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Art and Listening

 My daughter, Jen Mason, has recently completed her PhD and in an article she's writing, she discusses how self-expression is an important topic in school and in life. We're taught how to write persuasively, how to speak convincingly and how to argue effectively. Mainly, it's loudest one that gets the attention. How much time do we spend learning how to listen? She goes on to say, "Listening is an internal process and like expression, it is a skill that needs to be developed." Who listens?

In my Workshops in Wild Places workshops and in my Stays Home zoom workshops, I try to address not only self-expression through painting, but also how to listen. We're taught self-expression in painting: how to find your personal voice.Because my current workshops are about creating an intimate relationship with Nature and using this relationship as a point of reference for creativity, it's important to learn to listen to nature, not only her sounds, but also to open yourself up to listen with your heart.

Photo courtesy Simon Migaj

I wrote a blog post about the Importance of Silence in Art several years ago.  I compared  the idea of silence in writing, in poetry and painting. What I suggest is that as an artist, you not only consider silence in your art, but that you listen to your paintings in the same open way you would to nature, with your senses, and with your body, not with your ears or your head. 

Earth Poem: Twilight  48x48"  Oil on panel  ©2020 Janice Mason Steeves

I find that many artists, after they've been working on a painting for a few hours, adding paint on and taking it off, making marks and adding in line, start getting tired. And when they do, instead of stopping where they are and taking a break, they figure their work needs something more. They're not looking at their composition which has been scraped off a hundred times, until mostly what's left is all over grey. No shape. No value contrast. They figure that the painting needs more:  more texture, more line. More. But what it needs is someone who will listen to it. It would have liked the artist to stop waaaay before now.

Earth Poems

Instead of trying to control the painting, it's important to work WITH the painting. It's a dialogue.I wrote about this in a blog post, called Shhh-Listen to the Painting. In that article, I said that the painting taught me to listen, to get myself out of the way, to let go of expectations and make room for something greater than myself to enter. That's when magic happens.

"I want to listen deeply enough that I hear everything and nothing at the same time and am made more by the enduring quality of my silence. I want to question deeply enough that I am made more not by the answers so much as my desire to continue asking questions. I want to speak deeply enough that I am made more by the articulation of my truth shifting into the day's shape. In this way, listening, pondering and sharing become my connection to the oneness of life, and there is no longer any part of me in exile." Richard Wagamese Embers


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