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Hamilton Residency 10: Manifesto.

Lightning: it is wise not to make a target of yourself.

Enlightenment: what you feel as you walk away, unharmed, if you successfully apply this to any dangerous situation.

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My Manifesto, then, as informed by the following list of encounters, ideas and experiences, as far as I can name them in the moment:

J.F. Martel, Guy Laramee, Brian Eno, Kate Raworth, Rebecca Solnit, Greta Thurnburg, Werner Herzog, my Masters study of Community Music, Rutger Bregman, hundreds of conversations and encounters with the valued people in my world, Nora Bateson and warm data, Donna Haraway and ‘making kin’, Carl Jung’s Red Book, Wassail! 2018, my nine portrait collaborators, the Cotton Factory Artist’s residency, Hamilton, Emerald Street, Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, trust, love, betrayal, trauma, and four decades of good and bad artistic choices

To all artists, in all media and discipline, everywhere:

Do not ever paint, write, act, dance, direct or sing  for money.

Get paid, yes. But the primary objective of your work can not be financial compensation. In fact financial compensation is the least significant objective in making art.

(Read J.F. Martel’s Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice (2015). He’s right.)

Never starve for the sake of your ‘art’. That’s an old trap of an idea, and it never applied to you. Starving’s a waste of your time; figure out how to live and thrive, so you can work. Keep a weather eye on your ego; you need less than you think.

Werner Herzog put it this way:

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs.”

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Do your work out of love and respect for your human self, and all other human & non-human selves who struggle, fail, make wrong choices, and right ones. Paint for the dangerously passive-aggressive narcissist in his fortress of victimhood; for the seventh generation Welsh sheep farmer who calls out Peta on social media for denouncing the use of wool.

Sing for the young girls and boys with multicoloured hair who are entering a life in which their bodies are commodity, where there is no such thing as physical, emotional or psychological safety.

It is all “We”. You are not separate from any of this; it is your job to include, to speak for.

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Artists are the ‘voice’ of a natural ‘We’, which includes all living species.

Write, for the clearcut trees, the hurricanes and the fires, the floods and the traumatic, catastrophic changes in this world. Paint for all refugees, of all species.

Act, compose, direct, for the bully boys and their muzzled wives who get elected so they can take an axe to our carefully crafted, compassionate safety nets. This too, is human, they are also “We.”.

Make art that supports indigenous voices that speak for and to the land – people all over this planet who claim their integrity and walk their talk, through centuries of genocide.  Learn how to be a good ally, on your own steam, without entitlement.

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Go direct. Look beneath the surface of things, then widen your gaze to see the larger context.

Take a straight, objective look at power and its misuse, at how abusive behaviour always always always originates in deep private, personal insecurity, unhealed trauma, fear. Paint the humanness of that. Hold difficult space for change.

Mind your tongue and use your ears – the ones in your soul as well as the ones on your head. Use your anger to find and name the difficult beauty in all that you see. Paint that.

Learn to walk away when nothing more can be done; always forgive as you do this.

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Stand in your truth, then express that truth, through action, through art. Understand that your truth is not a weapon, it’s a shield – for you and for those in your care.

A corollary:  Some people do not have a truth to stand in. Accept this. Forgive their choices, support them as they search. Do not let them borrow your integrity and claim it as their own – that is not a kindness.

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Do all of this, but also: connect, find relevance. Find ways for people to discover themselves in what you do, what you make, how you choose, what you choose. Articulate with clarity why any of it is important. Art is relational, connective: provoke and make space for honest discussion.

A corollary: divisive, abusive work is not art, it is propaganda. Do not indulge in easy smallness, or the exclusion of anyone.

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As Rutger Bregman, Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Rebecca Solnit and a growing ocean of people have realized, the “Us” of this world is endangered.

So. Find what you value, build ways to name and present the difficult beauty that We are.  Do this with love, and with hope, inclusively.

Make your work count.

 

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Shock and shift

What happens when we don’t take responsibility for healing our own lives, and instead project our buried trauma out onto other people – our children, our families, our friends, our colleagues? 

What happens when we use all our energy in criticism and complaint, when we use charity and judgement as a way of maintaining privilege and superiority over ‘weaker-thans’?  When we use power like a gun and intelligence only to manipulate?  Is this not a way of describing blight?  Does this not weaken the entire system of life?  Weinstein.  Ghomeshi.  Trump.  Any person of any gender who identifies with embitterment, any person who inflicts their own still-festering injuries on others. 

So, at any point in our lives, each and every one of us, until we choose to do the work and grow up.

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What happens instead when we don’t accept diminishment, and instead use our considerable strength to knit together, to hold space for change, to join, to empower and build.  What happens to us.  What happens to the world.

Harriet Tubman.  Georgia O’Keefe.  Emily Carr.  Gord Downey.  Elizabeth Warren, who persists.

What happens when a small, any or multi gendered group gathers in the kitchen to wash, dry, put away dishes from the meal they made for 30 people? What happens when they gather to weed a garden, repair or build a quilt, build a house, make music, block out a play, collaborate on a project, get something done together…  the conversation knits and weaves, joins and clarifies, connects and strengthens.

It’s about the doing, but the doing isn’t the point.  The weaving, the connecting, the building, the sharing and comparing is the point.  The anchor of hearth, the rhythm of ritual, the resources of valued difference.

In this contemporary culture, many-gendered, magnificent embroiderers, quilters, designers and fabric artists have taken the diminuitive notion of ‘women’s work’ and transformed it into empowerment – an actual, functional, powerful approach to healing our homes and our bodies and building the world anew.  Artists and musicians, actors and writers are more and more equally represented by all cultures, all genders, who have empowered themselves to speak from their own power, to openly share their hard-won strength and dignity with us.  Does this not strengthen us all?  Is this not another way to describe nourishment?

Endurance, independence, perception, wisdom.  Strong opinions, well informed by context and shared with humility.  To do something valuable with one’s anger.

Not the pursuit of virtuosity as an identity, but for joy.  Not to claim then fight nasty to maintain one’s trumped-up value .

Instead, always to include, to hold space for. Powerfully.

The We, the Us, without the Them.  We, the ecosystem from which no living being is excluded.

This requires courage.

 

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#Water: These Changing Seas

Do we all have a natural buoyancy?  I wonder.  Some call themselves ‘sinkers’, and describe the great effort required to stay afloat.  This is subjective, of course. Effort, to some, is a thing to be minimized if not avoided altogether.  To others effort is a joy,  a ‘coming to meet’, a solid, positive investment in something of value.

The ground for the largest of the #Water series paintings (so far). It's a 7'x6' piece of the backdrop canvas that caught the 'runoff' from six years of painting on the south wall of my studio. I'm working on pulling an image out of it - a collaboration with history, in a way. I've overlaid an adult floating figure in it to see if I can suggest a feeling of immersion
The ground for the largest of the #Water series paintings (so far). It’s a 7’x6′ piece of the backdrop canvas that caught the ‘runoff’ from six years of painting on the south wall of my studio. I’m working on pulling an image out of it – a collaboration with history, in a way. I’ve overlaid an adult floating figure in it to see if I can suggest a feeling of immersion.  Not quite what I want, but close…

For others effort is an expression of desperation – a wild reaching for anything that might keep them afloat.  What they grab and use is of no value to them other than a means to rise to the surface.  Even at the surface there is no rest from anxiety, just more effort, more grabbing for fear of sinking again.

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Out of your element.  A fundamental lack of trust in the place you find yourself, a fear that you will become lost to it. Or perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that you are meant for greater things, and as years go by and your greatness still eludes you, you feel yourself caught in the powerful undertow of mediocrity.  Similar effect: your sense of value becomes distorted in the effort to get out. You feel compelled to climb upon and over people you consider mediocre in order to rise and claim your entitlement. In the endless urge to betterment, who has not felt chained at times?

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I prefer surrender to a strong, focused curiosity – the kind that reveals great value where it might not be immediately apparent. A buoyancy I can admire comes from a sense of ‘rightness’ of purpose that is in equal part intuitive and practical, and never rigidly self-serving. I prefer a kind of faith with eyes open.  A trust generously laced with discernment, Havel’s ‘deep and powerful’ hope,

Vaclav Havel, from “Disturbing the Peace (1986)”,

Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.

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Havel has long been one of the strong voices that puts wind in my sails and floats my boat.  If the word ‘meek’ means strength under control (as many say it did when the Matthew 5:5 was written), then to me that describes the Czech playwright & politician who gave us a chart for humble human courage and dignity – even and especially in absurdly turbulent waters.

Appropriate to a recent experience of mine is this,

Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not.

In my experience, humility and good humour do not sink.