Art-ful, Art-less

I started a new cycle of art making a couple of weeks ago, and, as usual, do not have a method or destination in mind. I try to approach the ink and watercolors and rice paper with an empty mind, just as I did when in kindergarten, not expecting any particular outcome and always a little surprised at the end.

As can be expected, there are a lot of ‘botched’ attempts with this approach, usually the result of too much rather than too little. It is really not a practice I would advocate for an artist ‘serious’ about making money or a reputation. I am painting for fun, to be surprised, to meditate, to explore.

This also puts me in mind of some pondering I have been doing regarding writing. I made my living as a commercial copywriter for many years, writing poetry, short stories and essays mainly for my own enjoyment. In the 90’s I made several concerted efforts to get some of the creative stuff published but except for a few poems nothing caught.

In my reading lately, I have noticed how many professional writers have a list of 20, 30 or even more books to their credit. Now they, my mind tells me, are the real deal, the real professionals who have dedicated their career to their craft.

So then how do I measure my output, my success or lack thereof? Am I by definition a writer simply because I write? Or, is there a measure of commitment or public acknowledgement or commercial success in which I do not meet some standard – either self-defined or societal?

As usual, I arrived at no conclusion but I was reminded how I am defining my ‘self’. I am not a writer or artist; instead, I write and I do art. I am at the age now when roles are optional and there is no need to play any. Rather than do, it is time to be. So I be writing and I be painting and I be sitting in the sun. 

When this art cycle is over I will add some of the better pieces to my gallery. Meanwhile, here are a few previews.

april showers
April Showers
on the range]
On the Range
Sunset
Sunset
Morning dew
Morning dew
Great Falls
Great Falls
Violets
Violets

Lucky

After several days of heavy rains the sky was clearing, the clouds drifting slowly into high, white masses. The sun shone down peacefully as if grateful for the respite. The air was clear and clean and after many days of silence, the birds were once again singing.

He was a middle-aged man, still slender but showing streaks of gray in his hair. Behind the wall of his brown eyes, a sadness and disappointment shone. He said he had grown up in a single parent family and although they had never gone hungry, there was never any money for the nicer things of life.

He had put himself through college, worked hard, and eventually rose to an executive position within a respected company. He had a devoted wife and two healthy children; a big house with a view, a sports car of his own, a travel trailer for family vacations, electronic gadgets and toys – in fact, all the things he had dreamed of owning as a young man were now his.

He said that when he looked at his life he saw many of his business associates starting their own companies, getting even bigger paychecks and bonuses, receiving recognition from peers in their industry. He wanted to know why he wasn’t lucky like they were. Why wasn’t he happy too?

Lucky. When we feel lucky we feel full, complete. When we feel unlucky, there is something empty inside us that wants to be filled. Some want to fill that hole with money or fame or love or God. If only something ‘out there’ could be obtained and put ‘in here’, all would be well. We would be complete, we would be happy.

This ‘thing’ that we believe we need is always just ahead of us, just a little out of reach, around the next corner, in the next relationship or the next job – and if we just try a little harder, run a little faster, we can get what we need and finally relax and finally be happy.

And when we do get that prize, we do feel better for while – a few hours, a few days, a few months – and then that awful ‘wantingness’ comes back. The happiness we felt with that fulfillment was not because of the ‘thing’ we finally obtained but because, for a while, we had no desires. It was the cessation of desire, not its fulfillment that allowed the joy to be felt. Joy fills all emptiness.

So it is not how many things we have, or their quality. In fact, possession has nothing to do with peace. We are lucky, we feel fulfilled, only when we stop wanting. When we stop wanting, we can recognize how lucky we indeed are. Gratitude for what is, no matter what that is, is the foundation for all joy.

It was not many months later that the man developed cancer which seemed to prove to him that he really was unlucky. But when he left this life he was surrounded by all the people who loved him for his courage and devotion and then he understood.