Monday, January 30, 2012

Lessons on Art and Life from Dog Obedience Class



This is Hue.  He's 4 months old now.  He looks like such an angel here.  We've been to two obedience classes. On Day One, the trainer gave us a few doggie obedience tips. Seems to me these could also be applied to art and to life.

Don't take it personally:  I ask him to sit and he does for a second.  Then I gently pull his leash up and push his bum down to sit again.  And I do this again.  And I do it again and again.
He puts his front two feet onto the table by the back door.  I push him off.  He does it again and again and again as he waits for me to put on my coat to go outside.  And again.  As I put on my coat, he tries to bite the bottom edge of the jacket.  I take my outdoor shoes out of the closet, put them on the floor and he quickly grabs one and runs away with it.  I call him back.  He comes.  I take the shoes away and put them on one at a time. I bend over to put his leash on.  He bites my scarf and gets his teeth caught in the fabric.  Oh I sound like such a patient saint, when the truth is much different and by the time we get out the door, I'm yelling and hollering and completely fried.  Meanwhile he's so happy to be outdoors.

How many times have I submitted work to juried shows, to galleries, or for grants, where I've been turned down.  At the beginning, I was hurt, frustrated and greatly discouraged by the rejections.  Not that I have a thick skin now, but the discouragement doesn't last.  I'm committed to making art, no matter if anyone likes it.  One of the biggest lessons is: don't take it personally.

Be Patient: Make him sit again and again.  When he does finally sit for longer than 1 second,  I say "Good Dog", through gritted teeth by the 50th go round.

Most often, I'm more patient with my work.   I've certainly put in my 10,000 hours.

Don't get frustrated or angry, the dog won't respect you: Well, I have to laugh at this one.  I have a long way to go here.

I have had to learn this in my work too. This has been a difficult lesson for me.  A number of years ago I created a body of work that was very experimental for a show I was having in Toronto.  The work was very poorly received, poorly attended, and nothing sold.  I had had quite a lot of success with my work until then. And that response completely overwhelmed and discouraged me.   In anger, I decided to quit painting for a year.  Very mature response.  My galleries thought it was a good idea that I was going to take a year off.  What?  I thought they would miss me or advise me not to do this.  Nope.

I did end up taking 7 months off.  It turned out to be a good break, but a financial disaster.  It took me years to recover financially from that time off.   At this point, that even though I still get frustrated and angry occasionally, I know I won't quit again.  Whatever happens.

The dog lives in the moment:  I tend to daydream on  walks.  Not Hue.  He is forever alert. He must be a Buddhist. He is interested in every single thing around him, running from one side of the path to another. And I have to be just as alert when I'm training him, partly so I won't trip on the leash when he whips around me or spins me!  He's keeping me in the moment too.


Synge's Chair  24x24" oil/cold wax medium on panel
©Janice Mason Steeves

I also know that when he finally falls asleep in my studio, when I'm working, that I had better make good use of those few hours.  I'd better focus. No leaving the studio to put in another load of laundry or to quickly check emails. Focus.  Normally I wouldn't bother to get my paints set up if I only have an hour or two to work.  Now I jump in there and use every moment, hoping that I won't step back in a moment of reverie, into a puddle of pee.

Today is dog obedience class #3.



Sunday, January 8, 2012

Enough Time





Newgrange  48x42" oil/cold wax on panel ©2011 Janice Mason Steeves

It is not enough if you are busy.
The question is, ‘what are you busy about?’

~Henry David Thoreau



How can one person do it all?  I have taken classes on getting organized.  I set schedules and goals.  I have no TV.  But I feel that I'm constantly playing catch-up in my life: finding enough studio time, trying to catch-up on my art inventory, organizing my art classes, writing grant proposals, meeting art exhibition deadlines, donating to art auctions, writing blog posts, aiming to keep up on facebook, as well as walking my puppy, exercising, housecleaning and family life.  And occasionally meditating.


 I was brought abruptly to my senses last night though when a dear old friend called to chat. We talk now and again but not regularly.  We've known each other since our now grown children were in Grade One. In the spring, she told me she was having very serious worries about one of her children who had recently confessed to having a drug addiction.  We talked for a long time.  


And then days began to pass.   My busy, often chaotic life took all my attention.  I wasn't sure how to follow up with my friend, and I soon got so far into my own world, that I simply forgot to call her.  I didn't call to see how she and her family were coping with this life-threatening problem. Last night she called to chat and the conversation turned to her hurt at my not calling to check on her.  She had gone through months of hell because she was so worried.  I'm embarrassed to confess this.  It wasn't intentional.  It just happened. And I feel simply awful.


I don't have all the good answers that I see on other blogs and newsletters, where point by point, you can see the way to being a better person.  I'm sick of them actually.  Life isn't point by point.


Sometimes we make mistakes and we're brought face to face with our weaknesses.  


Sometimes we need to step back, take the time to reflect and turn off the noise.  I came across Pico Iyer's article "The Joy of Quiet"  recently in the NY Times.

"The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
We have more and more ways to communicate, as Thoreau noted, but less and less to say. Partly because we’re so busy communicating. And — as he might also have said — we’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.
So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen."  
[Some] friends try to go on long walks every Sunday, or to “forget” their cellphones at home. A series of tests in recent years has shown..... that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for."
Slowing down is the key, not working harder, longer and faster.  Walks in the woods with my puppy and grandkids.  Visits with friends.