Contemporary Craft Retreat-soothing the October soul

What does my soul crave by October? There are moments of being manically DSCN2109frazzled. Or stupefiedly overwhelmed.  My soul craves serenity. Calm. Completion. And the chance to play. My soul craves the opportunity to make peaceful repetitive movements and then unpredictably lash out theatrically and express my inner rebel.

So, in a ridiculously overambitious way (Hello! Tell me I am not alone here?) I have attempted to make my Mandala Angels class for the Contemporary Craft Retreat at Greenhills, Cotter Dam meet all those desires! Hooee!!! Why not go for it big time!DSCN2117

I had a lot of fun preparing for the class so hope those doing the class do too! Lots of other classes are available if serene mania doesn’t appeal. Perhaps I will see you there?

Art as Therapy: Appreciation

Such is the power of art: It is both witness to and celebrator of the value of the ordinary, which we so IMG_0080.JPGfrequently forsake in our quests for artificial greatness, a kind of resensitization tool that awakens us to the richness of our daily lives.    (Maria Popova, Brainpickings)

Nearly all my art is a celebration. Countless posts on this blog reveal that. More often than not, I am celebrating my good fortune at having another day to experience the miracle that it is to walk the earth. (Thich Nhat Hanh) The angel pictured (left) was created to celebrate the arrival of myDSCN2149 grand daughter.

I appreciate birds, feathers, family, colour, friends and freedom, silver hair and the darling Labrador who cured me of my animal phobia.  (While the link between the necklace on the right and that darling animal may not be abundantly clear, take my word for it. He is very much a part of it).

That’s the end of my reflections on Maria Popova’s great essay about Art as Therapy by Alain de Boton and John Armstrong. It was a fun way to make me really read!

Art as Therapy: Growth

Obviously, there is great overlap in the functions of art that de Boton and Armstrong describe.  I just DSCN2146know that if I try to make something in response to something I read, I am more likely to read mindfully and try to absorb the essence or lessons from what I read. This little exercise of selecting past work that reflects the functions has made me really think, rather than skim.

Growth.

Aaah…growth.  Often when I make art, I am practising life skills I want more of! I think that is one of the reasons I am so passionate about teaching.  Where can I practise making an intention and staying on track to bring it to fruition…make art; Where can I practise taking risks and playfully experimenting with new ideas…make art; where can I practise openness and moving beyond my comfort zone…make art.  Where can I learn to feel comfortable with not knowing…make art!

Classes with Mel Young and Ann Evers were great opportunities to go outside my comfort zone. (The necklace featured in yesterday’s post was made in Mel’s class)  At last year’s Contemporary Craft Retreat (and more exciting news about that later!) I went to a class run by Susie McMahon where I made a head. Not a speck of polymer in sight. (Mind you there’s the unmistakable presence of two favourite elements: pods and Nepal!) Signing up required overcoming a fear of the unknown and being willing to risk failure! Skills I learnt in this class have permeated MY work in a different medium.

Let’s expand the boundaries of who we are by helping us overcome our chronic fear of the unfamiliar and live more richly by inviting the unknown. (Brainpickings)

 

 

Art as Therapy: Self-Understanding

DSCN3223We mystify ourselves. Well, I often mystify myself!

This is why I related to de Boton and Armstrong’s notion that the art we surround ourselves with, and the art we make, gives us a language to communicate something about ourselves to others when words fail.  Lately for me, poetry (others’!)  more clearly expresses my own inarticulate thoughts.  Our art too can often say things about us, or for us, when the wordsDSCN5169 are not enough.

They describe the situation where we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before.  I sense this recognition looking at the timber sculptures of Robyn Gordon, or the polymer art by Tory Hughes and Genevieve Williamson.

Many of my pieces were journeys in self knowledge but three stand out: a filigree box which incorporated symbols that are significant to me; a necklace I made in Broken Hill at a a time of great upheaval and a necklace that speaks of the DSCN1763relationship between me and my mother-my desire to know what it is that helps her to live well.  At least jewellery is more wearable than inchoate attempts at self expression!

Art as Therapy: Rebalancing

So…part four already in my little series reflecting on Maria Popova’s Art as Therapy.

For me both the process of making art and the final product, is re-centring for me.  Picking up a lumpThree breaths of polymer, rolling it, twisting it, allowing something to emerge stills my monkey mind.  Going down the stairs to my making room truly is my oasis. Here I wrote about making a necklace that reminds me to choose; here I write about an amulet that reminds me to be grateful and playful.

De Boton and Armstrong believe that we want to be good, but sometimes lose the plot (my translation!) At these points, they say, we can derive enormous benefit from works of art that encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves.

DSCN2121What a wonderful thought! I could make something that encourages someone to be the best version of themselves! (I have to confess that part of me recoils at the vaguely new-agey ring to this overworked phrase but I choose to ignore that to hear deeper truths!)

In my art I do try to express or consolidate what I am learning about how to live.  I make altars, amulets, talismans (talismen?) and jewellery to encourage, remind, comfort or nudge.  I wrote here about creating a piece with my mother based on a book by Jan Chozen Bays to help me cultivate mindfulness in my everyday life.

De Boton and Armstrong say that: Art can save us time — and save our lives — through opportune and visceral reminders of balance and goodness that we should never presume we know enough about already.

Not sure that my art is life saving, but some of my art reminds me, at least, of a goodness and balance that I can attain to.

Art as Therapy: Sorrow

The third function of art as defined by de Boton and Armstrong and described in more detail here is sorrow.  One of the unexpectedly important things that art can do for us is teach us how to suffer more successfully…base and unimpressive experiences are converted into something noble and fine — exactly what may happen when sorrow meets art.

Less of my work expresses sorrow although it may permeate pieces and be a part of their gestation. DSCN2022 I once described this piece shown as a love song. As well as delight in the desert landscape where I had lived for over four years, it was indeed expressing sorrow. And fear. And later on was linked to disappointment. But now I pass my Desert Walking Gown every time I enter my house. I remember my tenacity and focus. I know what I can do. And what is important. And where I can feel grounded, quiet and still.

DSCN2021

 

Art as Therapy: Hope

Yesterday I wrote about remembering. De Boton and Armstrong’s second function of art is hope. Read their discussion at length here where they talk about the power of art to put us in touch with a DSCN4319blithe, carefree part of ourselves that can help us cope with inevitable rejections and humiliations.  Don’t we need that?

I am an introvert but much of my art is flamboyant, over-the-top and certainly tapping into that carefree, blithe part of me that loves to play.

 

Certainly, the “girls” over the ages, have been truly alter egos!  Mind you, I have long ago given up hope of having boobs like theirs.

Unicode

Unicode

Unicode

Unicode

Art as Therapy: Remembering

Thanks to my beloved Maria* I have discovered some writing by philosopher Alain de Boton and art historian John Armstrong on Art as Therapy. I won’t repeat what she says here but for the next seven days I will illustrate each of their core psychological functions of art with photographs of my own work.

DSCN2119

The first function is remembering. They write that art is a way of preserving experiences, of which there are many transient and beautiful examples, and that we need help containing. Much of my art has an element of remembering. This triptych (detail shown) was created using the images I saw on a weekly bus journey when i lived in Nepal.

 

IMG_4098And this necklace (R) was created to remind me of the elation I felt at finally arriving in Lo Manthang, Upper Mustang; a destination I had dreamed of reaching for nearly 30 years.  The crushed tobacco tin was, to me, a precious relic.

*So much noise on the internet isn’t there? I hope I don’t contribute. Maria helps me to turn up the signal, wipe out the noise.  

A Blessing for this New Year

Beannacht from To Bless the Space between Us by John O’Donohue

On the day when the weight deadens  IMG_0470

On your shoulders,

And you stumble,

May the clay dance

To balance you.

 

And when your eyes

Freeze behind

The gray window

And the ghost of loss

Gets into you,

May a flock of colours,

Indigo, red, green

And azure blue,

Come to awaken in you

A meadow of delight.

 

toolsWhen the canvas frays

In the curragh of thought

And a stain of ocean

Blackens beneath you,

May there come across the waters

A path of yellow moonlight

To bring you safely home.

 

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

May the clarity of light be yours,

May the fluency of the ocean be yours,

May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

 

And so may a slow

Wind work these words

Of love around you,

And invisible cloak

To mind your life.

Three things

photo newAs well as wonderful friends and family, three things have made a big difference for me this year.  Practices that have helped me to recognise when I can make thoughtful choices. (In the interests of transparency I want you to know I have no affiliate link with any of these things. Or anything.  This is just straight from the heart sharing of stuff that helps.)

The first is Brainpickings. I have said it before and I will say it again: I love Brainpickings. Maria Popova curates wonderful writing and I love to read it. Reading it reminds me to think and is part of what makes each Sunday special.

A great help in sustaining a regular meditation practice in scatty times is a weekly meditation from Susan Piver.  When I am too exhausted to sit and meditate, her guided meditations are a gem.  Doing these once a week means daily meditation is more likely to happen. Having a small goal of ten minutes, means longer sessions occur. She has recently published Start Here Now and even though I have meditated in various forms for years, and read many books on the subject, I found this one terrific.

And finally, perhaps with the most profound impact, has been my involvement with The Oasis which is way less woo woo than it sounds!  A few years ago, I stumbled onto the work of Jen Louden and did two online courses (Life Navigation and Teach Now) both of which were great.  I have written about them on other occasions. This year I joined The Oasis.  Barb Klein, another participant described it like this:

Jen and The Oasis community have helped me tap into what living without holding back is for me and to take myself forward, even when I’m facing significant challenges as I have the past few months. In this time The Oasis has offered nourishment and rejuvenation to an otherwise drained and weary soul. I appreciate the forum as a gathering place where I can be witnessed and gently accepted and supported. Also, I am able to be there with others and remember that none of us are alone in our human journey.

Using poetry, journalling and writing, I have truly found an Oasis in each week. A time to give myself the gift of my full attention. To listen to my voice amidst the clamouring of others.  A new round starts later in January and I will be there.

A New Year begins and I was looking froward to it SO VERY MUCH I realised that it hadn’t even begun and I was loading on the expectations. Primarily that it wasn’t this year!!!  In a text conversation, a wise woman who has also had a really tough 2015 (let us call her my daughter) wrote: This year is going to be full of learning and listening just like the last one. It’s not going to be free of learning or mistakes. Or ill-health, or anxiety about stuff. Or frustrations, joys, creative productivity, creative stagnation.  It will be what it is.  Another wise friend, let us call her Cathy, once sent me this blessing and I send it to all my gentle readers as a New Year, with all its richness, sorrow, beauty and ugliness, success and failure, health and ill health, peace and anxiety, begins:

May you find courage, and the space between breaths, to arrange whatever pieces fall your way.

PS: the link between the photo and the post is that it suggests thoughtfulness. Not to mention includes two special people!