Artist: Pat Steir

A friend of mine recently sent me some videos from the artist Pat Steir. How had I not even heard of this woman? Her work is beautiful, and the way she talks about her work and abstract concepts are magical. Man, this woman is amazing. She is so eloquent and so clear on her vision - her abstract, yet concrete vision. That is so hard to do. I love the work and the way that she talks about her work. There is an accessibility that she brings to it when she highlights how gravity and chance take over after she makes her decision.

Don't listen to me, though, just her:

"These paintings are made by gravity. Weight. Weight and gravity." Her series, based around the word Kairos means 'chaos', but she expands and builds on that and adds, "Choosing the opportune moment. But it can also mean, time. Timing. Which is different from the opportune moment."

Thank you Wendy for introducing her to me and sharing your work with me as well. See Wendy's beautiful art >>

Exquisite Detail: Getting Lost in the Repetition

 

Detail of Indra's Net II, in progress|  © Beth Ortman Studio

What exquisite place do we touch when we disappear into our work? I love and am completely inspired by reading and learning about other artists' spaces and work habits. What is it that made them who they are? What are their fears, their doubts, their losses and wins, and break-through moments? I look into the lives of other creatives to look at what shaped them to find some correlation to my own work. Not only from an aesthetic place but more from an acknowledgement that choosing the path to make art is difficult and worth it. Are artists the voices of their generation or maybe the flag holders of a compassionate connection to the self? Making art is all about stripping the layers of the self to zero and then building it back up with a slightly different version, vision and way of seeing. In this scenario, are artists a channel? Is there something working through the artist? When one is compelled to make things that no-one needs for survival, what is behind that drive?

The artwork that I create demands that I am constantly moving into and out from repetition and practice. I read a lot. I look for an idea that stands out or causes me to sketch something. I am always taking notes and sketching little visual connections to whatever series I am exploring. I am always behind what I want to accomplish because the work is tedious and time consuming and the ideas roll faster than I can create - a perfectly awesome state to be in.

"The difference in men does not lie in the size of their hands nor in the perfection of their bodies, but in this one sublime ability of concentration: to throw the weight in one blow, to live eternity in an hour." ~ Elbert Hubbard

I ramble on in this post as I ramble through my artwork. Weaving myths, legends, media and symbolism into new things. What I think this does, or at the very least, what it has done for me is open the conversation of the spiritual. Are we the ones making the art? What is the muse? When a writer, a musician or an artist talk about a great achievement, many will narrate their part of the story and leave a part for something else to weave itself into it. There always seems to linger a legend of not being completely present. It opens a discussion that there is faith that they are a channel. If you show up and do the work, the muse will work through you. Time disappears and when you start bringing yourself back to "the moment" things feel surreal. When you are in intense creation you are in the mode. It is you and your art, your music, words, whatever your medium. So the question gets stripped down a little more to become "What is it to truly come back to the moment?". If time speeds up and slows down all at once, the human moves out of the way, what third mixture comes into play? What is that energy that comes forth?

There is something magical that happens when two things come together to make a third, Hegel refers to it as The Calculus of Fresh Thinking. He described it as the dialectic process whereby one idea - a thesis- truly engaged with another - an antithesis- can yield a third, a new idea - a synthesis - that is born from both but which is wholly neither. This sums up something that I have long ago explored, and even altered some to my own thoughts about the muse and the artwork created. I love the open question "Who really creates a piece of art/music/writing/mathematical formula, etc...?" and I love that it is like a koan that is unanswerable.

~b
 

 

 

 

 

The Onion Girl: Peeling Away the Unnecessary

Photo by: ©Beth Ortman Studio

Photo by: ©Beth Ortman Studio

First I took away the label of "artist" and then I thought about what to purge next... This is the idea that came out of the fog as I have been working out defining my quest to pull my dharma out from the shadows. 

My idea of dharma is about aligning oneself with their purpose. What I am here to do. For me, dharma involves merging the micro and the macro, the personal and the universal. I have been looking at the minimalist culture for awhile and in addition to the removal of stuff and excess, I am also looking at the paradigm for how to build each day around dharma. Minimalism can also be about refining and peeling away the layers of the ego, the false self. These layers are like an onion. Each layer represents fear, addiction, personal stories, false selves, etc. Instead of buying things, or looking outward for some level of comfort or internal affirmation, I have been stripping away those notions in order to look inwards at purpose. It is tough. The foundation is unsteady and I am starting to venture into the realm of faith.

When watching TV to numb us no longer works and boredom rears its ugly head, what are we left with? A consumer culture wants to remind us that we are missing things, that we are incomplete. We have stores, Container Store, for example, that tell us how to store our unwanted or unnecessary things. A box store of boxes. And it is a wildly successful place. There are things to buy, successes to achieve, money to make. But if we look around honestly, we can recognize that these make up the very things that make us unhappy.

This is super overwhelming and it is a tough place to be when trying to work out a way that does not involve this stuff. If we look inwards and ask "What am I here for?", there is a responsibility of choice to follow that voice or ignore it. For me, over the last 2-3 years, I have made this a priority. It is not something that happens over night and it is not something that will be a light switch solution but it is a wildly rewarding hardship.

I am asking these questions: What does your day look like when the need to run in circles working for others is removed? What does it look like to work for yourself? What can you remove in order to utilize time and within those hours align with your purpose? What are you doing each day that will elevate your reason to be here so that others are part of that energy? What does a day look like when you remove the "self" and use your purpose in a universal way? There is something really important that comes from this. The idea of personal self opens to universal self. Our actions affect each other. If we are kinder to ourselves, we are kinder to each other. For me, my path belongs to defining how art breeds compassion.

~b

 

 

 

There is a Certain Calmness with Doing the Work

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I find it interesting that my job title is User Experience Strategist. At least that is what I do to earn a living. I consider my "career", or life's work, to be an Artist. In my “day job” I make websites more useful. I help clients complete their visions and goals and help their customers have an easier time navigating the websites. I find the title User Experience Strategist can also help in my desire to be a full time artist - my desire to live from my creative space. After all, we all want to be a participant in a web of our own User Experience.

Recently, I was inspired by a talk with Jared Leto at the New York Times as he spoke of his multi-faceted career (link below). He spoke of all of the different things he had his hands in, from running media companies, to creating, directing and producing videos/films, making art, acting, making music, and finally, touring with his band, 30 Seconds to Mars. The list seems to go on. He is a true renaissance man for sure. But more than that, and the most inspiring piece of the interview for me was his openness about his doubts. When he questioned himself – where he thought he was and where he wanted to be, if his audience would get his direction, his creations, etc., he said (paraphrasing here), that in his times of doubt he did what he knew he could do. He sat back down, amongst the crazy thinking, and created.

There is power in going back to your golden thread of what you are here to do.

For Leto, it is making music or art. It is the core of what brings his other enterprises to the surface. For me it is making art and all of the process, seeking and discovery that goes into it. It is just a part of who I am. I recently returned from a month long trip to California and I have a deep desire to return. I fell in love with Malibu. I live on the beach here in south Florida and it has been my teacher so it is no surprise that I was pulled into the ferocious beauty of the Pacific Ocean. Since I left my job almost two years ago to do my own thing and consult, I have reconnected with a personal freedom that has been a huge source of energy. That energy comes in waves of good and overwhelming doubt. So I sit and do the work. Sometimes it is this blog, sometimes it is fixing my website, but mostly it is my art. It centers me. Makes me find my still point. And it gives me a sense of forward momentum. When I think I don’t deserve Malibu, or success in my art or the other myriad thoughts of doubt and incompleteness, I sit and do the work. And sometimes that is enough.

I wanted to share these thoughts and his video as I am battling my desire to head to Malibu (living in the future) and learn what s/he has to teach me there and my need to be fully present. Each day brings a new layer of finding the dynamic between wanting to claw your way to “success” and living fully present in the now and being open to what is next – actively surrendering. Somewhere in between there is the calmness in doing the work.

One more thing to note about learning who I am. My friend says I should be more Sasha Fierce and I think I am more Lou Reed with a sprinkling of Ziggy Stardust. So maybe Sasha will show her way but I like the edge lyrics of Reed and the ironic flash of Ziggy. I am a Jersey girl, after all.

~b

Video of Jared Leto and Times Talk --> Click Here

 

 

 

 

Process & Art: is the still point the artwork produced or the source that produces it?

 

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Nothing like an interesting koan-like question to start the day. The inspiration for this post started with a reading about yoga and its connection with experiencing a still space in a practice. This reading surfaced a frequently debated question about art: What is more important, the process of making art or the product itself?

In meditation and in yoga practice, the body prepares for a state of non-reactivity. The word samskara (Sanskrit for Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volitions) represents an impression of things from our past, things that leave a type of "groove" in our conscious and unconsciousness. They are like a dip in a road, a rut of sorts. In mediation one seeks stillness, a cessation of these samskaras, these impressions, if you will. This state is called nirodha. Nirodha is a moment where the body and mind are still. What is really interesting is that in this state of nirodha, the body recognizes it as a place of healing.

So bear with me here for a moment... The debate in art is this: What is more important, the process of making art and all that goes into it or the product in its final state? The expression "hand of the artist" sums up a lot of process. It can mean, literally, the physical impressions of a brush stroke style, or other markers that represent a signature style of a poet, writer, painter, boat builder, surfboard maker, sculptor, musician, on and on.... I will argue that it can also mean the process used by the builder that produces the final act of creativity. The readings, research, inspirations, conversations, the repetitive practice, sketching, pulling a melody from the air, the failures, all represent a complex state of creativity. A communicator must take a lot of information from all types of resources, distill it, become familiar with it, push on it like a bruise and develop a personal language to spit it back out. The moment the artwork is complete and ready for the world, it no longer belongs to the creator.

In essence, what happens in this distillation process, like a good scotch, is a voice. When the creator sits back and finds this thread they tap into stillness. This place of stillness is a sense of trust that their hard-won language and vision will be handled with care. The result is a book, a painting, new song. Whatever the output, one could call this a moment of nirodha. Maybe this is the foundation of the creative process. I know that the Yoga-Sutras are not about this process but I find the similarities too close to ignore. We are all creators that are striving to trust in ourselves and our ability to heal and move on. Inherently, we want to communicate our lessons.

I am coming closer to this intuitively through meditation and yoga and it has been a surprising clarification that I want to explore more. A group of my friends have been debating the question of what is more important, the process of making or the product of making for over 25 years. This is an "art koan" that will be debated and has been debated forever.

What does the label "artist" encompass and mean? In our seeking, research, distillation and finally, voice, is it the art we are sharing or the experience of creation? What does it mean to nurture this vulnerable voice in our culture? Once art moves beyond the creator, it becomes universal. Art that moves people finds the golden thread of human expression and sets out to heal others. It no longer belongs to the artist.

I will open the floor to you. What is more important - the final artwork or the process by which it was created?

~b

 

For Reference:

Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra # 2.46-48 states -->

The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease.
This occurs as all effort relaxes and coalescence arises, revealing that the body and the infinite universe are indivisible.
Then one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites.

Samskara: Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volition

Nirodha: Stilling, cessation, restriction