Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crystallization - Part 4: On being the “Seed” of Change.

So we know what “Aha” moments feel like but is there a way to get them to happen more frequently or is it just something random? 

Grisaille Study in Oil
In the previous three posts I described how I arrived at a decision using a process called insight, which is distinctly different from linear or other non-distributed modes of thinking. Research conducted at Drexel and Northwestern Universities states that “although the experience of insight is sudden and can seem disconnected from the immediately preceding thought, studies show that insight is the     culmination of a series of brain states and processes operating at different time scales.”1 Mark Jung-Beeman, a cognitive neuroscientist, has devoted over 20 years of research into this type of thinking using fMRI and EEG technology and has discovered a specific series of changes in the brain that precede insights and that you can prepare yourself for them to happen more frequently.2 

What can you do to foster insight?
There isn’t a sure-fire way to cause “aha” moments but there are steps you can take to facilitate the process. Normally it takes some type of question and the bigger and more complex, the better. In my case, it was "what's next professionally/artistically--what is lacking in my life"? to start the process. The next requirement is to be open to possibilities, both internally and externally, and to consider ideas well outside your comfort zone. This will require you to also be aware of the subtle currents of your thoughts and emotions and how they manifest within the body as you feed in different stimuli, be it music, images or experiences. Consider the concept of Fear/Joy mentioned in an earlier post and the role it may play as well. 

Give it time and be optimistic. Don’t give up if it feels like it is taking too long. You may 
need to either take a break from trying to solve the problem or nudge the process along by make a smaller decision or trying something new. Take up a hobby you’ve been thinking
Bust - Grisaille Study
Lavender Studios Reference
about, take a class, join a social group, get out of the house, away from media. Walk in nature. Get active if you are not; you will be amazed at the difference in your thought processes before and after a good workout. Consider getting out and talking to someone that already does what you are thinking about doing. There is a body of research that suggests that you can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with the same thinking/emotions that you are feeling today. In Stumbling Upon Happiness, author Daniel Gilbert describes the imperfect process of how we make memories and if we base tomorrow’s actions on these memories and today’s events, we’ll end up with less than satisfying results later.

Journaling is a great way to track progress as well as how you feel about certain experiences. Whether paper or electronic, make sure to paste images and words into an organized fashion so that you can review them occasionally. I am not great at day-to-day journaling, but over the course of a year will have made enough notes in a variety of places that I can see what I was thinking or feeling over a given period of time. 

Plane Study for
Summer Waitress
And lastly, you can use the technique I described in the second post, meditation. It isn’t complicated and though it can be learned online or by reading a book, I’d strongly recommend taking a class as it can be difficult to start on your own. At its core, meditation simply involves sitting still long enough to become aware of your thoughts and feelings while viewing them in a non-judgmental way. It has been said that “the mind makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master” and by leveraging meditation you no longer are a slave to your mind and its random thoughts. This will leave you clearer and more present, allowing these insights to emerge more freely. 

Given all these factors, eventually, something/someone will trigger the change within you. The more you prepare and the harder the struggle, the greater the capacity for a single trigger to ignite the process. 

So in closing this series of posts I ask you: 
Plane Study for
The Carpenter
What pain are you feeling but are ignoring out of convenience or comfort that could be a sign of where you need to go next? 

Have you ever been the seed of change for a situation or someone in particular? Have you stopped the conversation in your own head long enough to hear what the other person was truly saying and asked a well-placed question that helps clarify their need or desire? Is there something you could have said or done to bring about change but didn’t out of fear or some other hesitation?

And since it takes preparation for this state change to occur, are you committed to keeping your mind open to the world of possibility around us, forcing skepticism and doubt far enough aside to give the small place within each of us time to settle and become still, so that when the time comes we are transformed by some random fleck of awe?

The Bishop - Sandan
Study of Methodology

Portraits from Life - Sandan
Since this is an artistic as well as philosophical post, I’ve included a number of recent studies completed to continue the development of my portraiture skills, though unrelated to the subject above. 

Article References

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Beyond Words

While working on the fourth installment of the Crystallization series, I returned for the weekend to northern Michigan where the earlier set of posts took place. Have you ever had the feeling that your soul was drawn tight, keening for the caress of the rosined bow of reality to set it vibrating in some holy chord, your body an instrument of the divine? When words don't work anymore?

That's the way I felt walking down the beach that day. The result is the image below. 

Beyond Words
11 x 14, Oil on Panel

For a desktop background version of this painting, click on the image below to enlarge it, then right mouse click the image and save it to your computer. Then update your background image with this image. It is sized to fit most horizontal monitors. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Crystallization - Part 3 of 4: Transformed

John R Powers once wrote in his book The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God that “Life is a lousy spectator sport.” Whether you are 5, 25, 50 or 75, the difference between living and existing is the belief that the actions we take today will affect the outcome of tomorrow for ourselves and others. And to take it upon ourselves to do something about it. Each of us has to listen, and sometimes struggle, long enough to realize that we indeed have a hidden dream that necessitates taking action regardless of the potential for unsettling consequences. We know that once the ticket is purchased and the seatbelt cinched firmly across our lap, the amusement park ride that is life unfolds in ways unimaginable.  

Watercolor and Pencil,
18 x 24
Many years ago, I remember when I had a dream; that my work as an artist could make a difference in some way. As I was changing careers after working in a field for which I had gone to college and struggled to enter and then had practiced for more than five years, I was a bit uncertain about making a change after so much commitment. A sign, if there was really such a thing, came one afternoon in the form of a cicada that alighted on a window screen in our newlywed apartment long enough for me to take pictures, study it and then let it go. This moment in time was captured in the illustration at right-the first portfolio piece for a studio that I started and ran for over 19 years. It resulted in work for a variety of companies and institutions, some of which still can be found on the internet today almost two decades after their creation. But the dream had since faded, the business closed a while ago due to a number of issues none of which had sealed its fate but in concert brought it to an end.

I had returned home from the trip to Michigan and mourned the loss of the previous week; the closeness with family, friends and the new people I had met and the general concept of returning to “reality.” But the sadness was quickly replaced with the realization that something big had also just happened. I just wasn’t sure what it was so I kept thinking about this internal process taking place, distilling, churning, clearing and while the last of the expanding crystal spread outwards, reaching to just below the skin.

I kept thinking about the carpenter that spent seven months restoring a historic structure on the grounds of the resort, the care taken to rebuild it and shore it up for future generations. The cook that drives many hours round trip once a week to again be a member of the “family” of resort workers which she has been a part of for many years. Or the guest that studied philosophy decades ago, a passion she shared with her husband over the course of their long lifetime together. All framed by the beautiful faces that shared these stories with me. Maybe I was meant to have stayed the full week to experience the pain in the beginning while those I met and interviewed empowered me to realize . . .  a dream.

Portraiture and storytelling. Capturing the essence of those around me and their stories. 

It was there, all along, simply waiting for the crystalline moment to open up the path to my next artistic endeavor. I had been practicing it, toying with it, but never really giving it serious consideration. Since returning home, I’ve completed no fewer than five sketches or paintings, met with a mentor/instructor that I’ve worked with for a number of years and mapped out the next four to five months of effort. In the coming months, I’ll share where I am at on the path. On the one hand I am thrilled to have this direction but on the other I’m terrified because I know what a long road I have ahead; art doesn’t bow to any specific time frame. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next - I hope that you’ll join me on this trip. 

The Cook 
Pastel on Paper -
In Studio Study
The Carpenter 
Pastel on Paper -
In Studio Study