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An Artist's Voice

I am writing today. . . reflecting on artist, Nicholas Wilton’s vlog a few weeks ago about the dilemma of attempting to convey a message in our art while at the same time remaining true to ourselves.When the focus is outward (How will they like it? Will they understand my message), the artist often freezes, poisoned with perfectionism. I’m not alone when I say I have suffered this dilemma more than I care to admit.

Artists are instructed be clear in understanding what our message is, what our ‘artist voice’ is, what of value do we have to say that is reflected in our work? What is it we intend to reflect about the world we live in? Can you imagine creating original art under that yoke? Writing an artist statement invites this pressure as well. Many artists work very hard on their statement, rewriting and revising, getting peer reviews, paying professional writers. While we do need to update the statement because we are constantly evolving, it invites this sense of having to convey the perfect message reflecting what our art means. What do I want to say thru my art? Sweaty business. One of my favorite artist statements: “I make stuff”.

In my case, when free of that worry, I paint from my emotions. If that is missing, my work nosedives. I discovered that viewers who are captured by my work 'feel their own emotional energy' not necessarily what I was feeling when I painted it. In other words, I have captured ‘a feeling’ and the viewer is captivated by the strength of that “message” triggering their own personal ‘feeling’ response . . . like a Rorschach. Of course, in creating I am following all kinds of things I’ve learned about design, value, and color. That is the skill part, the technical foundation. But without the emotional connection, the work falls flat. Much like relationships, right? But what of meaning & message that Wilton refers to? I think a deeper reflection is required to get to the ultimate artist message; I think Wilton would agree. What is the relationship to our own life?

To my point: I recently saw a YouTube presentation by Seiiti Arata on finding purpose in life. By the incredible number of books and media presentations on the topic, the prospect of ‘finding purpose’ is overwhelming and out of reach to many. I believe understanding one’s purpose is foundational to identifying a personal ‘artist voice’. Seiiti Arata, in his YouTube presentation (see it for more detail), talks about ‘Ikigai: finding your purpose in 5 steps’ Ikigai (pronounced: ikky-guy) is a Japanese word meaning life purpose to which Arata speaks. Arata identified 5 steps:

1) Start Small: Trying to accomplish everything at once can be both frustrating and overwhelming. If we hold ourselves to leap frogging to success, we miss the joy of accomplishing each small step, each skill learned, each potential friendship, each resting point after small victories.

2) Break free from old ideas that are out of alignment what you want in life: Is what you focus on influenced by outside pressures, what others decide is valuable, e.g., a late model car, a large house, associating with so called movers and shakers? Carefully reflect on what you want from life, what has true meaning to you personally, what actually brings you joy aside from the opinion of others.

3) Seek Harmony and Sustainability: if it doesn’t bring harmony to your life it is not sustainable. Arata says think of 4 circles that interconnect. Each circle represents a question related to your purpose: Is it going to support you (what you love; what the world needs; what you do, in this case make art; what provides enough $ for living.) The convergence point of the 4 circles reflects your purpose in action, encompassing harmony & sustainability. This, in short, is what brings meaning to your life: Ikigai.

4) Have joy in the little things: Grandiose plans and actions may distract from enjoying your own life. If you only allow joy at attaining the goal, you miss the joy of each step taken on the way to achieving that which you aspire to. Be happy with every little mistake you make, big and small victories, the people you meet along the way, friendships formed, and the rest periods in between. Missing the joy, being overly task oriented, is in the long run not sustainable. I think of this as having a ‘beginners mind’, a state of being open & present.

5) Be in the present moment: Learn to enjoy the whole journey. When we focus on desire (future orientation), it takes us away from the present moment. Always wanting more and more, unsatisfied with the present moment, is the main cause of suffering. If we live in the present moment, there is no wanting. Accepting personal & professional fluctuation, we feel calmer and motivated to stay with the practice that moves us forward to our dream, in a sustainable & harmonious way.

Finding your Igikai helps you enjoy living your life while also practicing those things that move you harmoniously & sustainably toward your goal. When making art, if we are focusing on “will they like it?”, “Is it good enough?”, “will anyone buy this?”, we are not in alignment with our purpose. Robbed of our joy, we freeze in face of a blank canvas. Successful artists I know, and others I do not know but follow, have this one thing in common: they love making art, they don’t worry about the ‘ugly stage’ of the creative process, they’re open, they’re having fun, they are selling artwork & they have full lives. In other words, from what I can see, they have figured out the 5 steps of life purpose that Arata outlines.

I’m grateful for having had this revelation at this time of year, especially, as CoVid19 challenges us all, but also as an end of year reverie. I am enthused about moving into the new year, a brighter year of hope and quiet understanding. I am going to review the 5 steps as they apply to my life. Let me know what you think. Do you relate to this?


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