Tuesday, April 26, 2011

For The Raindrop, Joy Is In Entering The River

 "Joy" by c sullivan, 30 x 40" Oil on Canvas
A few weeks ago and seemingly for no apparent reason the joy was gone from my work. Absolutely everything I had done and especially the new projects I had started now looked awful to me. All I wanted to do was toss everything out the door and light a match. What was happening? How could I feel this way after working so many years just so I could have this time in my life to do what I always dreamed of doing?!?!!!  I just sat there staring at the awful beginnings of three new paintings thinking, "Who is this person? This is not what you want to paint. This is not how you want to paint! How did I get here?!? After some time passed I all I could do is laugh and then remembered the first time I had this feeling. It was back in elementary school when I went to my second grade teacher, Miss Door for help with spelling a word only to be met with a snarly, "look it up" while she pointed to a huge dictionary near her desk and went back to her papers. Hmphf! I thought then said out loud as I walked away, "but how can I LOOK IT UP if I don't know how to SPELL IT!?!  HMPHF!"

I thought about this a bit longer. Was the teacher really too busy to help me or was it her way of showing me the way without doing it for me? Probably a little of both. But at least this memory started to crack open the door of reason...yet it wasn't until a week later when another memory came to me that the door burst open. While working in the corporate world and overseeing a large creative staff there were times when someone would enter my office and close the door and start sobbing because they felt like nothing was going right and the world was crumbling around them (we creative people are known to be dramatic). After a few years I assembled some "Sullyisms" (yes they called me Sully) and it was this memory that came to me at just the right time. It was at these times that I would bring out for their review the three Sully reasons why they could be feeling this way and let them try to solve it themselves. And so I would ask one or all three of these questions, 
1) are you over thinking it/trying to please the boss vs yourself?
2) did you give yourself enough time/or did you wait until the last minute?, or
3) are you possibly going through a learning curve/growth spurt but can't see it?
"The real contest is always between what you've done and what you're capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else." - Geoffrey Gaberino 
And now it was my turn to ask the questions and try to understand the cause of my own struggles and of course I quickly realized mine stemmed from all three. I now could see that (1) without realizing it I was starting to paint for an audience instead of for myself, (2) the ambitious deadline that I put upon myself was making the work look forced, and possibly the most difficult to see and thus the greater eureka moment, (3) I realized my personal quality bar had risen higher than my paintings were showing. Allrighty then, most of my frustration was knowing that I wanted to paint better than I was able to produce at the moment but how in the world do I get there? I don't think the answer lies in the darn dictionary! As if on cue my mentor/friend/art coach JJ Graham popped his head into my studio and handed me an article and said, "talk to me after you read this. I'll be back in a few."

The article was about one of the California expressionist who, feeling the need for input and appraisal from his "superiors," brought out his body of work for review. But his mentor picked up a small painting and said the answer was right there in front of him the whole time, that he didn't need praise or input from others to help him get to the next level he need only to look at this one "gift" painting. The artist, surprised at this wondered what was so great about this one? And the mentor told him to study it until he was able to tell him why he thought it was better than all of the others. Hmmm. There's that darn dictionary again. Hmphf!

So I looked around my studio wondering if I had such a painting then JJ came back and before I could ask he pointed to an older one hanging on my wall and said, "Look at this one. This is your "gift painting" hiding over here. Study it. Learn from it. And get back on the saddle for Pete's sake!" Then, after a few hours back at it I still was struggling and went home still feeling a little blue. But the next day, the next day after some sleep and a bit more thinking I was able to break away from my own confines and paint with pure abandonment so I am calling the piece Joy as it is a breaking away painting and reminds me of a quote from a Ghalib poem that another mentor / friend used often, "For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river." Brush On!

Joy Is Entering The River
by Ghalib
For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river -
Unbearable pain becomes it's own cure.
Travel far enough into sorrow,
Tears turn to sighing;
In this way
We can learn how water can die into air.
When, after heavy rain,
The storm clouds disperse,
It is not that they've wept themselves
Clear to the end?
If you want to know the miracle,
How wind can polish a mirror,
The shining grass grows green in spring.
It's the rose's unfolding, Ghalib,
That creates the desire to see -
In every color and circumstance,
May the eyes be open for what comes.