What I value about being an artist is what I value about being a person in this world.
Greetings to my dearest doodle soupers!
Georgia O’ Keeffe is one of my favorite artists. I can spend hours looking at her paintings, enjoying the way she can transform the act of making paintings of flowers just by her choice of composition. Instead of painting a field of sunflowers or a robust landscape of water lilies as Monet did (no shade to Monet, of course, whose paintings I also admire!), O'Keeffe painted a small section of just one flower.
Her paintings call to me and exclaim, "Yes, there is a whole world of intrigue, detail, and wonder in this single one inch by one inch area of one single flower! And, by the way, you cannot see this flower to the extent that you are now seeing this flower when there is so much else crammed into the frame. This one flower, if you just look right here, has so much to say to you, but you must come very close and you must not look away for a while. Stay. Stay right here. It's enough. This can be more than enough if you'll just be right here, just here, and look for a while."
In fact, O' Keeffe said as much herself, "When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."
I struggle with what I see, at times. My paintings often come from my feelings of connection with my surroundings and an intense sense of wonder about details that lots of people don't really notice. This part of me feels a bit alienated from others. Seeing is an act of acknowledging something as real. And sometimes, it feels strange and lonely to feel such intensity about something a lot of people are hardly seeing or noticing at all. Some days, that part of me just even wants to scream, “Look at the way the paint dripped there, the grime, and that shadow all together on the subway wall! It’s beautiful. Or, hey! Hey! Did you hear that short exchange between two strangers? Look at that building right there, and the sky just above! It looks just like a painting but it’s real life! Wouldn't you like to see it here? In real life?”
But screaming at somebody to see what I see makes no sense for lots of reasons. I know that. It would clearly be very, very, very ineffective and who I am to determine what someone else should consider beautiful? As an artist, I see things and feel an urge to react and create. I also know that there are so many ways to feel and notice the world around us.
Some ways of seeing what's within our surroundings are not about producing something and that’s really important to me too: eye contact, hugs, a nod, sitting beside me while I feel, me sitting beside you while you feel, holding hands, and listening.
Noticing the world around us, whether that's a stunning sunset or another person, has the power to help us act with greater compassion, acceptance, motivation, and understanding. I believe that. And seeing can be an act of witnessing, a way of existing that serves something bigger than just me or just you ...
When I was making the painting shown at the top of this post (titled "Swept up in the light"), I was making happy accidents as the whole point, my main intention, seeing the beauty in the results and honoring that beauty. It wasn't about exerting control over the results or making a painting I can kind of “take more credit” for.
The truth is I have lots of technical knowledge as an artist, but what's the point of having technical knowledge if you don't know how to put it aside and focus on just this blank, open canvas filled with any possibility you can imagine? At its best, I believe technique can allow for increasing the possibilities of what I can make. And at its worst, emphasizing technique can be limiting and encourage a narrowing of what a painting can be. I feel the same way about my music. I practice vocal technique on a daily basis. Yet, I also remind myself that the point of practice and learning for my goals is to increase the possibilities of what I can do to express myself. All sounds are still on the table and this openness helps me express myself more fully, precisely, and creatively. More options!
I used to want to believe that there was some specific group I could find where I'd feel at home and finally feel like I belonged. And then, the fantasy went, it'd be easier to trust what I see with less anxiety and feelings of alienation.
But now, I get it a little more. There are artists who are kind, accepting, open-hearted, and feel connected to a greater purpose. And there are artists who struggle with their own egos, who struggle to stand up for what's just, or who act primarily in self-interest. Because there are lots of people who struggle with the above. Kindness, willingness to show vulnerability, being able to accept one's own fallibility as a human and to take responsibility for mistakes or errors in judgement - these are aspects of a person's character. I'm not going to choose a vocation, find a certain group of people, join their group, and automatically know exactly who will get me and share my values.
But, the flip side is that the people who share my values are everywhere. They're artists, singers, chefs, electricians, writers, teachers, cashiers, etc. Because really, we're all just people. What I value about being an artist is what I value about being a person in this world.
This edition may seem a bit discombobulated, but at least in my own mind and soul, there are connections between these scattered thoughts. And right now, I just want to leave these threads scattered, just like this. Maybe I'll try to tie them together another day when that's my intention, but today my intention is to leave these thoughts scattered and open to how you choose to connect (or not to connect) them.
With the warmth of Chicken Doodle Soup,
Nicole Sylvia Javorsky