to look at the relationship of  these 7 fundamentals to painting. Trust is one of them.

 In a personal story, as some of you know, I had two consecutive knee replacements in 2017.  Much of 2016 and most of 2017 was spent in pain and then later, healing. By the fall of 2017, I was back in action. However, during the healing process, I had a bit of a crisis of faith. Faith in myself to continue to create.

Normally I have pretty continuous creative ideas. They arrive like pictures in my mind. Unlike Agnes Martin who had  a separate vision for each painting,  I seem to get pictures in my mind of a series of paintings.......or maybe it's just an idea to follow. I'm not sure. But I do get visual creative ideas. During my artistic hiatus with operations and healing this past year and a half, I had none. Zero. I also wasn't working in my studio. I had no desire to. I did have guilt about it though whenever I passed by the studio area in my house, and looked in. Most often, I didn't even look in.

I thought that perhaps I was done for as an artist. That this was a clue that I was to retire-hang up the brushes.

And then I went to Iceland, to teach a workshop and to stay on for another 2-week artist residency. I had previously done an artist residency at the Baer Art Center in July 2016, when I was in the throes of great pain while waiting for the knee replacements. Both times I found the residency inspiring and restorative. I didn't expect the series I began there to continue once I was at home. In the previous residencies I've done, I turned aside the residency work and resumed where I left off in my studio practice. 

This time was different. Very gradually, I began to work in the studio again, slowly at first, feeling my way along. Playing with ideas. Working with the images I'd produced in the residency, adding quiet  panels of colour. Gaining back my confidence. 

Still. I wasn't getting any inner pictures. 

Slowly, slowly, in the last three months, I began again to get pictures in my mind. I can't begin to express the joy I had when this happened. It was a long slow journey back to the studio. Unlike some who have had an artistic hiatus for health reasons, but who yearn to return to the studio, I had none of that. No desire at all.

Normally, I have good advice for those of my students who struggle to schedule their work time in the studio. But could I follow my own advice? No. Could I push myself to get into the studio? No. Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes it means surrendering to what is.

I can see now that I needed the time away from my studio to heal. To watch all 156 episodes of the West Wing, countless movies, and to read tons of murder mysteries. 

There was a part of me that hoped that my creativity would return.

Perhaps it was that that saved me. That desire.

Perhaps it was just the timing of my body's healing. I needed to learn to trust in that. Trusting not only that I would return to painting, but that my paintings had a life of their own. That they had their own plan. I needed also to trust that path. 


12 comments:

  1. What a wonderful, heartfelt, encouraging, beautiful post! I am so glad the images are back in your mind! And I had no idea there are that many episodes if WW! Off back to Netflix, there must be a whole new series to catch up on! You give me such hope, and faith, and trust! Thank you, Liz x

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  2. Hi Liz
    Thanks so much for your kind, enthusiastic and encouraging words. Big hugs, Janice

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  3. Thank you for sharing your journey Janice! Sometimes it seems like life is getting in the way but it can also be the guru that moves us deeper. xoxoxx

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  4. Thank your for sharing this journey, for letting us in. I too am glad you have found your way.

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    1. It's been quite a journey. I could only write about it after I'd come out the other end! Thanks for writing.

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  5. Oh thank you, Janice! My mind has been frozen since August, and you have given me such hope! I'm thrilled for you that your dry spell is over, and eager to end my own. There is such inspiration and camaraderie out there ... thanks for sharing yours!

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    1. Hi Susan, I can't tell you how to end it, because I know clearly that it wasn't for lack of intending it to be over or trying to get into the studio. I'd say to try to flow with it. I wish I'd done a better job of that. It's all about trust. Healing as well, but trust was a big one. Thanks for writing.

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  6. I have had many of the same thoughts these past 8 months after finishing a solo exhibit this past summer. Although without the surgeries even to surrender to. I just didn't have the time of day for the studio, no desire to be in there and always finding other reasons or things for not getting back to it. I was seriously thinking I was done with painting. Now slowly, really slowly I am getting the urge to get back in there and start something. I'm not sure what yet but something. It's a start. I think we need to take breaks from time to time. Forced or not. Our creative minds need time to wander, ponder and just go where they may. Most of the time we know and trust this but if the hiatus is longer say than a month or two, doubt does start to creep in. Thanks Janice for this posting. I feel a kin to you! And by the way I LOVE where these new paintings are going. The break was well worthwhile. xx

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  7. HI Michela. I hear what you're saying. Perhaps our creative spirit has a greater say than we do in how we direct our creative energy, if that makes sense. But it's difficult to trust in that, to know it will return. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

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  8. Janice, Thank-you for sharing your journey. Your struggle rang true in so many ways for me. I have always thought of myself as a health person and funny as it may seem I still do. I say that because I have had some real challenges. First I lost my hearing and then a surgery for an implant that worked beautifully and I can hear again but I also started having vertigo attacks weekly. They were debilitating and I was told by the doctors they did not know what to do. Then I contracted C-diff while visiting a friend in a nursing home. Again I was told there was nothing to do but was luckily given an opportunity to be in a drug testing program that saved me. Five people died in the C-diff group I was in. So, boy did I feel vert fortunate. Then I fractured 3 vertebrae and have been recovering for the past two years. The doctors did not think I would be able to walk. I am now walking 2 to 3 miles per day. My art has saved me more than once but during these times I felt like my painting days were behind me. You are so right that sometimes we need to stop and move through bad times. I too agree that stepping back brings growth. I commend you for your work, your endurance and your willingness to share.

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    1. Hi Ruth, Thanks so much for writing. I'm glad to hear you have healed from so many health challenges and that your art has saved you so many times. What a story! I appreciate your sharing your journey!

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