Bringing Your Whole Heart Home

drawing 001Pen, ink and watercolor, 2013, Molly Larson Cook

 Forgive me, but today’s post is somewhat more personal than most of what you’ve seen here.  It comes in part as a response to a recent health issue – nothing serious but painful day in and day out.

Oddly enough, it also comes after receiving a particularly fine award and publication for my poetry, a gift I’ve hoped for all the many years of my writing life.  And it comes after a struggle following that award with the big questions of how I’ll spend my remaining years.

Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be an artist.  But – also since childhood – encouragement came for my writing, not any childish drawings.  Writing came easy – poems, essays, plays – along with awards for them and praise.

Over the years, I had secret sketchbooks in which I drew pictures that never saw the light of day except for my eyes only.  I continued to write, but it was the world of art that tugged at me.  In college, I boldly signed up for an art history class, a move that boggled my parents, but I loved every minute of it.

I followed other creative paths in addition to writing – dance and theatre at the top of the list.  I finally took my first art class in my early 40s and was encouraged by the instructor to “consider art school.”  When I heard her words, it was like the moment in the old movies when the homely secretary takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, and the boss says, “My God, Miss Fenster, you’re beautiful.”

Yeah, it was that powerful.  Someone, someone who knew about art, had recognized my heart’s desire.

I continued to take drawing classes from her and others but it was another ten years before I made it to art school and began to understand fully what it meant to me.

Over the years, my desire to be an artist was sidetracked by one thing or another – relationships, the need to support my family as a single mom, once by an art professor who took pleasure in making me feel small and incompetent, and not least – by all that praise for the writing.

Praise is not a bad thing, and I’m grateful for every word of it, every award, every note from others to let me know I was accomplishing something worthwhile in the world.

The problem was inside me.  The problem was that the desire to be an artist was powerful, and feeding it in a half-assed way by creating posters for poetry readings and greeting cards for friends wasn’t doing the trick.

After I received the award for my poem,  I decided to enter a competition for a poetry chapbook.  This meant that I needed to write another dozen poems to go with the best of what I had, and I turned to that during the month of March.  I painted a little, but most of the time I was writing and editing and organizing poetry.

It was about that time that the health problem kicked in.  I didn’t make the connection immediately except to note that I was now spending most of my time at the computer which meant a completely different posture from the one I had when painting.  It also meant that I was spending much less time with all those tubes of colors that I love.

Happily, two pieces of wisdom crossed my desk during that time – one from Rumi and one from Joseph Campbell.

From Rumi –  “A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”

From Joseph Campbell, his wise words that became clichéd in the 80s and 90s – “Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it…It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

 

Writing is important.  Words are powerful.  Poetry is beautiful.   None of my pictures may be worth a thousand words.  They may not be perfect. They may not be worth trying to sell.  But they’re mine, and I know I’m on “the track that has been there all the while, waiting for me.”

I don’t plan to get derailed again.

With love to all of you who are happily doing art, and encouragement to all of you who are hesitating.  Go ahead – bring your whole heart home.

Molly

 

Imagining Forth!

As both a poet and an artist, I tend to wander back and forth, crossing the invisible line between the two like a drunk on a bicycle.

I give many of my paintings poetic titles and I write poems about art.  I’m not the only one who does this.  One of my favorite books on the practice of writing is titled The Writer on His Own, and much of what’s here applies just as well to my painting.

Take this one, for instance, one of the many short bits of advice from author David Greenhood:

“Our main effort should be to imagine forth, rather than to be always backtracking.  Ruing. Picking up stuff that fell off because we were overloaded or so badly loaded that we couldn’t carry it.”

I like this thought a great deal – for art, for writing, for life.  “Imagining forth” strikes me as just the thing to keep the energy and excitement of the work, any work, going.  And in my head it goes nicely with the great line from one of the songs in A Chorus Line:  “Keep the best of you, do the rest of you.”

As we work in any creative arena, we learn new things all the time – at least we hope to if we’re creative and not robotic.  Our work builds on these new things, and we either figure how to incorporate the old with the new or we drop the old.  We “imagine forth” instead of backtracking.

It’s pretty simple, really.  We start with our ABCs, but once we can read poetry and novels, we don’t backtrack to saying our ABCs every morning.  Art, writing and life are about building, incorporating, imagining forth.

When I got back to my art a few years ago, I did collages.  I’ve liked collages since I first saw those done by Picasso and Braque, so it seemed a good place to start – tissue paper, recycled images, a little paint.  I gradually moved on to more paint and less paper, finally going full tilt with paint.

This week I decided to “imagine forth” about what would happen if I combined the paint with paper but in a new way, so I gave it a try.  At the top of the page are four images of the result from start to finish.  The piece looks nothing like my old collages or my newer paintings either.   And it sure doesn’t look like Picasso or Braque.  It was an experiment.  And every time I try a new experiment, I am a happy fledgling again!

I really want an “Imagine Forth!” tee-shirt now.

 

 

 

Words On Color From The Masters And A Six-year-old

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another,
to cause vibrations in the soul.”

— Wassily Kandinsky

“Colour and I are one. I am a painter.”
–Paul Klee

“The craving for colour is a natural necessity just as for water and fire. Colour is a raw material indispensable to life. At every era of his existence and his history, the human being has associated colour with his joys, his actions and his pleasures.”
— Fernand Leger

You put down one color and it calls for an answer. You have to look at it like a melody.”
–Romare Bearden

“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.”
–Paul Gauguin

and finally, from writer and artist Jules Feiffer,

“Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we’re stupid.”
–Jules Feiffer

I include the Feiffer because it reminds me of a little story I heard from a grade school teacher who noticed a little boy coloring a picture with a pink and purple sky. The teacher stopped and explained to the boy that the sky was not pink or purple, it was blue.  The boy insisted on his colorful sky and the teacher insisted he was mistaken.  “Then,” she said, “when I was driving home that night just as the sun was setting, there before me was the most beautiful pink and purple sky!  I was the one who was mistaken.”

Let us take our lessons for art and life where we find them and never be too quick to judge or dismiss anything that makes someone else’s heart sing.

Make your sky any color you want!  At some moment on some day or night, it will be exactly right, and no one will think you’re stupid.

img_1883

A new work.  Is that a green sky?

The Riches of the City

It is only fitting
“It is only fitting…”

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  Friends from many places told me I was going to find a spiritual home in San Diego – a home for my creative spirit – and sure enough I have.

When I look through the local newspapers, my one lament is “so much to do, so little time.”  Of course, I’m not a participant in all those activities.  I don’t play an instrument or sing (except in the car, alone), I’m not a dancer (except late at night in my living room, alone), and I’m no longer on any stage (except the private theatre of my mind, alone).  But I’m a writer and a fledgling artist.

These days I lean toward gallery openings and art classes and conversations with working artists whenever possible.  To my great pleasure, this is indeed a city of riches.  To paraphrase Alexandra del Lago in Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young, “not young, young” anymore.  So the pressure is on to work at the visual art as much as possible, and there are so many ways to do that here.

I’m exploring all possible avenues and finding much encouragement in the city in which I now find myself.  Add to that my own late-hour willingness to explore and experiment, my new-found willingness to make mistakes and hope for “happy accidents,” and my memory of the words of an artist friend from many years ago:  “We are all richly gifted with inexperience.”

I remember those words every day, including the days when nothing goes right, but then again, nothing goes really wrong.  Learning to be a collage/mixed media artist is much bigger than simply putting pieces together.  I’m learning a whole new philosophy of life.

For a collage artist, every misbegotten scrap of paper or picture or tiny leaf or bit of detritus can be used to make something new – with luck something beautiful.  If that isn’t a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

 

 

 

 

This Is Your Real Life 101

We can only guess what flowers mean in dreams.
“We can only guess what flowers mean in dreams.”

One of my collages…

Are you living in a world of “the magic if”?

Actors know about the “magic if.” It’s a method they use to get fully into a role. It’s useful in stimulating emotional responses to whatever’s happening on the stage or screen. You see it all the time if you watch anything at all. You didn’t think those actors were really weeping at the funeral or frightened in that creepy old castle, did you?

Nah. Not with all the chaos and clamor surrounding a movie shoot or standing on a stage in front of a few hundred people. Actors use the “magic if.”

“Hey, what if your old dog Shep ran away and got hit by a car?” That’ll get the tears coming for the funeral scene. Or “What if you were giving a lecture and realized you didn’t have your pants on?” Well, this might depend on how much of an exhibitionist you are, but chances are you’d feel bad enough to demonstrate the required panic in the old castle.

Unfortunately, many of us make our way through real life confusing the “magic if” with the not-at-all magic “if only.” You know the one: If only… I could win the lottery … I could see my high school sweetheart again … My boss would give me that great job in Manhattan…I were shorter, taller, older, younger,  (name your own).

A variation of the game is to consider the big-picture past. If only… I had gone to Harvard… married the nerd who developed that billion dollar software program… spent more time studying for the exam… paid attention to that “road closed” sign… and the list goes on.

And what, I hear you ask, is the point here? The point, dear asker, is that “if only” will keep you from living your real life. Every. Damned. Time.

You want tulips in the spring? Well, then,  get to the garden store, buy the bulbs and plant them in the fall. You don’t wait until spring when everyone else’s tulips are in lovely bloom and whine, “If only…”

You want to work on art? Well, then, get out of your Laz-E-Boy, buy yourself some art supplies, take some classes – or don’t, and get busy. You don’t leave everything in the packages and whine, “If only I had the time, money, inspiration…”

As artist Chuck Close says, “I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

The point: You are not an actor on a stage or in a movie. You are a person in a real life. One shot. One time around. It’s a choice. Except for the lottery thing. I can’t help you there.

All Things New – and Old

It’s definitely spring now and the tulips are beginning to fade in the warming weather of San Diego.  But I find them beautiful still.  Hence the photo that accompanies this site. My grandmother, a mistress of the garden, loved a book I gave her with photos by Irving Penn of flowers in all stages of bloom.  She pointed out to me how beautiful the withering and faded blossoms were and said, “They hold the seeds for the next generation.” As my life changes and the wrinkles (smile lines!) become more visible every day, I think about her words.  She lived to be 103 and was beautiful every day. In the art world, they refer to young or new artists as “emerging.”  I like that word.  I think of butterflies emerging from cocoons, chicks from eggs, babies from wombs, and new lives – no matter how old we are – from whoever we were before. I’m not an emerging artist yet.  Maybe I never will be. I’m still trying to regain whatever footing I once had back in my days at art school and with later workshops.  I’m experimenting and learning all the time.  I’ve been brave enough to put a few things in small local art shows and was happy to get feedback, but I know enough to know that “I like that” is not the kind of critical feedback artists need. A “crit session” is part of the education of an artist.  In a serious crit session, you listen.  And you learn.  “I like it” is not part of the vocabulary in a crit session. I’m in a new life now and it takes time to find your tribe in a new place.  Meanwhile, I do the work and keep in mind the words passed on during a crit session at Maine College of Art – words from sculptor and instructor Gary Ambrose:  “What you want is something rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.” Words to live by.  In art and in life.