The Guest House by Rumi

Here is the poem I referred to in my last post:

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

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What is Artist Block? (Part of a longer series…)

What is artists’ block? What is a creative block? What constitutes any kind of psychological block in which the individual consciously wants to and intends to do something but cannot seem to do it, as though you were going to write a letter on a piece of paper but somehow could not do it? What’s the difference between procrastination and blocks and is there a crossover between them? Are creative blocks similar in some way to dips in people’s sexual drive or libido?

The strange thing about blocks is that sometimes the way to overcome them is the one that seems most logical and usually drives the blocked person crazy: just do the “project” or whatever it is, “anyway”. Sit down and start, do five minutes a day, break it into smaller parts, have lower expectations, allow yourself to work on it 20 minutes and take an hour break to watch a tv show.

A block is sort of what a physical block would look like, not the kind of sidewalk block, but a block of concrete or other material. Most people see it as a kind of wall that is right in front of them and they can’t seem to come up with interesting ways to try to go over the wall, or to accept the wall’s existence and actually just become interested in the wall and what it really looks and feels like.

Both ways are pretty concrete solutions to getting over a “block”. Either just “forcing” yourself to do it anyway or allowing yourself to not do it and investigate your block and see it as a friend, kind of like the Rumi poem, “Guest house”.

The reason I mention sex drive and libido is that creative energy and sexual energy seem to have somthing in common, I’m not sure how to verbalize it. And blocked people come up with the same excuses for avoiding sex and avoiding a “project”. “I’m too tired. I work too hard. I have no energy left to deal with this. I have too much to do.” “I won’t be able to concentrate as I am thinking to much about this or that stressor etc. Imagine if you were going to eat dinner and someone came round and said, you can’t eat until you get this and this done. While some people actually do that to themselves, most of us give in to eating for survival even if it involves eating delivery food from a styrofoam bowl in front of the computer screen.
When you look at it from a different angle, people who have a lot of sex with their partners are not necessarily horny all the time and people who are prolific creatively are not in the grips of some kind of divine inspiration and focus every morning.

So part of being blocked is somehow compartmentalizing a part of yourself and then neglecting it and the more you neglect it, the more you can say, “It’s not really me.” even if you think, “One day I will wake up and write this book and it will just flow out of me…
To be continued…

Continuing with Cultural Rituals and Diversity: Easter

I’m overdue to post for my weekly post, so I thought I would go back to my series on interesting cultural traditions and rituals around the world involving big rites of passages and holidays, such as birthday, weddings and unions, funerals, holidays.

I do not know that much about the origins of some Easter customs such as egg coloring and bunnies, so I am quite ignorant on the whole holiday except for the fact that sometimes Passover and Easter coincide perfectly as Jesus’ famous “Last Supper” was a Seder.

Anyway, here are some interesting and strange customs involving Easter all over the world. Very random, and no judgment, just picked things that seemed more obscure… These are all lifted from various random internet sites. I try to avoid Wikipedia…

Czechoslovakia:( I guess this is in the now “Czech Republic”, not “Slovakia” but I’m not sure…
In Czechoslovakia during Easter week it’s good luck to beat your wife or the girl you fancy with a pomlázka, or a braided whip. While this may sound strange It’s not meant in a demeaning way or as an insult, in fact pomlázka, means “make young.” The idea behind the tradition is that anyone hit with the whip will be healthy and happy during the upcoming year.

The tradition is believed to have originated with the spring blessing of the house which is common among all Orthodox Christians. This translated in using a whip or a single branch in order to lightly hit livestock or family members. Now the tradition is wide spread and you can even buy premade whips or special wooden spoons that can be used to hit your loved ones.

(from “http://www.weirdworm.com/9-strange-easter-traditions/”)

Here’s another description about the Easter bunny and the eggs. I must be living in a cave as I never knew the Easter bunny laid the eggs children hunt for. I thought the bunny symbolized fertility and rebirth and that the eggs were separately associated with spring and renewal. Also, I had no idea the Easter bunny was a big like Santa Claus in that he sneaks into the homes with baskets of eggs. How is it that this seemingly male bunny actually laid these eggs and why does Duane Reade sell a lot of stuffed chicks with the stuffed bunnies?

Here’s a rather long description of the origin of the Easter Bunny and the eggs:

The Easter Bunny, in case you’ve been living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that “all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko,” but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians’ celebration of Christ’s resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don’t know exactly when, but it’s first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it’s wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the

Read the full text here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/21411/where-did-easter-bunny-come#ixzz2P5P4bcou
–brought to you by mental_floss!

Then there is the wonderful “Easter Bonnet” and its origins:

Early Easter Headdress
The original Easter head accessory was not a bonnet or a hat. Before Easter was an official holiday, women would celebrate the arrival of spring by decorating head wreaths with fresh flowers. The circle of the wreath symbolized the earth’s orbit around the sun as well as the cycle of the seasons.

Post Civil War
On Easter Sunday following the end of the Civil War, women and their daughters traded their dark, mourning veils for the pastel colors and fresh flowers of spring. They adorned their hats and bonnets with ribbons and blooming flowers.

New York
In the 1870’s, a tradition emerged in New York City. On 5th Avenue, the social elite would attend church service, then parade down the street aferward to show off their Easter fashions. With each passing year, the hats of the Easter paraders would become larger and more creatively decorated. Spectacular head gear has included live bird nests, portable flower gardens and pets.

Easter Parade
By the late 1940’s, the famous Easter Parade expanded out of 5th Avenue and extended from Madison Square to Central Park. The event was made into an American icon with the 1948 musical “The Easter Parade”, written by Irving Berlin.

Modern Easter Hats
Today, Easter hats have become a holiday novelty and are not seen often at church services. Still, they can be found on the heads of fashionably conscience elderly ladies and well dressed little girls. The hats that remain on the scene are light weight, usually made of straw. They are decorated with ribbons, lace or artificial flowers.

(From: http://www.ehow.com/about_6668631_history-easter-hats.html)

PS to Letting Go Post, Blogging

Blogging for me is all about letting go. Sharing thoughts, feelings, discoveries, new interests, new knowledge, but never hoarding it, rather using the blog format to pour it out into the world without too much editing, tweaking, getting tight with it. A blog is like a waterfall. The post falls out and maybe it’s not detailed enough, or maybe I hardly know anything about what I am reflecting on but I’m just thinking out loud and sending my thoughts out, letting go, trusting someone will receive it and maybe even dialogue with or reflect back on it.

This is why I think getting blocked about blogging makes no sense; the blog is formatted for you to not get stuck. even better if the perfectionistic person writes a post without checking for grammar or editing and just clicks on publish! you are letting go and flowing and the blog is the great container for that. It’s great that there is a linear process over time to blogging…

New Topic: Letting Go

This whole recent experience of changing studios and moving has really been quite enlightening for me. In my old studio there were a lot of “dead” things that had accumulated that did not belong to me but that I seemed to be “Holding on” to for other people, not that many, but ten years ago when I moved into 307 from the 408 studio, it was much bigger and I took a lot of art work out of storage to bring to the studio. At the same time, others were dumping things there with the idea that, “oh just keep them there for me and I will get them out soon.” I did not realize what I was getting into. I’ve heard all kinds of stories from other adults about that moment when their parents suddenly say, “Hey, come home and look through the basement and take all your stuff out because we will not continue to hold it for you. Strangely that happened to me this year and I brought a lot of bags of old photos, papers from college and grad school, letters from long ago, and photos of people I spent a brief time with probably during high school summers and college, people whom I could not recognize or remember, but I threw them in bags and got them over to my studio, and thought to myself, “Well, at least I am taking these to my own space to figure out what to do with them and these are actually mine, not some friends’ stuff…” This was a few months ago when I had no idea my world would be turned upside down by moving studios.

By nature, I am not much of a hoarder, considering being a visual artist already is not in one’s favor for getting rid of stuff because it’s hard to throw out big oil paintings you did over 20 years ago that didn’t sell. I challenge most artists to say they easily throw out old work. I have gone threw old work periodically and purged some of it without much emotional attachment and much relief, so I know it can be done.

Anyway at some point soon after moving into 307, I payed a friend to build me painting racks which were very good and could hold all my old art and have room for new art. Until I started moving, I did not realize how much square footage this large high painting rack was taking up, a large part of my studio. One of the things that is so liberating about my new studio is having storage built in, so that my biggest old work is tucked away in an already built three tiered small painting rack that does not take up much space and is not facing you when you walk in the room. There is literally more creative space in there, whatever the square footage of the two rooms. In the first room for the first time in 23 years of having art studios, I have an actual closet with shelves in it. What a difference. And more storage up high and out of the way.

Behind my big painting rack was all kinds of “stuff” I was holding on to that I finally got rid of. An antique wood bed I sold. Other random stuff I threw out. It was like the studio was hiding all this old toxic stuff that did not belong to me that I was still carrying with me. Three boxes of photos and other stuff that was not mine. I finally took it home so it never even got to the second studio and tonight on garbage night at home, I dragged this stuff down the stairs and put it out as trash. Several trips of doing this.

As a person who likes throwing things out but also likes picking up weird hardware on the street and things on my studio floor and doilies from restaurants and adding them to collages, as well as discovering I could take old bad drawings and recycle them in new work, I had the usual feeling of relief after throwing these boxes out. It is true the Feng Shui principle that you have to get rid of clutter to make space for new stuff to happen. In the moving process, I was tempted to take apart and get rid of a major series of art work done in my early twenties, but I couldn’t do it. However, I found one self-portrait that was quite big that I easily tore apart and threw out. Still not great considering how many other works I kept, but it was easy last week to donate a big triptych, and two smaller works to a silent auction and hope they would get sold. Three more art peices sent out into the world, 3 more art peices I don’t have to hold on to. I used to have a fantasy that someone would come to my studio and say, I’m taking all your work, everything you’ve made up to today, and you can’t keep any of it. I will disperse it to people and find homes for it, every single peice will be up on some strangers wall and you will be left with empty drawers and empty racks and walls. What a great thing that would be. In my fantasy I was aware that I had not great attachment to my art because I want to be making new art and getting rid of the old art. It would be such a relief to not have to hold on to stuff I created that I know I can’t throw out. There is a series from 2001 that lasted about two years of tiny drawings. I sold a bunch of them and gave a bunch of them away but I still have a drawer full of all of them. It was an important body of work, but why do I keep it in the drawer? I can’t throw it out but isn’t there some solution between the extremes of holding on to one’s own art work and throwing it out?

I’m not sure the answer to it. I know someone who recently went through old journals and threw out most of each one, but kept a few images. That I admire. I like throwing out clothes I won’t wear and all kinds of stuff that is so easy to get rid of, like old paperwork and bank statements from years ago but I have all my art jornals from the last twenty five years or so since I started making them and decorating each cover back in college. I could probably go through them but the covers themselves I am attached to and wouldn’t want to throw out…

Anyway, the point of this post is that it is important to let go of “things” and make room for the here and now. IF having to move is what gets one to do it, then the move is helping you get to living life in the now and not in the past.

This new studio feels that way. I am more aware of what I want to bring in to it and what I don’t want in it and how eventually I want it to be organized to optimize space to walk around in so as to be able to walk back and forth to the art while making it. I have grown used to a bad habit of crouching over my art work while making it, and then putting it on the wall. It’s great to work at a table or on the floor but more movement is better so the body does not get stiff while creating.

Expansive is a great word that somehow is both light and “heavy” in a good way. letting go, making room, stirring up, awakening to the now…

New Studio Great Group Project: Paint the Column

Column 3/15/13

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photo-33

It’s now been ten days since the last post; I’ve slowed down from my once per week posting because of being so busy with moving and working so much.

Anyway, I am happy to say that the new studio is really wonderful and I am totally embracing the “new” and do not miss my old one at all. Great things about this studio: there are two rooms and lots of storage so I don’t have to build painting racks that will take over the space the way they did in the last studio. I haven’t even filled all the storage space yet. Other improvements: the entrance to the building is all glass with the “59 Franklin” written in the glass and the lobby is better looking and has a nice column in it. The elevator is bigger and not as slow, and great news, the bathrooms actually have hot water and paper towels! There is even a shelf above the bathroom sink in front of the mirror that you can put tea cups on while washing them. And the ladies room has two toilets, so it feels much more civilized. The cold water only in the last studio was terrible. Unfortunately the big sink for washing brushes is in the basement, so I have to remember to go down there every day to wash brushes…

Greatest thing of all is the column in the second room. Also, the second room has high ceilings comparable to the high ceilings of my last studio. So this column inspired me right away. Like the walls it was not painted pristine white and there were a lot of green paint marks on it; hence, the thought of painting it made sense. I’m not sure what happened when, but I started at the bottom with neon pink and painted a big of it I think on the first day I worked there; March 4. The next day, I invited people to paint it and the fun began. A patient who doesn’t like doing art at all got completely excited to paint the column and use the inks as well which are really fun because they drip down the column. There is definitely a different feeling to painting the column than painting a wall or door. Over the course of the last ten weekdays, my first two work weeks in the studio, many people from ages 5 and up, including a lot of adults, have painted the column. It is a great group art therapy project as it connects all people who visit the studio together. There is no skill needed to paint on it, so lots of people are drawn to it. I made a mandala on the floor around the bottom of the column. I drew a circle free hand with a sharpie and then covered it with pieces of neon pink masking tape to make the boundaries of the circle, so people were invited to paint on the floor inside the mandala as well as on the column. At some point during the first week, I got the courage to go up high on the ladder and paint the very top of the column and the ceiling around it. I wanted it to have a circle of gold on the edges like a gold halo and then painted the gold as though it were dripping down from the ceiling. Then this week I painted the next layer down a darker gold, and started doing copper under that, with the plan to add silver so it looks like, as the gold drips down it gets transformed eventually into silver and from there into the multicolored painting extravaganza that has been happening for the last two weeks with every color imaginable as well as spots, lines, circles, splashes of ink and even a small tree on the mandala. On Friday I started putting more neon pink tape on the edge of the mandala as it had gotten painted over. I kind of realized it made no sense to do that and that I should wait until the project is finished, as I will have to keep redoing the pink tape…

There was something magical about this column and the excitement generated in painting it that felt like my new studio has all this potential to be even more of a creative inviting atmosphere that will find many visitors drawn to make art… The altered book frenzy continues as I continue to make altered books along side more people. I started a few more, so now I am still working on the first one which was The Artists’ Handbook, and started 3 other ones that are children’s board books which are fun to sand and then paint on and collage with.

I also got the idea to add more color to the place when one person noticed that the first room was full of things with bubble wrap on them and random other stuff like wood that made the second room more inviting, so I brought in some colorful fabrics and covered the things I was storing over the flat files; what a difference that made! And suddenly I was aware that this studio is very different from my last one. It is similar in the kind of studio it is. The dirty floors and art supplies overflowing everywhere are as inviting and comforting for creating, but the studio itself is trying to be prettier, with the colorful column and then my gold sheets and multicolored fabric; I hope to cover up the paintings that are being stored in bubble wrap. Also I put a pretty red and gold tablecloth over the florescent light in the second room which adds to the colorful atmosphere.

Now I just have to unpack the boxes, build shelves and organize the place as well as paint the walls and finish the mermaid door that got started… It will take a while for it to get set up in an organized way, but it’s getting there slowly.

A new creative space that is already exciting as a place to create in! I am very happy about it and look forward to more people seeing the studio soon…

Endings and Beginnings, Dealing with Change!

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”

-Joseph Campbell

I saw this quotation on Facebook and thought it was perfect for my current state of transition/transformation. I have spent the last week in a deep state of “termination” or loss of my old studio, which I made art in and spent time with others and their psyche’s and others making art for the past ten years in the building of which I had occupied 3 studios in in the past 20 years, the second third and fourth studios of my life as an artist, and of my native New York city. In this same week, I also signed the lease for my new studio, my fifth, which is luckily around the corner from my old studio, so I am not leaving this neighborhood that I have been in for the last 20 years of my life! And it represents 20 of I guess 22 years or so of my being a professional artist…

Ok, so I guess I am repeating myself as I looked at my last post of more than ten days ago, so I will try to post new info in this post!

First of all, Great News about my new studio! It is not the one I described in the last post. In a strange moment of synchronicity, just as I was on the subway reading about one of my favorite artists and her small collages and getting myself excited for a “small and intimate” new studio and imagining how I would make it very different from my old one, I got off the subway and the guy who showed the spaces had contacted me to tell me I still had the option of taking the big one I wanted in the first place, Studio 205! When he first showed me the spaces on Franklin Street, the best space was an interested space with two rooms and a lot of storage space. The wall was only half built in the second room, and he told me the owner was deciding whether to build up the wall and make that the space, in which case, I could afford it (a little more expensive than my current one but well worth it for the high ceilings I am used to and the novelty of having two rooms!), or he would knock down the wall and make a much bigger space way out of my price range. So I spent 3 days waiting nervously to find out the verdict and finally was told he was going to make the big space, so I reserved the other one. Suddenly now I got to have the one I wanted! I was very excited, as the move would be more exciting and at least I would be going a step up from my old beloved studio. This space is a little bigger but a weird shape. Anyway the ceilings are at least pretty high and I won’t have to paint over a dark color, though I will need to paint the walls eventually. Also, as they had to build the wall, I would need to do 2 moves. One was last Sunday and it went from morning until about 1 am with some great movers, friend of a friend of mine. It took forever for them to take out my 2 big flat files and all the rest of my stuff, and as they were loading the truck I was still rushing to wrap up paintings from the now destroyed painting racks. As I used to long ago make very big paintings, I had a lot of those to wrap as well as many medium to small size canvases I had totally forgotten about. Even with everything I threw out, we filled the truck up and I had to get a very large storage space which we filled up completely. Then we went back to my studio and packed about 15 boxes in the truck to take to my home. So by the time I was giving the movers a late meal at my house it was about 1am! And there still was lots of other stuff in my studio that needed to be dealt with over the week up until the last day, Thursday, Feb. 28!

I “surrendered” my studio 307 at about 3:30pm on Thursday. Luckily I did not have to paint the floor or walls and the inspection resulted in a promise (with a signed document) that I would get my entire deposit (a hefty sum of money that would come in handy for paying for two moves…) back!

That same day my new studio wall was up and I had my desk and some wood and other items stored there. I had signed the lease by then and gotten my keys, so I now had my new address, Studio 205 at 59 Franklin St. The new studio has a cool looking column in it as well as a closet and other random kinds of storage. I went there today with a bunch of boxes, a table to use until the next move and some folding chairs. I tried to mop the floor which was dusty, and it was strangely still just as dirty looking afterwards, but hey, this is an art studio and my old floor was very nicely covered in paint and ink spills! I set up the table and opened boxes of art supplies of all kinds, some client art work, and my special box of my tea boiler and my cups and many kinds of tea, so I’m ready for action starting tomorrow morning. I am excited to make something in there before my first 9am patient as I want to make sure I make something before anyone else does, just because… And I will bring my sage as I did not have time or remember today to sage the place.

Speaking of sage, I saged my old studio two times at least. One on the last day, in order to purify the space and remove all my personal energy and the collective creative energy and psychic energy that had accumulated in there over the last ten years. Even though I felt kicked in the face by not being able to choose to renew that lease, I felt a responsibility to leave in a dignified manner and to “clear” the space for the next people. Now I need to purify and sage my new space!

I took many kinds of photos of the old and new studios over the past week, and it’s quite striking how quickly it went from what it was to an empty space…

Tomorrow I will take photos of my temporary set up for this week and then next Sunday after the move the studio will be transformed again…

These are the words of Hannelore Baron, one of my favorite artists, who made very tiny intimate things, words that I identified with: (strangely my own artistic journey went from making very large oil canvases to smaller and smaller things with mixed media on all kinds of surfaces, and I repeatedly arrive at an intimate scale where I am also most comfortable:

“I don’t relate to large things. I don’t like anything large; large things sort of dwarf me… and I don’t like anything that makes me small now…” Hannelore Baron

At the same time, I do love large things and large spaces, but I don’t like the emphasis in our society on “Bigness” somehow being better. Looking up to tall people, big buildings, large art work, etc. There is plenty of beauty in the smallest tiniest spark of color…

To be continued… This will be a transition week, and it almost makes sense that my move is going in phases, as a way for me to cope with all the change better and also have that time to end one chapter and begin a new one…

Note: I will try to post more photos soon. It’s not working!