Close up view of a painting by Yayoi Kusama on view in Chelsea. This is a gentle reminder for me of the rhythm of the hand moving, the ritual of a mark being made

A preoccupying theme for me lately has been the compelling (and at times, compulsive) nature of art making as well as the spiritual (and yes, mystical) sense of one’s daily effort being a “chop wood, carry water” undertaking. From Adam Davidson‘s admonitions in yesterday’s post to the wisdom offered up by Tom Nozkowski (see below for a list of links to those posts), I have been in an ongoing engagement with these thoughts.

Other artists are also compelled by these issues, and a very good source for insights about an art worker’s daily life is my friend Lynette Haggard‘s blog. Over the last few years Lynette has published interviews with a wide variety of artists. And while her format is standardized, each interview reveals the very personal way in which each artist finds—and holds—her or his place.

This morning I reread a piece Lynette wrote about San Francisco-based artist Howard Hersh (who is also a friend.) This passage felt like worthy wisdom for my day:

Hersh considers it critical to his creative practice that he spends time in his studio daily. Whether or not he picks up a brush to paint, or a pan to pour—he spends time there, living with his work and the process of making his art. Following his passion, this time spent in the studio contributes to a lifestyle of total immersion. This habit supports Hersh’s ability to have strong vision and awareness as he works.

My experience has been similar. Something happens when you show up regularly. It isn’t about number of brush strokes achieved or works completed. It is about priming. And that priming is happening on several levels.

That commitment to showing up is part of cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien‘s Four Fold Way, a set of simple standards that apply to working in the studio as well as living one’s life:

1. Show up.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning for you.
3. Speak your truth without blame or judgment.
4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.

This is in keeping with the Zen koan I have quoted many times:
What do you do to achieve enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water.
What do you do after you achieve enlightenment? Chop wood, carry water.

Links to recent posts that include worthwhile insights into art making of Tom Nozkowski:

Nozkowski: Working from a Feeling
Letter to a Young Artist
Energizing the Space

6 Replies to “Priming”

  1. I always enjoy your posts but these most recent ones are among my favorites, perhaps because I can recognize my writer’s self. Love “Four Fold Way”.

  2. Thank you Maureen. This is an introspective time for me.

    And that exquisite poem you wrote about Agnes Martin (for anyone reading this, go to Writing Without Paper, Maureen’s blog). I think we are in a similar space right now.

  3. I love the “chop wood, carry water” and the points you make in this post. My equivalent has been to say I’m “chugging along”. Since I moved my painting location into my house, I live with my ongoing work––painting, photography, textiles, and now prints––all the time. I couldn’t be more immersed, whether I’m at work or not.

  4. Debirah – I love this post! So much of life is showing up and doing what needs to be done and it’s the same in the studio. I loved what Hiward had to say and I heard him talk about his work in person at the encaustic conference. His is a valuable and enduring approach – something fir us all to ascribe to.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts Altoon and Nancy. You are both artists whose opinions and views I value.

  6. […] harassed by the locals on the street, particularly the women on the team; no… Priming » Close up view of a painting by Yayoi Kusama on view in Chelsea. This is a gentle reminder for me of […]

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