The Life Artistic
by Dan LaVigne
Releasing the Buddha
I'm not a Buddhist, but I borrow from various ideas and traditions. I collect meta-physical tid bits, devotional stories, and burn the occasional stick of incense. While this might not make me devoutly religious, it adds a spiritual component to my life which helps to make me a more rounded person. In the day to day it aids in mitigating some of the stuff I have trouble with; the negativity, injustices, hurts, and caveman emotions I can fall victim to. It takes me out of the relentless drum beat of 'me, me, me,' and keeps me grateful. But as an
, spirituality engages a paradox whereby I, the creator, marketer, and editor-in-charge of MY BRAND, surrenders that responsibility and trusts instead in something that I cannot touch or prove; something that takes up where the baggage leaves off.
Silver and Satin 8x10 oil on board
What do I mean by 'baggage'? Ego is baggage. Fear is baggage. What-Other-People-Think is baggage. I think sometimes we might actually wreck an artwork on purpose. Maybe we don't think we deserve to do something good. If we made a truly great painting, then we would have to live up to it, and what would come after that? We don't want to rock the boat, or cause the people who expect one kind of artwork to suddenly have to adjust to another, even if it's better. They might begin to think that they misplaced their confidence in us. Thoughts like these are like the dead man switch on a train engine, they put the brakes on whether we want them to or not. Beginning an artwork with the faith that you are on a path, and not a tightrope, can make all the difference.
I don't mean to imply here that the painting process can become a nonchalant thing you're supposed to do wearing a blindfold. Anything but; it is informed by hard learned lessons and a plan of action- a get in, get it on, and get out strategy. But without faith that something good might happen, then what's the point of even beginning? So let us build on that. I would like to put forward to you that in our best creative moments something profoundly spiritual is happening; a surrender of self and a casting of consequences to the wind. For today, I'll call it releasing the Buddha but I am sure it has been known by many names over many centuries. Like meditation, this state of mind can be honed and ultimately summoned at will. Everything we have talked about in this book so far, whether it was technique, or personal style, or picking the right colors and elements as we prepare to make art, has been underpinned by the idea of finding and occupying a zone that allows for the arrival of the transcendent. William Joyce thought of it this way:
'The way to success, as vouched by innumerable authentic personal narrations, is by surrender. Passivity, not activity; relaxation, not intentness.... let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all, and you will find not only that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing...'
Ironic, no? But think about it. What if there were no mistakes? What if there were no bad strokes? What if every color you mixed was downright pure in its own perfection? What if as you stood before the easel you felt only one sensation; an extended low voltage hum as you responded to your subject? The work you make is informed, yet open to any changes that may arise. Your attention does not over-celebrate the good nor over-concern itself with the less good. You are watching everything happen not quite from outside yourself, (because that would be hypnosis and we're not doing that,) but with all the governors turned off. The caution, the courtesy, the common sense we employ when we are say, pushing a shopping cart down a crowded aisle are not engaged as they usually are. There is nothing to bump into, no one to apologize to, and nothing to avoid; only the gentle coaxing of two or three visual ideas that might congeal into a nice interconnected whole or might not. We are dropping the judgment and any and all expectations, even the expectation that all this letting go will actually result in something. We become like water wheels or wind mills, simple devices run by the energies flowing past them. We abandon the idea of what we are painting; boat, house, niece, sunrise, looking only for the right color and where that blob of color belongs. Then the one next to it, and the one next to that, and on and on.
The important thing is that as you go along in this way you are not asleep, far from it. Your steady calm is just the result of a surety that it is all leading somewhere, and that we will find out what that is when we get there. After all, what have you got to lose? It not like you're one of the first Aboriginal settlers who set sail for Australia from thousands of miles away with no proof that the new land even existed. What is your little painting experiment compared to that? Drop the baggage and engage the spiritual paradox: that when you don't give a damn, things have a way of coming to you.