On Being Precious or Being Precise

The Renwick Gallery has an amazing new exhibition of 40 artists under 40 years old who are changing the face of art and craft.  The work exhibited there is transformative for anyone who is interested in creativity, inspiration and the artistic process.  I marvelled at the concepts they played with in their work and level of precision and craft that each artist has achieved in his or her own piece.  See a slide show of their work here.

One of the most important lessons for me to learn and relearn as a recovering creative has been to be honest about being precious and being precise about my work.  I had a wonderful painting teacher at the Corcoran named Tom Xenakis who would stand behind me in a painting class and say (in a very unjudgemental way):  “You are being precious.” He didn’t mean cute or funny.  He meant that I was being fastidious and affected in my work.  It is a challenge about the practice of art.  Tom’s lesson has stayed with me, although it usually doesn’t come to me the moment I need it, before I have painted a canvas into a muddy mess.  Or when I look at something I’ve worked very hard on but it won’t sing.  There’s just paint, no heart.

Like all good art teachers, Tom taught working the entire canvas, leaving something and returning to it, trusting the process of making art.  In other words — get the hell out of your own way.  Let it flow.  Stop thinking so much.   Look, focus, see and paint.

The practice of mindfulness — of being in the moment and getting yourself out of the way — is important to painting, to yoga practice, to life.  Precision happens in mindful moments.  It is when we really see the shape of an eye — it isn’t shaped like an almond, the pupil isn’t really round, the iris catches the light here and darkens there.  In asana practice, precision happens when we can turn off the noise in our minds to tune into the sensations of our bodies, allowing us to take flight into bakasana or come up into our first headstand.  Indeed, mindfulness allows us to be precise with the people we love.  It allows us  look into their eyes and be present, to empathize, to listen and to love.

In Re-Entry I posted the painting of my husband’s hand.  I’ve added to the canvas a portrait of my daughter and the crook of his elbow, where she used to swing from as a toddler.  It is still unfinished, but I’m happy with it because I enjoyed every moment of the painting process.  I stopped being precious and just let the emotions carry me through.

Again I’ve learned the truth to the  Zen paradigm:  Stop thinking and talking about it and there is nothing that you will not be able to know.

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2 comments

  1. My goodness, Meg, you are once again right on target. I’m trying to teach myself painting – with the help of some great books. The biggest mistake I make is trying to control it all. Just like you talk about. You are so many steps ahead. I hope to follow…Thank you for sharing, dear, wise friend!

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