Sunday, April 29, 2012

What Makes Home "Home?"

Ornamentation on a building in Morro Bay
Missy and I arrived at the new house late afternoon Friday and walked through the house and the neighborhood.  A few hours later, I was unloading things from the car and decided to let Missy nose about the yard.  A few trips in and out and suddenly I realized I hadn't seen Missy for awhile.  I looked around the yard, up and down the street, calling, whistling.  The door to the house was open so I went in and looked around.  No Missy.  Back outside, under the trees, more calling.  Then I went back into the garage ... there she was sitting up in the front seat of the car and I swear she was saying, "I'm ready to go home now."

It reminded me of how dis-orienting moving is.  Even when it's our choice, at least momentarily, there is a feeling of disconnection ... of being without a "home."  It makes me wonder what "home" is.  When I was young and all my stuff fit into my 1966 Mustang, home was my books and my stereo and records.  Wherever they were felt like home.  For years as Richard and I moved from one spot to another, home was wherever we put our bed. 

As I was unpacking, it was interesting to see what things made their way into the car that was crammed so full I wondered if there would be room for Missy ... or even me.  Most of the stuff was the practical things I would need for the next five days before the moving van arrived.  But, there were also "artifacts" that hold a certain power.  Two bells that my friend Dolores gave me from her travels in the east ... one for Richard, one for Rumple ... bells that when they tinkle, remind you that the departed soul is thinking about you.  A ceramic sun face I gave my mother and which hung outside her door for all the years until she died,  A brightly colored sun-face flag from my favorite aunt which was in her room when she died.  A mobile reminding me of life in balance that I found on my Joy Ride across country with my friend Suzanne.  Two small plants that have managed not to die.

"Home" seems to be moving inward ... moving to a place within me.  I realize I am my home.  As much as I love my choice to move to the central coast of California, it isn't my home ... it's the place where I've decided to put my home ... my self.  So as I sit here in this delightfully empty house on this glorious morning, I remember that I am connected, part of the web of life, regardless of the place I call home and the stuff I surround myself with.  My only true home is my spirit ... the physical house and address I've chosen is simply the place where my spirit can thrive and expand.

So, as I walk out into the day, I realize I am home.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loss of Sleep and Extreme Hunger

Grehlin Dance

Over the years I've noticed that if I lose too much sleep, it triggers an almost insatiable hunger cycle.  Normally I sleep well but the past four or five days, I haven't and yesterday the hunger cycle struck with a vengeance.  

Those of you who have experienced this cycle know that it's not just "being hungry," it's like a sick, gnawing animal demanding food ... especially, for me, carbohydrates.  Fortunately, I now recognize the symptoms and can handle it with relative sanity without going into a full-blown sugar overload, which just prolongs the cycle.  And, I managed to sleep last night so this morning, the gnawing seems to be gone.  But, it made me curious about the physiology of this strange cycle.

It turns out that the level of ghrelin, a 28 amino acid hunger-stimulating peptide and hormone, rises when we lose sleep.  Not only does this hormone activate hunger, it stimulates the accumulation of fat, especially in the abdomen ... and makes sweet, high-calorie foods particularly attractive.  When you're in a high-grelin state, carrots just don't cut it.  Ghrelin levels decline just after eating so one way of coping with this hunger cycle is to eat just enough to "feed the beast" frequently.

Grehlin isn't all bad ... it enhances learning and memory and the ability to adapt to change ... which means that staying hungry when we're trying to learn something is a good strategy.  One evolutionary theory is that grehlin was a way to keep us sharp ... and hungry ... while hunting for food.  So, we're here because our ancestors were pumped full of ghrelin but now that chocolate is as close as the corner store, we have to learn to live with its effects.

While I recognize that yesterday's bout with grehlin was extreme and debilitating, there is an argument for managing the knife-edge of grehlin (hunger) in order to stay in a high-functioning mental state. J Stanton in her/his blog offers a poetic description of the "grehlin dance"

I am a ghrelin addict.
I dance on the knife edge of keen mental acuity and dopamine rush.

The rush cannot last forever. If I am smart I simply eat, and accept the lull. If I am not smart, I push it too far and crash into starvation and depression.
I am not anorexic! I love to eat, and I eat like a warrior, and I have never purged, ever. But in order to do my best, most inspired work, I must dance on that knife edge as long as I can.

The hunger gnaws at my insides until I can feel my gut twisting itself into knots. Yet I gladly suffer the pain in order to wield ghrelin’s power. It is my cursed sword and its power is terrifying and intoxicating and it exacts its price from me, and I pay that price with an evil grin, because it is a power I could not wield any other way.
I am a ghrelin addict, and this is my story.

One sad note in my exploration of ghrelin is the obvious direction of the medical world to find a drug to "fix ghrelin."  Obviously, obesity is a major concern in our world and finding ways to help people reach and maintain normal weight is extremely important.  But, what side effects might come with a drug that moderates ghrelin ... might we create a world of skinny zombies?

Ever onward and back to packing!

Read more:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stepping into Stillness

 "Today my intent is to step into stillness and let the Universe handle the details."
-- message from Krystina Morgainne in her daily "Wow Moments"  

Yesterday was Day 2 of the private "garage sale/party/meet the new neighbors" event that was part of my relocation process.  Only a few things were priced, everything else was ... take what you want, drop something in the red basket.  It worked fine and I didn't have to obsess over pricing and worry about haggling.  It left me free to visit and tell stories about the departing "treasures."  It also "cleaned the cupboard" ... everything else now goes with me.  I like this process of clearing space every few years.  It gives me a chance to re-evaluate all the stuff around me and see shifts ... where something was too important to let go of two years ago, now it is easy to see that I've moved on and no longer need its energy.

Preparing for the garage sale was a detail and I didn't realize how noisy it was until it was over, the people were gone and stillness flowed around me.  Today I'm doing an Artist Statement/Rackcard workshop at Timberline Gallery.  There will be many details swirling around me ... I turn them all over to the Universe and will stay in this stillness.

About this image:  Searching for Peace

 This is a piece I did a few years ago when I was desperately searching for peace.  I put a bunch of old art into the garage sale and was delighted when it all found homes.  The stimulus images were a portion of a mosaic floor in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport and a rock garden I visited in Big Sur where a "Peace" sign was hanging in a tree.  

It reminds me of how far I've come on my journey and how blessed I am to have found peace and a life that brings me joy every day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Koyaanisqatsi All Over Again

Sacre Bleu
How easily life slips out of balance.  

An important deadline looms and blinds us to the world around us.  A fascination turns into an obsession leaving no room for every day enjoyments.  Winter chill and darkness sends us diving under a comforter in front of a mindlessly fascinating story of other people's lives and we forget ... or ignore ... the studio ... the musical instrument ... the friend ... the voice of the world calling to us.

I've got lots of excuses.  I'm moving ... gaping packing boxes surround me.  I've got an art show to get ready for ... the to do list never seems to get shorter.  It's raining.  I've blown off two social opportunities this week.  And, I just packed up my hammered dulcimer which I haven't touched for months.  It was heart wrenching to see that beautiful instrument so abandoned.  And, yesterday I realized that I can't remember when I took time off.  I have been totally focused on making art and trying to find ways to market art.  I've forgotten that my primary art is my life and I've let it get out of balance.

The move and the looming deadline of the art show in May won't let me escape to a warm beach with bright fish ... but I can take this moment to acknowledge that I am out of balance.  Those of us of a certain age may remember the Koyaanisqatsi (Hopi for "life out of balance") movie series which used rapid motion scenes to create a vision of life moving too rapidly and too mechanically.  

That is definitely one way of being out of balance, moving too fast, being disconnected from nature.  But another way is being disconnected from our own nature.  Because my life is not on that fast track of external action, action, action, I didn't realize that I had found my own way of being out of balance ... internally ... being over-focused on producing and stripping away "non-essentials."  I've even been labeling my packing boxes as "essential" or "non-essential."  And, of course the non-essentials are those beautiful things that hold meaning and memories ... those things that are absolutely essential.

I will live in this koyaanisqatsi state until the external requirements are met and then I'm going to rebalance and make room for my dulcimer and unfocused time for wonder, rest and engagement with the world around me.

About this image:  Sacre Bleu

On the way to and from the coast last week, I listened to Christopher Moore's new book Sacre Bleu,  a fascinating and fun "comedy" about the time of Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Toulouse Lautrec and the color blue.  It prompted this image and I feel more coming.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Falling through a Rainbow

Life is like a feather 
falling through a rainbow ... 
incredibly brief, fragile, and beautiful. 
A gift of time to be held lightly.

I have been printing all my pieces on aluminum for some time and love the way the colors pop and the clean, contemporary look of them hanging on the wall.

This piece, however, floated into my life and demanded to be put on canvas.  Sometimes it feels like these images are living beings with a mind of their own.

This is part of my figurative abstract collection which you can see on my website.

In the meantime, be gentle ... with yourself, others and the world around you.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Who Hijacked Our Art?

"Cosmic Balance"
A friend of mine who is a very smart guy and curious about all aspects of the world writes, "I don’t understand any of the arts.  Maybe you can explain.  Who gets to decide that the Mona Lisa is a great painting?  Is that the same group that thinks that Picasso is a great artist?  What makes Picasso’s art great?   I certainly don’t get it!"

Interesting question. Creating images and representations is apparently part of our DNA.  There has always been art and artists ... however, I'm not so sure that there were always art critics. (Since I wasn't there when art was born, and, as far as we know, the critics of ancient times didn't leave anything behind, I don't know this for sure.)  

What I do know is that somewhere along the line, we gave away our power to appreciate art.  I'm not sure if we donated it, or someone hijacked it, but gradually the score card became controlled by a small group of critics, curators and collectors (whom I'll call the C-squad).  

To some extent, this made sense ... some people are more interested in art and they spend their lives gathering information about specific artists, methods and trends.  They become "experts" and develop their own opinions about what is "good" and "bad" and they want to share all the information they've gathered and the opinions they've formed.  That part is fine.  What's not so fine is when their opinions are presented as fact.  Picasso is great; Kincaide is a dud (even though millions of people love those little cottages with lights in the windows).

Over time, art became the sport of the elite and the rest of us began walking around with puzzled faces scratching our heads about what the art world called great.  We lost confidence in our ability to appreciate art, to respect our own ability to know what we liked.  Gradually, we left art to the "experts."

"Nothing is positive about art except that it is a word." -- de Kooning

I am in the midst of reading a biography of de Kooning, part of Jason Horejs's ongoing book club.  Whether you like de Kooning's work or not, the C-squad has deemed it great and, after 300 pages of his biography, I've developed a great respect for his depth of understanding of the historic patterns of art and the personal struggle that engaged him.  While I still can't say that I like most of his work, I'm starting to understand that he wasn't trying to paint what he saw, but rather what he felt.  He was always after what he called the "nothing" part of the painting, "the part that was not painted but that was there because of the things in the picture which were painted."

In that concept of "nothing," he may have captured the magic of art.  Great art captures that nothing in a way that creates a chemical explosion within the viewer.  We may not be able to articulate it in words, but we feel it.   We know we "like" it; we feel a connection to it.  However, since each of us is different, the art that creates an explosion within me, may not be the art that connects with you.  

This is the point where art got hijacked.  The C-squad added the world "should" to the equation and designated which art contained the nothing that people should connect with.  You should respond to Picasso.  You should not respond to Kincaide.  I think de Kooning might respond with a blunt B.S.

I also think de Kooning would like being alive today and would approve of the new world of art making and art buying.  While the C-squad is still active, it seems to be losing some of its grip on the masses.  Millions of artists are quietly working away in their own studios, trying to capture their inner worlds in pigment, clay and dozens of other media.  Some make work to sell, most are just following their own calling.  At the same time, in art fairs, galleries and in-home exhibits, people are responding to the "nothing" that appears in paintings, sculpture, photography, quilts, glasswork and other forms ... buying what causes the chemical explosions within themselves without waiting for the official word from the C-squad.  

Through the growing number of local art events and the Internet, we are gradually waking up to our own authority to know what it is we like, knowing that if we like it, if it creates that explosion of connection within us, it is great art.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Happens When You Find a Master Teacher?

Master teacher Jerome Grimmer recently taught a 6-week class on art basics. His process was to focus each class on one basic, show examples of it and then display our work and discuss how we incorporated that principle ... or not.  Most of us were at least somewhat familiar with the principles, however the repetitive process of looking at examples and then trying to use the principle in my own work took my understanding to a new level.  Suddenly I began to see things differently ... which, I'm sure, is exactly what Grimmer wanted ... and began to take the principles back to my work. 

Here's an example:

Blue Bling is a piece I did a couple of years ago ... inspired by a small toy.  During my years with InnovationNetwork, we had a "gifting" custom at our conferences and attendees brought small gifts that they shared with each other.  It was a fun way to deepen connections, start conversations and just have fun.  Toys were a common gift item and one of them stayed with me and inspired this piece.  In two corners, there is a tiny photo of the original toy and the border comes from a painted column of a house in Mexico.
Grimmer's first principle is "value contrast."  As a matter of fact, there were a lot of people in this class who had taken classes from him frequently and just before the first class, they joked, "If he asks you a question, just answer 'value contrast.'"  They were right, it seemed to be the answer to a lot of questions and a powerful way to look at art ... mine and others.

There is a great deal of science in art and how the eye is drawn into an image is part of that science.  Places where lights and darks come together (high value contrast) immediately attract the eye and become the focal point of the image.  When that high value contrast serves the message the artist is trying to convey, that's good; when it doesn't, it just distracts the eye away from the story.
Grimmer helped me see that my "story" was the energy of that swirling mass in the center but that the high value contrast of the blue line around it and the activity of the border was taking away from the story.  The border was becoming so active, it distracted the eye from the center.  So back to the drawing board.
When I began to rework "Blue Bling," with the value contrast principle in mind, I removed the border and could physically feel the shift.  Suddenly I knew what the piece was all about ... energy.  It might have been inspired by that small story but energy was the story. While the border was pretty, it was distracting and actually constrained the energy.  The whole piece moved into a new realm and demanded a new title:  Energy Unleashed. 

Grimmer's class affected me the same way removing that border affected the image ... suddenly as the principles became clearer, I felt my creative energy surging and a new confidence and certainty about my work.  It strikes me that there is a universal here ... when we understand the underlying principles of whatever it is that we're doing, it unleashes our energy and guides our journey.  Principles are like beacons along the path allowing us to see more clearly where we're going, even when we're blazing a new trail or trying to pull a fuzzy image out of our imaginations.
The key seems to be finding a master teacher to help us identify the principles, so my wish for you on this first day of a new month is that you find your own master teacher who can help you find the beacons on your own path.