Thought Precedes and Creates Change

kung fu

To create means to take what is and make something new or different. We learn how to take raw materials—canvas, pigment, paint, brushes, pencils, paper, clay, dirt, stones, glass, water, seeds, food, technology, fire, even pressure; and most important of all, our thoughts—and create. We create art and music, tools and technology, community and communities, fun and fitness, first with our thoughts and then with things. In all instances, we as creators have to either allow or facilitate the changes that make what is into something different.

There is one thing that interferes with change, though. Resistance. Others resist our desires. We resist theirs, because _________ (fill in the blank). Things that are big—like a tree or a building—resist our efforts to move or change them (until we think of a way to make the big things smaller and easier to manage). We’re accustomed to looking outside of ourselves for the person or thing that’s behaving like an obstacle when resistance interferes with our plans. Often, however, we’re actually getting in our own way with our own split energy. This happens when we direct some of our energy toward a desired outcome while also expending energy to resist very changes we want to make. Mental resistance, while it has no size or weight, because it consists entirely of thoughts (which can’t even be seen), is the BIGGEST reason we don’t get what we want in life.

I watched Kung Fu starring David Carradine when it was on TV in the 1970s. That was my first exposure to the fascinating world of martial arts and Eastern philosophies. I enjoyed watching Caine, as he was known in the series, demonstrate the power of non-resistance. Every episode had a fight scene and when Caine was threatened, he practiced non-resistance. I don’t mean that he let himself be attacked. But when the person came at him, Caine deflected the attack or stepped aside and allowed the attacker’s momentum to carry him until he stumbled and fell, sometimes over a cliff. In every instance, it was the attackers’ behaviors that caused their own self-undoing.

The Kung Fu philosophy is grounded in the Tao, meaning “the way, or the path,” and that means simply living in harmony with nature, other people, and within oneself. While living with nature and others is important, it’s the relationship to self that forms the foundation for everything that follows. And thinking anything that goes against yourself and splits your energy will make it more difficult to create whatever it is that you desire to create: artwork, a fit body, healthy relationships, etc.

Everyone is a creator, because thoughts turn to things. If you really want to create a painting, you’ll think about it and do what you need to do. If you want to be a better painter, you’ll think about what you need to do and then do it. If you want to be more fit, you have to start where you are, think about what you want to do, and then do it. If you don’t let your thoughts get in your way, you’ll succeed. It’s hard to ignore the truth that “thoughts turn to things.” But if you doubt that’s true, look around you. How did you get to where you are? Did you have thoughts and did you’re thoughts become actions or beliefs that you live with now?

To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance.  —Master Po in Kung Fu

What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.  —Carl Jung

 

A Painting is the Sum of a Lot of Decisions

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Unfinished pochade study, #14 in series of 50, oil on 8 x 6-in linen panel.

The artwork an artist produces is the result of long series of decisions. Choosing colors or brushes or the type of surface to paint on are among the decisions we make, but those decisions only come after many others have been made. For example, it was chilly and windy last week, and I do most of my work plein air — on location. I didn’t want to stand in the wind so I had to think about locations that afforded some shelter and a view of something to paint. I decided to go to a nature preserve near my home, because I knew I could probably find some protection from the wind. I ended up standing in front of a big old barn, which kept the wind off me.

When we make a decision, often what happens is that decision informs other decisions. Sometimes, we end up going in a direction that may, or may not, serve us well. When we look up at what’s ahead if we keep going in the direction we’re going, it may be decision time again. This is what happened to me recently.

I started painting again last year after being away from it for more than thirty years. I’d forgotten much of what I’d once known about painting. Even using a paint brush to move the paint around on the surface the way I wanted was a struggle. When I started painting again, I decided to do plein air painting, because I love landscapes and being outdoors. It’s been a good fit for me. But what I didn’t know about plein air work is that its REALLY different from studio work. Studio work can take months or even years to finish. Plein air work is done in mere hours. Studio work, depending on the artist and style, is often refined. I think of it as deliberate. Plein air on the other hand often looks “rough,” like it’s  practice for bigger and better things, which sometimes it is. Some plein air artists will reproduce their small studies to create larger works of art in their studios. Plein air painting is also deliberate, but in a different way.

After I’d been painting plein air for awhile, I decided I needed lessons so I could learn how to paint better and faster in the field. I’m fortunate to live in an area where some REALLY GOOD plein air artists also live and teach. I’ve spent a lot of time and money learning how to paint in the past year. After a recent 3-day workshop, I was feeling kinda low about my work and the direction I seemed to be going in, which was also, by the way, the direction that I felt I had a growing commitment to continuing along. But a little voice in my head said, “You painted better a year ago than you do today.” I thought about that for awhile and finally rationalized that things often get harder before they get easier. I told myself I was learning and that everything would work itself out if I just kept doing the work.

What I was becoming aware of ever so slowly is what the differences between plein air and studio work really mean for me as an artist. One of my teachers is an excellent draftsman. He does detailed, delicate, beautiful drawings with paint and then proceeds to paint the picture. Joe’s style and technique are beautiful and his paintings sell in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Mary, who taught the 3-day workshop, was trained in a classical style and she is skilled enough to paint highly realistic, incredible work. But the work she does today is more “expressive.” It’s still deliberate (realistic and accurate), which conveys her training, but her paintings have an energy.  She calls it “soul.” Her works also sell in the $15,000 range. I had put myself at a crossroad, and I’ve been deciding what to do now; which direction I should go.

We tell ourselves all kinds of things. We are easily mesmerized by beauty. Truth be told — I can’t be like either of these highly successful artists. I can’t follow Joe. Nor can I follow Mary. I can and have learned from them, but I believe that the whisper I heard (maybe from my creative muse) was telling me to remember who I am and to be that person when I stand in front of my easel.

The small 6 x 8-inch pochade studies I’ve been working on have been enormously helpful. I will do 50, and finished #18 yesterday. I titled it “Autumn Joy,” which is also the name of the sedum that grows in my backyard and which is the subject of the painting.

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“Autumn Joy” #18 in series of 50 pochade studies, oil on 8 x 6-in linen panel.