As artists in a representational tradition, the first stages of our growth are primarily technical. At some point, when the technical has been achieved and we can put forward a painting with technical accuracy, our growth hits a ceiling. Mine did. I thought I could solve this by producing more canvases, but the results continues to be--though accurate--unable to bring forth "something more". Hitting this ceiling is frustrating because I had not been able to see a way through, a way higher, a way deeper . . . though I sensed infinitely more is ahead of me.
Life has a way of planting seeds at different moments that, curiously, begin to sprout at the same time. Two such seeds emerged: one, I began to sense a 'ceiling' not only in my own paintings, but in my growth as a human being. On both fronts, a step was taken--both, it seems to me today--connected.
One step was the emerging influence of meditative writers, some Christian (like Thomas Merton) and some Buddhist (like Lama Surya Das). The step was not into the nature of their religious systems, but into the nature of their ability to draw out peace and singularity of mind.
The other step was the entrance into my life last week of a master artist that finds a way in her paintings to establish poetic, meditative, qualities of singularity and peace. Her wisdom is new to my thinking mind, but it is entirely established in--curiously--the very same nature of thought of the meditative writers above.
It is now as if something like clouds began to part and a new path opened before me where once I had only seen a wall of bramble and thicket. I do not know what these steps shall bring, but here, too, the path--were it not for guidance at a moment when I was searching most--would have remained hidden. This thought still brings me pause for reflection.
Though this is an autobiographical note the reason I write is to share a few facets of this gem with you.
Simplification: the foundation of beautiful humanity
Though I had painted--and could paint--rather technically proficient, and glimpses of this "something more" came to my paintings, the inconsistency of its occurrence had become disheartening. Was there not a way to embrace this each and every time? Yes, as it turns out.
I had thought of "meditation" (Christian, Buddhist, or Other) as a noble fruit of one's religious system. How wrong I was in that thinking. To religion, (and this is always most unfortunate), perfecting the technique of the dogma seems right--it is a form of growing--but never have I encountered anyone that, on such a path, was not either miserable about it, or prideful; humility rarely partners with perfection. To painting, (and this too is unfortunate), perfection of clinical technique may render a painting accurate, but void of meaningfulness. A canvas which holds nothing but air between itself and the viewer is without life; there must be "something more".
Then, in almost one collective breath, the artist and the writers that were brought into my life, said the same thing but in different ways: that while technical knowledge is in place, many if not most seekers are content with this, it works. But when you hear a call forward into "something more" (into deeper things) it becomes apparent that this "something more" is accessed apart from technique. Now what? Where do we begin, then, to access this "something more"?
The answer is: The quality of Meditation.
Now, I write to speak to myself first. "Meditation" as a term, though lovely in theory, once held about as much attractive gravity for me as getting teeth cleaned at the dentist. Good, yes. Profitable, yes. End results, good. But, thank heavens a trip to the dentist is over until I must do it again. Such was my misunderstanding of meditation--until, I believe, I was ready to understand more.
Meditation is key to Representational Fine Art.
When I say "meditation" I do not mean sitting silently to contemplate sound waves, or the droplet of water, (which is quite beneficial by the way but is a different conversation). Here, I mean "meditation" as in listening with focused singularity, more compassion, and less self.
The artist who introduced me to a new level of harmony this week, (that "something more" between the artist and the subject before him or her), opened this door--or did I open it and find her waiting? The point is, she was the one that introduced me to this new path for the representational artist. She did this by teaching me to be aware (to listen for with my eyes as it were) this focused singularity, or, Simplification.
All books mention editing the landscape; all landscape painting books, teachers, and workshops, talk about rearranging elements to fit a concept. Only, this is different. It could be I am only now "getting it" or it could be different than anything that has come to me before. Either way, her point was for me to really meditate on the subject . . . really observe it, think on it, and seek to harmonize every level of elements of my painting to it, to the subject. This is more than just technical editing and rearranging, but "something more" about the nature of the creation of elements itself, the form of their truer 'singularity' and the meaning of that within the painting. (One need only go to masters such T. Allen Lawson or Gavin Brooks to see this done so well:
In one sense, then, we go forward as the creator and the servant of this subject, our singular idea, and build harmony not only with all of the elements of a beautiful painting, but all elements within ourselves. To me this taught me a new thought on which to meditate--that if my subject is to be found among the noise of infinite landscape elements, it will come only as I, too, harmonize myself (my inner landscape) to it.
This, to me, was an epiphany. To me, this is meditation.
This is why, I suppose, the wealthiest and most famous artist in the world of the mid-nineteenth century, Ernest Meissonier (French), could not rival his dirt-poor, frustrated, and brutalized contemporary, Eduard Manet. Manet, whatever his subject, is guilty of the greatest acts of beautiful humanity to be found in the arts: a singularity and honesty bound in service to the pursuit of "something more".
Perhaps, if my path now before me is true, I shall be guilty of the very same. :-)