I’ve been learning how to listen. To listen with my ears, my skin, my blood and my breath. Lately, when I wake up in the morning, instead of filling my head with all the demands for the day, I’ve taken a moment to just listen. There’s the traffic out in the street, the neighbours getting ready for work; sometimes there’s a bus or a garbage truck, and there’s the birds. I hadn’t really taken much notice of the birds before, but if you take a moment they are always there. Thank god for the birds.
It’s no wonder so many artists are inspired by nature. I can see that the artist’s first intention starts with the desire to capture nature’s obvious beauty. But somewhere along the line it becomes about the process: the hypnotic pull of it as you synchronise with your subject, taking in every detail and feeling what it wants you to feel. And you just surrender to it. The rest of the world, in that moment, can’t even compete.
The lively twitch of a bird. The throws of brilliance in a sunset. The allure of a tranquil ocean.
I’ve started to notice something between being spellbound by a beautiful view, and being under the spell of creating art. Both render the mind and mouth silent. You become receptive rather than active, a listener and not a speaker. You move to the Ying opposing the Yang, you are your feminine beside your masculine.
I have recently been exploring some of the magic of the Kimberley. Travelling among other hardy explorers over hundreds of kilometres of corrugations to find the gems of gorges and waterfalls, running with water so perfectly pure. I always enjoyed the mornings in the camp grounds when the light was still changing colours, the air was crisp and cool in our lungs and the birds stoked by the new day were busy telling us all about it. The campers though were speechless. You could hear them tinkering away with things, packing up, making breakfast or sipping coffee in their chairs, drinking in the ambiance with not a word on their lips.
I remember a moment sitting with a team of travellers on a cliff top looking at Mitchell Falls opposite us. The thundering water hijacked our ear drums and the power of 80 metres of cascading falls was intimidating, even from the safety of our perch. We must have sat there for an hour in its presence. Just sat there.
In these moments my thoughts sometimes wandered to my art. It’s funny how certain feelings can trigger memories of when you have felt the same way before. I thought about the paintings I do where I use wood varnish. As a medium it has a certain character to it, certain quirks I work with. Like the way it reacts to the solvent to create the illusion of shimmery light on the ocean, or the way I can drag it across the canvas when it gets tacky and it appears like shadows drawing up under a wave. If I’m using the varnish the way it wants to be used the painting tends to come to life, but only if I let the varnish paint with me. It doesn’t work if I try to paint with it.
During the process there is a wonderful synchronicity between my eyes taking in the effects on the canvas and the eye of my mind taking in its view. Just as if I was watching the wave rolling in front of me, a receptive kind of energy flows through my body. Sometimes, when I’m deep under the spell, my mind has nothing to say.
The quiet mind. It’s a place where peace resides and creativity flows. It’s both the joy and the challenge for any aspiring creative.
The mind. So much character, so much personality, or so many personalities. It’s the mind that brings an element of mystery to every portrait. We look into the eyes painted onto the canvas and are compelled to question what is behind them. Then, projecting our human complexity we enter the bottomless pit of the mind. So many layers and we will never quite come to understand them all. So many questions we can’t answer with certainty. A labyrinth and we will never find our way to the end.
Creating is a sublime freedom from the complexity of the mind. But one of our personas is that of the Critic and it will try to judge our work before we even get the brushes out. There is The Comparer who warns us our work will never be as good as our idols. The Cautious doubts we have skills that can produce something that won’t be judged harshly by others. And The Practical who gives us a long list of other things that really should be done first.
The mind. It’s quite an obstacle and it’s not easy to get around. “I’m going to outsmart you,” I argued with it once, “and when I do I will know how to get rid of you”. “Absolutely you will” it replied, “Follow me, I will show you how.” So I did what it said and read all the books and listened to the gurus until I realised I was just dizzy and it had outsmarted me.
So thankfully the mind doesn’t have a personality called The Creator. I know this because you can’t argue with The Creator. Because even if you did try and protest against waterfalls and waves and birds it would just go on making waterfalls and waves and birds. Our minds never played any part in creating these beautiful things and they don’t play any part in creating something beautiful like art. Creation come from beyond the mind, and it is a place that everyone can connect with if we can work out how to get out of our own way.
Try, perhaps, listening for the birds and letting them take you where the mind cannot go.