salmon-mind and stream-ing

I would like to offer a warm welcome to the many readers of Phyllis Cole-Dai’s wonderful poetry blog – A Year of Being Here – who followed the links to this website and blog, and who have decided to subscribe. May you find nourishment and inspiration here to accompany you on your way.

This turn of events was uninvited and unexpected. It is deeply appreciated. I offer bows of gratitude to both Phyllis, and Ron C Moss, who made the generous referral.

Recently I posted a piece on another of my sites – wonderingmind studio – which brought interesting feedback from readers whose experience tallied with its theme. I’ve decided to share it here as well, with apologies for the duplication to readers who follow both blogs. It’s a compilation about the adventure into genuine creativity – which always demands a willingness to become hopelessly lost.
I know you know what I mean.


Reflections on creativity, flow, and the not-always-gentle art of unlearning.

 

Ohara Koson 1877 – 1945, Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e, 1910

 

Invitations – via courses, retreats and workshops – to “learn how to be in creative flow” are as ubiquitous as those promising “breakthrough experiences of awakening”. I’ve been around both ballparks long enough to have become very sceptical of these claims and promises.  Red herrings are strong swimmers and prolific breeders. Especially when their favourite tucker – yummy money – is flowing.

Can creativity be taught?  Can “awakening” ever be an experience?  These questions are intimately related but I’ll focus on the first one, since this blog is primarily about art and creativity.

My experience, both within my own practice and as a teacher of visual language, constantly confirms that genuine creativity can unfold only when there’s an abandonment of everything one has learned about it.

 

I am trying to check my habits of seeing,
to counter them for the sake of greater freshness.
I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.
– John Cage

It seems to me there are two types of “flow”, but only one is truly creative.  One occurs when I’ve slipped into an eddy of old patterns and processes – those that brought me pleasure and profit in the past.  I know where I’m going; it’s easy.  It might even make me feel satisfied that I’ve had a good day in the studio – for a while.  I call this type “phony-flow” for obvious reasons.

Then there’s the other kind of “flow”, the kind that’s hard to write about because you weren’t there when it was underway.  It involves encounters and experiences with the Unknown, and a kind of gracious movement that is closer to stream-ing. When you look at what was created during the movement – whatever your mode of expression might be – what you see astonishes you.  You know without a shadow of doubt that you didn’t do it.  And yet you recognize that this is your most authentic work.

 

I don’t really trust ideas, especially good ones.
Rather I put my trust in the materials that confront me,
because they put me in touch with the unknown.
It’s then that I begin to work…
when I don’t have the comfort of sureness and certainty.
– Robert Rauchenberg

 

Creativity, by definition, implies a leap from the known to the unknown.  It is not the same as innovation, which has its feet firmly planted in the familiar.  Nor is it the same as invention, which implies a desired outcome or end product.  It has no pedagogy or curriculum.  There are no maps of the territory.  The only strategy we can employ, if we are earnest enough, is that of finding out what sabotages its natural expression.*

 

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done.
Therefore I do what I do not know how to do.

– Eduardo Chillida

~

I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
– Pablo Picasso

So my personal reaction to courses claiming to cultivate skills to access creative flow isn’t an enthusiastic one. I’m just not interested in exploring notions others might have (no matter what their pedigree) of ways to free my inner artist.  If anything is called for on my via creativa it’s the exile of that artist-ego with its accumulation of ideas, certainties, and its insatiable need for recognition.

Using the metaphor of a stream, it’s easy to understand that “flow” only moves downstream.  And as everyone knows, the source is always upstream.  Floating along in the flow is fine; it’s recreational and maybe allows a brief escape from stress – witness the huge popularity of doodle-books and colouring-in books.  There’s a place for this, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves that we’re being genuinely creative.

 

Remember, a dead fish can float down a stream,
but it takes a live one to swim upstream.
– W.C. Fields

If you ache for the authenticity, the unknowable and artist-vaporising creativity of the Source, forget about flow.  Abandon the “how-to” red herrings.

Adopt salmon-mind.  Make your way upstream.  You know the way – it’s imprinted in your cells.

Leap those rapids. Outwit those hungry bears.

 

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful,
the more narrowly I limit my field of action
and the more I surround myself with obstacles.
– Richard Diebenkorn

How do we fuel our quest upstream? By dismissing irrelevancies (as Buckminster Fuller advised); by finding the questions that have no rational answers yet haunt us nevertheless. By spending a great deal of time in solitude and silence watching the mind’s desperate and insistent groping for certainty, affirmation, context. By the way of unlearning; by abandonment of our pet theories and preferences. Our courage in this quest will inevitably deliver us to the sweet dark pool of ultimate unknowing, and, worn out from the challenges to our sureties, we’ll drop our eggs.  We’ll sink.  The Source will reclaim its own.

Our eggs will hatch, some of them, and be swept downstream to spread the news: it is possible!  It is possible to return to the Source and leave the old life there.  It is possible to dissolve into the stream as it makes its way to the Ocean; to rest in and as its stream-ing, as its authentic expression, without any concern for or notion of, whether we’re “being creative” or not. (If that question is still arising… keep swimming upstream.)

Then we can speak of “flow” – because we’ve experienced that it’s exactly what we are. The one who thought they could (or couldn’t) find it, could tap it for artistic purposes, could promote it or become an expert and sell it – that one was the saboteur all along.

Until salmon-mind set it free.

 

I find my paintings by working on them…
…it is through the making of the paintings that I have many discoveries
which are different from ideas.

~

Painting is a long road.
The beauty to me is in the not knowing where one is going.

~

Perhaps we do not need to understand it all.
– Lawrence Carroll

 


* The series of e-books empty canvas – wondering mind was compiled with this mission in mind.
You can download them for free at wonderingmind studio.


Image: Ohara Koson 1877 – 1945, Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e, 1910


From the bookshelf: Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson


 

Agnes Martin: "I paint with my back to the world."

Agnes Martin: I paint with my back to the world.
The last word.


 

créer un état ordinaire

New at the artisans’ galleryPascal Rennié

Artist Pascal Rennié, who lives and works in Haute Garonne, France, works with powdered brick and earth pigments as well as acrylic and oil pigments to create works with surface texture that demands touch. They also delight the eye with their minimalist beauty and references to the creative work of nature.
 

Pascal Rennié: Rites - Initiation
Rites – Initiation 120 x 120
(liant, pousièrre de brique, pigments, acrylique)

 

Avant de toucher le pinceau, l’idéal serait de créer un état ordinaire, paisible, une fraîcheur, dénué de névroses, loin du combat des pensées et des peurs puis exprimer la vérité d’une situation sans hésitation, sans regret et sans doute.

– Pascal Rennié


website

blog

facebook page


Pascal Rennié at the artisans’ gallery


Degas: les danseuses, and mind in repose

 

Edgar Degas: Danseuses au Repos
Edgar Degas, Danseuses au Repos, circa 1898
78.1 x 63.8 cm

 

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.

Edgar Degas 1834 – 1917


the eyeless eye


a visual haiku

New at the artisans’ gallery – Canadian artist Robert Sinclair

 


Night Bent
Robert Sinclair
watercolor 11 x 7 inches

 

[My] approach has always involved
what is called

‘beginner’s mind’

A state where you know you are
unknowing and open to what is being
presented to you

– Robert Sinclair

 


Source: ‘A Visual Haiku’ by Robert Sinclair © 2009

sinclairart.com


To read the complete text from ‘A Visual Haiku,’ and view more paintings by Robert Sinclair:
robert sinclair at the artisans’ gallery


meditative process made visible

How does one define meditative process or practice? In the context of this website, meditative artisanship (drawing, painting, crafting, sculpting etc) is taken to mean working in way that stills the mind and disappears the self. The artisan-identity melts into a creative rhythm referred to as ‘flow‘.

For some, this occurs almost automatically when they begin work – in this case it would seem that they are creating from an already-still mind. For other artisans however, intention and application are required, hence the term ‘practice’.

For some artisans their work/practice becomes obsessive and addictive – with or without negative implications. (Yayoi Kusama, for example.) For others ‘flow’ is quickly recognized as one’s natural state – the “way things are meant to be,” to quote Rollo May.

Meditative process and engagement with ‘flow’ is a common experience among artisans, although they might not refer to the experience in those terms. Yet many artists who practice meditation proceed to create ‘visionary’ or ‘mystical’ artworks – creating illustrations of something experienced, known, rather than expressions from the unknown. In the context of this site these artists are not included. The reason for this is simple: true meditation is a journey which leaves the self, its thoughts, ideas and opinions behind. The ego-self doesn’t like this at first, and when anthropomorphic images arise in the imagination, it very quickly recognizes them and is comforted. The next step is an incredibly subtle projection of one’s identity into the image.

This is where the meditative artisan’s practice departs quite radically from that of the visionary artist – they don’t settle for the infinite array of images the brain is capable of generating. They wait for the end of thought. They wait for the silent mind. It takes a certain complex combination of personal experience and disposition – coupled with curiosity and courage – to enter into this ‘no-thing-ness’ and await the clarity of action that inevitably emerges. Action, not idea or design.

This is not to say that all meditative art will be non-figurative or entirely abstract. (Still Life can open a window onto the infinite: see Amanda Robins.) What it does imply is that there will seldom be an accompanying narrative. The meditative artist doesn’t have things to say. He or she simply has things to make – things that are exquisitely capable of speaking for themselves.

– From the introduction to the artisans page


artisans

artisans’ gallery

slow art | flow