Friday, March 02, 2018

#183 - 189 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Creating Connections

"Your Gift to the World" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Do you ever find a book that grabs your attention, opens your mind, and shows you a larger perspective?

I am enjoying just these qualities in Johann Hari's "Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - And the Unexpected Solutions. I'm pretty sure Edith Kramer would have enjoyed his thinking, as well. He takes into account our biology, our environment, and our evolution. He teases out the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic values, motivations, and rewards. These topics were all part of the discussion at Edith's table if you were lucky to be there when she was taking a tea break from her art making.  As an artist she always enjoyed the bigger picture. Johann Hari's book definitely steps back to take in the bigger picture at modern western culture, looking at much of what makes us uncomfortable, depressed and anxious, today.

As you can gather from the title, the book is about connections, not just our connections with each other but connections to groups, to meaningful work, meaningful values, sympathetic joy, our past, and our sense of a possible future.

So how this might work for the Happy Artist's Life? Here are my versions of Hari's connection building ideas.

1. Develop connections with other artists, more creative fun with others. Create art making workshops in your community, opportunities to be with your "tribe."

2. Look for places where art can useful in the service of the greater good, where it can be a part of social justice or community building.

3. Find ways to bring art and creativity into your work life. This will ensure that you are attending to your intrinsic rewards while earning a living.

4. Do some art journaling around the topic of values. What does our culture teach us is most valuable? Spend some time on exploration of intrinsic values, what do we really hold dear? Can it be expressed in art?

5. Learn to take more and more pleasure in the pleasure people get from their own creative efforts. This is huge. A constant source of joy is all around us when we feel the joy of others.

6. Use your art journal to explore and resolve old stories from the past. Often we hang on to these stories as a way to keep ourselves safe, but in actuality we are hurting ourselves by hanging on to resentments. It is possible to release old stories, especially if you use metaphor and art.

7. Create art about a possible future. Step back from your current view of life and look at the bigger picture. Again, this is something that artists can play with fairly easily in their art journals.

Who knows, as we play in our art journals we may find new ways to build connections.

Monday, February 12, 2018

#182 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Allow the good things to soak in.

"Art Can Heal" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Most of our positive strengths (like resilience, feeling appreciative, relaxed, emotional balance and compassion) have grown in us from positive experiences. Dr. Rick Hanson has observed, however, that our brains have a negativity bias, which is actually there to help us stay alert to danger, to survive. Our brains are "Teflon for the good" experiences but "Velcro for the bad." To counteract this negativity bias, he suggests we really take a little bit of extra time to let the "good" soak in. Dr. Hanson describes his Heal steps for "taking in the good," or turning a passing positive experience into a lasting neural structure in this brief but clear Ted Talk.

So I tried his steps with my daily art practice.
Have - Notice a positive experience, or remember a positive experience. (I thought about a positive experience while working on this collage.)
Enrich - Notice your body sensation when you think about this experience. Help the experience last. Open to it, let it sink in for 20 or 30 seconds. Appreciate it, enjoy it. (I tried to allow the character in this collage express this positive experience and then imagine the character's feeling.)
Absorb - This can overlap the Enrich step, but really visualize "putting a jewel into the treasure chest of the heart."  Allow for and observe a positive shift as it occurs. (This one can happen if we look at our art work and truly feel and appreciate what is expressed.)
Link - This is an optional step where you can keep the strong sense of the positive experience, while being aware of some smaller negative material, so that the positive can be bigger and stronger than the negative. Let the positive outweigh the negative, causing the negative memory to weaken and to be affected by the positive feeling tone now attached to it.  (We can print out art work that reminds us to allow the good to soak in, and look at it, feel the good, especially when there is negative material to deal with.)

Try using your daily art practice to grow greater well-being, relaxation, mindfulness, emotional balance, and feeling appreciated in your brain and in your life.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

#181 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Allow your inner 5 year old to play.

"Creativity Is SO Valuable" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
There was a fun post on FaceBook the other day, describing how we are born creative geniuses based on the research of George Land.  He had begun investigations into stimulating and directing creativity in the late 1950's. He developed a creativity test which was used to select the most innovative engineers and scientists ("creative geniuses") to work for NASA. The instrument and assessments were successful, and he decided to adjust it to test children. “What we have concluded,” wrote Land, “is that non-creative behavior is learned.” His conclusion is based on testing the creativity of 1,600 children ranging in ages from three-to-five years old. He later re-tested the same children at 10 years, and again at 15 years of age. The test results:
  • 98% of 5 years old tested at the genius level.
  • 30%  of10 years old tested at the genius level.
  • 12% of 15 years old tested at the genius level.
  • 2% of 280,000 adults tested at the genius level.
He gives an inspiring Ted Talk on his research, explaining why we tend to lose our creativity so quickly.  He concludes that for the human to continue to evolve or even survive, we need to allow our inner 5 year old's out to play, a lot more often.  Which is really easy if we are doing a daily art practice. We can help our species survive and have a great time as well.

More on George Land.
You can test your creativity here. (It's very fun!)
Lots more on boosting your creativity here.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

#178 - 180 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; "Three Good Things" Revisited

"You Are Loved" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

 This directive is similar to "The three good things challenge"While working on my Morning Pages, I was listening to a Commonweal podcast of Rachel Naomi Remen describing the "discovery model" curriculum for medical students. The whole podcast is a goldmine of lovely suggestions which would benefit every art room and every human interaction, but Remen's emphasis is on how to encourage medical students to be present with their patients. 

The directive that caught my ear was one Remen got from Angeles Arrien, about how to take time in our day to ask ourselves three questions. (A written description can be found here.) I've adapted these three questions for the art room. Sitting quietly with our art materials, we can think back over our day until we find something that surprised us. Find a way to include this in the work. Then we can review our day again, looking for an event or person that touched us. We can include this in our work as well. Finally look for something that inspired us, and include that.

We may find after practicing these three questions (What surprised me? What touched my heart? What inspired me?) in our daily art practice, we start to look about our environment for surprises, things that are touching, and things that inspire. And of course looking for these things will actually help us attend to our lives more carefully and actually find more things to be a happy artist about.

For more wonderful ideas from Rachel Naomi Remen, please see On Being with Krista Tippett, also Remen's own blog and website, and Commonweal's audio/video library.

Happy Exploration!

“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memories. This is how people care for themselves.”
- Barry López, Crow and Weasel

Sunday, December 31, 2017

#172 - 177 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Six Self-Care Lessons

"Be Inspired Every Day" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Jane Claire Hervey wrote a helpful article about artist Yayoi Kusama's self-care lessons for Forbes Magazine. She suggests that if we are feeling a little burnt out and uninspired here at the end of what was a very difficult year for most of us, we should take heart from Kusama's ideas about self-care.  They can carry us into the New Year and to remind us to take care of our best asset (our selves!): 
Kusama's first idea of self-care is to normalize rejection. Rejection is okay, we all experience it from time to time. If we normalize it, we won't be afraid of it. If we accept that rejection is part of the process, then we can be brave enough to create truthfully. Hervey tells the story of how Kusama was actually physically removed from her installation at the 33rd Venice Biennale for selling portions of the exhibited work throughout the opening reception. She was examining the relationship between art and consumerism—the message was not appreciated by the powers that be.

Kusama's second idea that we can say "no" to what we find dull, uninspired, or unbearable. Because she had been frustrated with her early experiences at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, she began to explore Western modern art and eventually moved to NYC to launch her career. Being active in the pop-art scene in New York in the late 1960s, Kusama took part in anti-Vietnam War protests featuring her performance pieces with naked participants. She bravely sought out and associated with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Georgia O'Keeffe and others.

Kusama's third idea is that we should invest in our own wellbeing. She found that being very busy and pressured is not necessarily a good thing. She was first hospitalized because of overwork and exhaustion, but in 1977 actually moved into Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in Tokyo, and has lived there (by choice) ever since.

Kusama's fourth idea is that we should explore methods and approaches to work, find the things that actually help us create our best work. She discovered that institutionalization did not have to stifle her creativity or her productivity. "It doesn't matter at all that I work in hospital or anywhere with limited space. Every day, I'm creating new works with all my might," she told The Huffington Post.

Her fifth idea is that we should appreciate our mentors and enjoy our tribe. Kusama's personal and professional friendships with Georgia O'Keeffe, Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell helped her enormously throughout the difficult times in her life.

Kusama's sixth idea is to fall in love with the process. She believes that success, fame and money do not make our work exciting, pleasurable or meaningful, but falling in love with the process will. And that makes all the difference. She continually credits her daily
art practice as a source of sanity and stability, referring to the actual work itself as medicinal and prescriptive. She wrote in her autobiography Infinity Net: “I fight pain, anxiety and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.”

Here's to Kusama's daily art practice and self-care lessons. May they help us steer our way into the new year.

For more information on “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” check here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

#171 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Compassion and the Happy Artist

"Abide" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
While working on the above collage, I was listening to a talk by Paul Gilbert on compassion focused therapy. He spoke of originally using cognitive behavioral therapy in his psychotherapy practice, but noticed that some of his patients were having difficulties in their attempts to change their unhelpful patterns in thinking, belief, and attitude. The common element in this group was a certain amount of sternness and self-criticism. They seemed to be unable to show kindness or warmth towards themselves.

He talked about the evolutionary and developmental reasons for this harsh inner voice and then explained how Buddhist psychology and neuroscience helped him think about creating more compassionate inner voices, more warmth and kindness. As he put his ideas into practice it seemed that his psychotherapy practice was becoming more effective. His experience is that using compassionate mind training helps people develop an inner warmth, safeness and self-soothing so that they have the tools to successfully work with their depression, insecurities, and stresses.

 At about the 32 minute mark in this talk, he guides his audience in some breathing exercises to access the parasympathetic nervous system, and some neutral vs. friendly exercises to help the audience experience the difference between the two.  Then he started focusing on compassion, helping his audience find their inner wisdom and compassionate selves.  

It was a lovely experience to listen to the talk while working with art materials, highly recommended. I may need to do this some more, practicing a little more self-compassion and art.

Monday, November 27, 2017

#170 out of a thousand ways to have a happy artist's life; Using Art and Imagination Turn Anxiety Into Calm.

"Calm Heart" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
While working on my morning pages, I was listening to a talk on YouTube by Marty Rossman.  It's a very encouraging talk, if you are ever disturbed by anxiety (and is there anyone who isn't disturbed these days?)  He explained how often times anxiety is caused by runaway imagination and obsessive thinking about worse case scenarios and how this helped us in our evolution. But today it is often used against us, keeping us glued to our media and devices. So he uses the imagination to relieve stress, and literally change our lives. He takes the audience through an evocative guided imagery experience. As he talked, a part of my mind was occupied with his evocative imagery, while another part work on this art piece. Actually there was a blending of his evocative imagery with the choices I made for this piece. Now when I look at it, I can see aspects of his talk and guided imagery and I can feel a sense of calmness.

I may need to print is out and have it where it can be easily seen when the the media and my devices begin to feel like they are too much with me.