Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Did everyone see this fascinating study on the decline of friendship in America? It's a thought-provoking study about how fewer and fewer Americans feel that they have someone to discuss important matters with - particularly people outside of their families. As a result, people feel more isolated and lonely. The ideas of discussion and having a confidante seem to be the foundations of friendship that the study revolves around. It's worth reading.

It makes me wonder how the facts of this study are reflected in the state of the art & yoga communities. How is the sense of isolation reflected in the way that people are creating & practicing? How do a group of isolated individuals even form a "community"?

It strikes me that the study & practice of yoga inherently leads people away from such isolated thinking. In my experience, yoga has led me toward self-study, which has led me to see my strengths & faults a bit more clearly, which has led me toward empathy, which has led me to feeling connected to others. The very purpose & practice of yoga is about moving closer to the world around us.

And yet, still there is division & disagreement in the greater yoga community. I'm lucky to not be greatly affected by it, but there are certainly many yogis that feel THEIR yoga is better than all other forms of yoga. Yoga can definitely be practiced in a way that leads people toward ego, pride, superiority, & isolation.

The same is also true within the realms of art. Ideally, art is a force that brings people together, and illustrates states of humanity & human existence. And yet, so often, art ends up just being the result of isolated identities... without dialogue, without honest or courageous discussion of what's important to the artist, without listening to what's said in response.

So it gets me thinking:
When we create art, who are we confiding in?
When we create art, with whom are we discussing? Are we discussing matters that are truly important to us?
When we create art, do we feel supported and connected? Part of a conversation with others?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Value of Repetition

Art Powerlines' recent post about repetition got my mind stirring... the effects and value of repetition have been in my thoughts a lot lately. Repetition has many possible qualities... but there are a few that are specifically of interest to me:

Repetition as commitment
Repetition as time
Repetition as constancy
Repetition as nature

Repetition as commitment.
When an artist or a yogi does something time and time and time again... that act of repetition implies to the world that such a thing has value. Such an act of repetition implies to the world that the act has meaning, and purpose, and is worthy of repeated examination. What I like most of all about Opalka's number paintings is that the mere fact that he has done them with such care and precision, and over so many days/months/years - nearly forces me to stop and consider them. How could I dismiss any human effort on such a scale? Even if I don't quite know what to do with his paintings, somehow, the sheer commitment of them commands respect. And the commitment reminds me of human commitments - families, partners, goals... Commitments we make to ourselves and others. Repetition of commitment is Faith. Re-affirming, re-committing. Weren't there ever times when Opalka got bored and kept going? Repetition gains power as it grows, like a rolling snowball gathering mass, because we know that it takes faith.

My yoga practice is often unappealing - on a weekend morning, when the body is injured or tired, when we have guest, when there is entertainment beckoning me... - but most days I find the faith to do it any way. And most days it rewards me by reminding me quickly why I am committed to yoga in the first place. But there are certainly days when I simply do it because I have faith in the practice. I'm willing to stick through the difficult/painful/boring/crummy parts because I know they are a necessary balance to the glorious/momentous/illuminating parts. And it's that faith that I see in repetition...

Repetition as time.
Repetition inherently implies time... specifically, the passage of time. Imagine a comic book page, with 20 frames... each frame with an identical drawing of a person sitting at a table. We couldn't "read" that page without (1) implying a passage of time, and (2) actual passage of time. Opalka's numbers are particularly interesting because of how many years he has done them... Argueably, they get more interesting with each year that he continues. It wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if he had only done it for a week, or even a year.

Repetition as constancy.
Like the painted numbers, like the daily yoga practice... repetition provides a sense of constancy. In yoga practice, I often think of my breath serving as the cord that strings together a strand of beads. Without a strong cord, all I've got is a big mess of beads. But when my breath is strong and steady and constant, the postures are strung together with meaning and with continuity.

In art work, when a theme or subject or style or mark is repeated over and over, there is a sense of constancy... a tie that binds. Disparate elements can be brought together into a common vision. As artists, I guess one worthwhile goal is to find our "breath" - that element of our work that can bind together anything we take on and give it a sense of meaning and continuity.

Repetition as nature.
On a related note though... sometimes that string of continuity is easier to see after-the-fact than before, or during.

At the County Fair, one of my favorite annual exhibits is the "Collections" exhibit. In this exhibit, county residents can display their collections in glass cabinets... along with a brief statement about the nature of their inspiration, and any particularly special pieces. There are always a few too many "Beanie Baby" collections - where all that's required is a bit of cash and an active ebay account... but there are also many surprising collections. Collections that have quirky & unexpected themes, and that have clearly been built over many years and even by many hands. These collections, variations on a theme... have a very human quality to them. There is a Human-ness about seeing so many similar things, each with their own unique twist. Like people, like rocks in a river bed, like roses on a rose bush... so similar, so unique. This aspect of repetition is the hardest for me to articulate. It is a softness that grows in strength with each addition, with each new variation. We end up looking for the similarities, rather than the differences. This is the heart of yoga... to see ourselves in others, to see commonality and connection rather than division, to take joy in individuals without losing awareness of oneness.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Here's my finished painting of Condoleezza Rice, and the state of my palette when it was all done.

Friday, June 09, 2006

So-Called Comfort Zone

This week, I was having a conversation with some online friends about the postures that we find the most comforting & stabilizing. I was surprised to find myself thinking again and again of postures that I also find very demanding. Especially this one in the picture, Kurmasana. It is very intense, very difficult, and somehow - supremely calming.

In fact, I think it's only when a posture IS very demanding that it is able to command my attention, and give me a break from my usual concerns. If a pose isn't challenging enough, I'll just keep on thinking in our same old patterns... But the intensity and urgency of difficult poses tears us away from anything familiar and forces us to go looking for new options. It can be uncomfortable, but it is also fresh, real, and new... And that's what brings about the true yogic experience of being alive and in the moment.

And this got me thinking about the expression "comfort zone." Being in the "comfort zone" usually means staying within one's realm of previous experiences - whether it's not looking for more effort in a pose, not challenging myself mentally, or sticking with situations that are emotionally familiar.

But are we really so comfortable in the so-called "comfort zone"?? I don't think I am. If I were so comfortable with my current status quo... I wouldn't be doing yoga, I wouldn't be continually looking for opportunities to grow and expand.

And obviously these effects are all at play in the making of art as well... sticking within familiar subjects/styles/mediums/marks ... and not pushing out into the infinite realm of other options. Hmmm.... exciting!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Seeing & Imagination: Vidya & Vikalpa

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras he describes 5 states of mind - which can cause either contentment or suffering: clear perception, misperception, delusion/imagination, sleep, & memory.

For years, when I would read or study the Yoga Sutras, I would stumble on that third state of mind "delusion/imagination" (vikalpa). I was so bothered that imagination was said to be a state of mind that produced suffering... and that the same word meant both "imagination" and "delusion." I had an idea that imagination was the foundation of art... a critical and important part of art making... As a result, I was confused about making peace with this part of the sutras. I couldn't figure out how to resolve it with my practice as an artist.

But today I had an insight about this.

The fundamental goal of yoga is to see things as they truly are... to move from ignorance & misperception into a state of clear perception. In Sanskrit, the word for ignorance is "avidya" - which translates as "non-seeing." And of course it's opposite is "vidya" - wisdom, "seeing".

And it was only today that I understood that in the context of yoga philosophy, art comes from Vidya, Seeing things as they truly are - and not from Vikalpa, Imagining things to be that do not actually exist (ie. illusion/delusion). At its best, art recognizes some essential truth & perceives it as it truly is - and then illuminates it for the rest of us to see.

There's the obvious, literal interpretation - which would be still lives. Learning to draw what you are looking at is a process of learning to actually SEE what you are looking at - and not what you think you are looking at, or what you wish you were looking at, or what you are afraid you are looking at. This is probably why it is so important, in a classical art education, to first learn to draw what you are looking at with accuracy. Not just because it's a nice technical skill to have, but because it represents a certain ability to get yourself out of the way of your subject matter.

Then there's the larger, conceptual interpretation of these connections - that in addition to perceiving objects as they are - art also comes from a place of perceiving emotions or situations as they truly are... and this clear perception can be shared through any medium or subject matter.

Recent Sketches

These are two pieces I've been working on lately. The top one is a 3x3' conte crayon drawing of two sows in gestation crates... And the lower one is the underpainting for a portrait of young Condeleezza Rice, done with charcoal dust and turpentine on the canvas. That's a great, great way to do underpaintings by the way - pretty & expressive, and - once dry - erasable! Very cool.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Doing our own work

I have been thinking a lot lately about the movements that art could make in people's hearts & lives... and something Art Powerlines wrote recently stirred my thoughts some more.

In 12 years of practicing yoga, I continue to feel a perceptible change nearly every day. It is not at all unusual that I will find myself thinking, feeling, or behaving in some way that hasn't ever spontaneously occured in my life before. Even more amazing is watching the changes in my students... Witnessing people soften, strengthen, inquire, become confident, become kind - and listening as they share their joy and wonder at such changes - is a tremendous blessing. This amazing spectacle has given me a deep belief in the inherent goodness of people, and in the possibility of change for us all.

Yoga works over time... and it works because each of us has to do it for ourselves. We become our own toolbox, and by our own inherent wisdom, we learn at just the pace that we are capable of. It works because it is optimistic, encouraging, and rewarding... even when it's incredibly difficult and uncomfortable and scary.

How could art sneak into people's lives like this? How can art find its way into people's lives and hearts in the gentle, persuasive way that yoga does? How can art become a medium that shares a message - even an uncomfortable one - in such a way that people are eager to receive it?

This strikes me as a critical point. Art is so often shocking/offensive - but who of us appreciates learning from shock & offense? Isn't a gentle, compassionate approach capable of being even more devastating and effective than brute force? As Art Powerlines wrote, artists/people could chose to transform "art that is about shocking people to art that is about drawing people [in]."

I keep thinking back to the difficult, but necessary, lessons I have had to learn in life - and how some were learned with a sense of discovery and accomplishment - while others were learned with humiliation and fear. What works about yoga is that each practitioner discovers the same truths for themselves - in their own language, in their own breath, in their own body, in their own thoughts & metaphors. The ideas are the universal truths, but the discoveries are intimate and individualized.

So how can art sneak into someone's heart and open it from the inside? Can a viewer look at a painting and feel as though they created it? As though it was their idea? I'm pretty sure it is possible... because I'm pretty sure I've looked at paintings and experienced that feeling. So, how does an artist create that opening for the "viewers"?

Another thing in Art Powerline's lovely posting that got me thinking was the idea that "Art is about people." Ever since reading it, I keep hearing "Art is about Humanity" in my thoughts. But I think I'll save that for my next posting.