Been thinking of how people can focus too much on things that are unlikely to happen and forget to see what really is possible – such as enjoying the here-and-now moments. I’ve also thought of related quotes and phrases: “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and “Take tarts when tarts are passed” and “If not now, when?”. These thoughts baked in my brain pan a while and out came this painting I’ve titled “Pie In The Sky”
Some time back I read an article in my local newspaper about teaching kids to snack healthy and to learn to trust their body’s cues about food. Since then I’ve been thinking of similarities between healthy snacking habits and developing a healthy creative life.
- Teach yourself how to recognize aesthetic cues/desires – and practice responding to them – over time. I think of aesthetic cues as mental indulge-ments; things like stories, poems, movies, music, art etc. that make you feel glad to be alive. Just like a kid has to learn how to try new foods and then practice recognizing what foods they enjoy eating. As we go through life our aesthetic preferences change – just like our food preferences do. So it’s helpful to continue to try new aesthetic/art snacks periodically – and practice trusting your own cues.
- Allow yourself to listen to your own aesthetic cues/voice without input from other people. This takes practice and no matter how experienced a person is one has to remember to return to listening to one’s own voice – rather like how sometimes a kid (or an adult) has to be reminded to pay attention to their plate and eat. (When my wife and I go to happy hour with our friends I have to remind myself to eat…I tend to focus on the conversation…)
- Give yourself permission to just practice. Practice-an-art-materials can be as simple as keeping a book of stories or poems handy for reading and a small book to write in. Think of it as adult playing. Some helpful mantras: “Nothing has to go right today”, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.” and “It’s okay to make mistakes and messes – it’s part of how we learn.”
- Set specific times to practice. These can be very short bursts of time. They can be event/circumstance based rather than clock based. i.e. I’ll practice reading/writing poems while the coffee/tea brews, the water boils or the oven pre-heats.
- Create a small place/drawer where your practice-an-art materials are kept handy. Perhaps a shelf where books related to your art snack indulge-ments are stored. Look for and collect objects, events, places that feed your creative-soul-heart-mind. Stay close to anything that makes you glad to be alive. Plan to indulge in these things in small ways – daily.
- Set a habit (I hate the word “rule”) for what time per month you’ll indulge yourself – for an aesthetic “meal”, something more than a short snack – with someone else’s artwork: i.e. go to local art-openings, poetry/story slams, indie film nights, music jam nights or a visit to an art museum.
Here’s what I indulged myself with this morning as an art snack while my breakfast bread toasted:
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats is a new-favorite poem. It reminds me that we can – and do – create our own solace.
Thumb Use – By Clancy –
Sissy had extra-large thumbs.
So she cleared the table of crumbs
saying “What else can you do,
in the absence of stew,
but make excellent use of your thumbs?”
Beauty and wisdom are all around us if we’re attuned to look for them. Like a mystery story detective looking for clues we train our eyes to “see” what is there. This is partially a function of he way our brains work. We see what we expect to see. How broad or narrow that expectation is affects what we will see. It’s all too easy to “see” only to-do lists and drudgery in daily life. It’s too easy to “see” beauty only in dramatic once-in-a-lifetime vacation places. Yet our view can be broadened so we can see beauty in the fruit at the local market – and find wisdom on our coffee cup.
I see my job as an artist as a practice of seeing beauty in ordinary places and things; of telling the stories of the beauty and the wisdom I find. To help others to see the beauty too.
Beauty and wisdom can be too easily ignored, lost and forgotten – and when that happens life can seem dull and drudgery filled. This is why we need to constantly train our eyes and minds to look around our mundane lives and see the beauty, the wisdom. It takes repeated practice. It takes detective work.
Dr. Bob Hoke (the psychiatrist I illustrated a book for) had a phrase for this phenomenon of the mind “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. And sometimes the teacher has been there all along waiting patiently for the student to become ready, to notice and remember to notice again the next day.”
Here are some beautiful ordinary things I remembered to see – and what I thought about them:
Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits and All – At the farmer’s market during Rainier Cherry season I saw a father teaching his very young son how to pull a stem off, chew the cherry, extract the pit and put the stim and pit into a cup. it reminded me of how we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to cope with the pits, how to focus on and remember to enjoy the good things.
Coffee City – I’ve been thinking of how much our lives are reflected in the objects we own, save, give away or dispose of – and the many mundane moments out of which a life is made. Perhaps choosing carefully what we focus on, choosing what encourages our “better angels”, choosing what becomes mundane is what makes for a good life. These thoughts began when I was having coffee in one of my downtown coffee shops, staring at the highly polished surface of the ceramic coffee cup which reflected the surrounding city-scape. It was an ordinary moment that elevated my spirit. So I made this painting in order to remember.
More info about my upcoming art opening is available on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/2217205128523609/
True confessions: since the opening party is tomorrow night I am having a bit of the “will anyone come?” jitters. No matter that I’ve been having one person exhibits for many years, many times a year, or that all events have for the most part been well attended – even knowing all of that as opening night nears I get a little nervous. (“Will anyone else see….?”) The exhibits matter to me. They’re risky on many levels. That’s part of the exhilarating fun of living the artistic life.
So, yes, I can see the beauty in my nervousness.
Here are some pictures from the Anstine Gallery exhibit of my artwork titled “Community Creatures”. I’ve noticed that adults sometimes become problem oriented, especially in certain professions. So I delight in, via the Anstine Gallery, bringing humorous art to a government building in Vancouver. Doing my small part to bring a smile to your day. All of my artwork in this exhibit is about what I enjoy in town. I’ve also included my sketchbook pages for your additional amusement.
My last post about this exhibit is here: https://sueclancy.com/community-creatures-running-loose-at-the-anstine-gallery/ – and it shows direct links between sketchbook pages and the fine art pieces.
My sketchbook “Running Around Loose in Vancouver WA” is available as an ebook here: https://sueclancy.com/product/running-around-loose-vancouver-wa-edition-1-by-sue-clancy/ I like to think that my sketchbook will be amusing even for people who can’t come to see the original fine artwork.
Yesterday I read an article titled “Cephalopods Adapt By Editing Their Genes” and that reminded me of the value in periodically examining our own assumptions, our own stories, our own worldview and being willing to rearrange our own mental furniture.
Perhaps adapting or editing the stories you tell yourself is the human equivalent of editing genetic code as a cephalopod?
Reexamining stories, assumptions and the kinds of questions you ask are also keys to creative thinking.
I’ve noticed that the kinds of questions a person asks makes a difference in creative thinking. For example asking “How can I include at least one fresh vegetable in this meal?” elicits a more exciting creative response than the question “How can I eat more healthfully?”
Likewise asking the small question “What art medium/technique would be most fun to use to depict my favorite food?” provokes a more joyous creative response than the question “What fine art can I make on a universal theme?”
Most days I wake up thinking “what small thought can I think about or re-think about today?”
So today’s small things I’m thinking about are pictured here:
“Cephalopods adapt by editing their genes” http://www.columbian.com/news/2017/apr/13/cephalopods-adapt-by-editing-their-genes/
“The Drunken Botanist” by Amy Stewart
“Creative, Inc.” by Meg Mateo Ilasco & Joy Cho
A postcard of “Chaco Culture” a National Historical Park in New Mexico
My coffee cup and a glass marble.
And to put the concept in this blog post yet another way: Here is a page from my book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
Professional artist’s ask themselves “what is art for?” and answer it for themselves because that helps us know why we’re doing what they are doing. And knowing this helps you keep on course.
Here’s a sketchbook page from a time when I was examining this question:
For me “art is for” good mental health practice – and to provoke a smile, a chuckle. To quote from my book Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit “When a negative thought enters your mind just say (inwardly) ‘STOP’. It’s your brain, your mind and you have every right to think the thoughts you want…. Don’t let a negative thought ever finish its sentence…. How many ‘STOP’s are enough? As many as it takes. It is also helpful to keep a list of positive things that you enjoy thinking about or doing, like books/reading, walking… going to art exhibits… playing tennis… and after inwardly saying ‘STOP’ switch your focus to something positive and enjoyable.” (https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit)
So my goal as a professional artist became to create fine art, books and other objects that are positive and enjoyable for other people to see – switch focus to – and that are also positive and enjoyable for me to create. I decided that the genres of “animal painting” and “genre painting” best fit this goal. For short I call this goal to “feed the good wolf”.
To make sure you know what I mean by that here’s a cartoon excerpt from “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”
But how exactly did I get to a defined goal, a “purpose” for my art?
- I went to lots of art galleries and museums. I read a lot of books. I listened to other people talk about what they enjoyed. Anywhere and everywhere I went I made a quick note of what interested me or fed my “good wolf” in a book that I kept with me at all times.
- I looked for art supplies and other opportunities to “test the theory” of whether or not something really did feed my good wolf. For example at one time I thought creating sculpture would be “good wolf food” for me – but I discovered that it was too physically difficult and in the process of creating sculpture I ended up cursing a lot. So after some time spent trying metal sculpture I nixed that one from the “good wolf food” list.
- I played with the genres and arts categories while making a note of my responses emotionally, physically, mentally. By “play” I mean I casually went to art exhibits, looked at objects in a store or on-line that fit the genre/category, I tried the genres at home and all the while I noted my gut response – did it feed my ‘good wolf’? Did it make me smile and want to “share it” in some way with a person I love? What is it about that art/object that excites me? Then I list those qualities and pursue them in my own projects! (As I mentioned above it turned out that the animals-in-art genre fit me well!)
Speaking of projects – here’s a very new project for me that fits with my “feed good wolves” goal: I’ve begun designing for iPhone cases, Laptop skins, wall clocks, comforters and many other tech and household objects. (If you noticed that these items fit in the genres of ‘animals in art”, ‘genre painting’ and ‘media arts’ you get a gold star sticker!) The link to my newest project: https://society6.com/sueclancy – and here below are a few examples.
When my new artist book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” came out (mid Feb 2017) I showed an advance copy to a dear friend who said “I hope this won’t offend you but this would be a perfect bathroom book!”
Of course I wasn’t offended! In fact I think bathrooms are the perfect place for good art and fun/funny books! I think this because of what I think art is for: art is for practicing good mental health skills. Art and books can be mood setters. In a bathroom a person can take a few deep breaths and re-center themselves, re-set their mental mood.
I’ve worked in the genres of “animals in art” and “dogs in art” because of my thoughts about what art is for… but enough about philosophy of art. It’s Saint Patrick’s day! Happy St. Pat’s!!
Here to celebrate and/or up-lift your mood is a page from my book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy
Because it’s St. Pat’s – and because the studio of an artist with an Irish sur-name must have sustenance – here is one of my favorite “chop, toss in a pot and let it cook ’till you’re ready to eat it” recipes from my sketchbook:
In my last blog post (link here) I talked a bit of my personal list of “9 ways to make more art” and after posting I realized that I could have added a 10th one: Take a past art project that was enjoyable and “add a thought” to it, re-do it in a new context. This could be called “working to a theme” but I think of it like Jazz music – a call and response conversational play on a melody.
For example recently I took some concepts from my book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”, spun them around my cerebral tumbler and created a new one-of-a-kind artist book. My new book is titled “Stories We Could Live Inside – Or Not (A house is a framework for physical life. Language is a framework for mental life.)”
Here is a photo of it in-progress. You can see a print copy of my “Dr. Bob…First Aid Kit” book beside my new work-in-progress.
Here’s some of what I was thinking as I worked on this new book:
During the original “First Aid Book” book work I was in regular contact with Dr. Bob Hoke – and in our many conversations he’d talked about how his role as a psychiatrist was to get inside his patients small-world mental boxes, the life-limitations they had accepted without consciously realizing it, and slowly expand the sides of the box, make a door or window in the box – something so that the patient could choose to find a way out. He spoke of how stories are mental structures, much the way houses are physical ones. However stories are something we live inside often without thinking that they are “stories” – optional social constructions – because habitual language forms the framework of our daily habits of mind, our attitudes and ways of responding to the world. A house is a framework for physical life. Language is a framework for mental life. The kinds of houses we live in can affect the quality of our life. Similarly the stories we tell ourselves and each other can affect the quality of our life – for either good or ill – if we accept and believe them.
I thought of all of this during several of my regular morning ‘creative appointments’ with myself before the day gets started. I wrote out my thoughts on scraps of paper and in my sketchbooks. You can see some of those scraps in the picture above. I made book dummies. I sketched ways to organize my thoughts into book form. I decided to use dogs are as character-actors in “Stories We Could Live Inside Or Not” because for me dogs represent a joyful exuberance at being alive. I sketched dogs. And I decided on a paper-house shape…
It took me probably a month or more of “creative appointments” where I’d work a bit on this “Stories we could…” idea; getting it, developing it, refining it, experimenting with the various artwork parts of it. The rest of my work days were devoted to 6 or so hours worth of work on my other creative projects… and the other stuff of life. When my “Stories we could…” ideas had “gelled” to a certain point and I felt I needed more time to work on the project I scheduled a few concentrated times, more time than my typical “creative appointment” time allotment had been, to work on it. A few sessions like that and I finished the book! Another scheduled time session and I submitted it for consideration by the 23 Sandy Gallery. www.23sandy.com
Here is a video of the final book “Stories we could live inside… or not”
“So much is wrong with the world and here you are doing artwork of cute dogs and the occasional cats. Aren’t you denying reality, denying the power of protest art?”
No, I am on purpose living well as a direct action against the bullies, abusive people and authoritarians. If I were to get upset and stay angry and fearful each time I read a news article, for example, I would be handing my personal happiness to the very mean people I’m upset about.
So I persist at finding small joys every day, doing small kindnesses, creating laughter and yes, cute whimsical dogs. It’s my protest, my declaration of sovereignty, my present to the better angels of my own and other people’s natures. It’s my way to feed the good wolves.
My persistence at happiness doesn’t mean I don’t read and make myself aware of what’s going on in the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t donate money or in other ways help any cause I think is also opposing bullies and authoritarian fundamentalists. I do!
It’s just that I refrain as best I can from giving the mean people my inner self, letting my upset at them/ their actions dominate my entire mind and life. I’m not waiting until there are no more mean people in any positions of power (etc.) before I’m able to enjoy something! I’m going to enjoy something today, right now. I’m also going to learn something, I’m going to play, experiment, and laugh. I’m going to try something new. I’m going to smile and talk to people. I’m going to do my best to be kind and loving. I’m going to live well!
By doing this I deny those mean people what they want most; my cerebral compliance. When I enjoy something they, the bullies, have not set the tone of my mind or my day – I have! The bully may have authority over my body (i.e. be an abusive parent, a president, or a state that denies my human rights) but they do not have control over my mind!
One of the many good-mental-health techniques that I’ve practiced is to keep a list of things I enjoy thinking about or doing – so that whenever I do get down-in-the-dumps or despondent about how some bully seems to be winning I can deliberately turn my mind towards something I enjoy. In this way I’m taking direct and immediate action.
By creating artwork that is whimsical, beautiful or even cute I am giving people an art exhibit, a book, a blog post or an item of art apparel that I hope can, if only for a moment, lift their spirits and enable them to take direct action too – by enjoying something.
As I learned from Dr. Bob Hoke (and which is further discussed in the book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”) the best response to adversity of any kind is to go on and live well. https://store.bookbaby.com/book/dr-bobs-emotional-repair-program-first-aid-kit
Here are a few of my dogs currently on exhibit at Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com – and also in my book “Dogs by Sue Clancy” https://store.bookbaby.com/book/Dogs-By-Sue-Clancy