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
 

 

 

 

 

Doubt, Faith and Resolution

 

Photography by © Beth Ortman Studio

Photography by © Beth Ortman Studio

I am very interested in the idea of vocation. I think of vocation not as a job but more like a career. I have been a User Experience Strategist for over 16 years (in a simplification, I make websites more usable) and I am also an artist. No matter what I do for the online world of websites, navigation and usability efforts, I will always make art. The ultimate question is, "What are we meant to contribute to?". How do I align and organize my job and art output into my vocation? Is this possible or do I merge the two somehow? I am the only thing holding both concepts together, so is this even a valid question?

I am always searching and seeking for the optimal "Flow" as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about it in his work of creative psychology and research. When I am in the studio making art - whether it is a struggle to sit down to do the work or whether I jump out of bed anticipating a day of making something, I find myself in this flow and there becomes an ease in the work. I lose time and I am not 100% able to say I alone am doing the work. I find it to be a coming home of sorts. Over and over.

In the Bhagavad Gita, at the scene in the beginning of the Great War, Krishna tells Arjuna that "Doubt afflicts the person who lacks faith and can ultimately destroy him." I was struck the moment I read this. Even out of the context of this book (which I have not read, so my context has been outside of the book), I had a welling up of questions come to the forefront. What is faith? What is doubt? Is faith tied to religion while doubt is tied to skepticism? Or is faith an internal move to trust in one's instincts and doubt allows for reviewing of all outcomes and setting the path for getting things done? Can you strip the concept of religion away from faith so that it becomes an internal compass? Does it come down to a judgement of what is successful? I just launched a book last week, "Zen and the Art of the Sunrise" to a spectacular wall of silence. At the same time, I have been overwhelmed by the support of friends and of people I don't know that have faith in the book and have gone out of their way to share it and become a part of it. Now I have to look at what this book is for.

I have put the book "out there" and all of a sudden I am faced with the faith that it will do its part. That does not mean I am not utilizing social sites and pushing it and hoping for it to do well, but it also means that I have come face to face in the mirror with faith and surrender. Surrender is an active state of being, not of giving up. I have to have the knowledge that I was in the "flow" when I created it. I have to have "faith" that it will find the person that needs it the most and that all of this will happen outside of my knowledge. In other words, outside of my ego and my desire to be "seen". I have to understand that I need to surrender it to what is next and that may be nothing. But I did my part in its creation and so I am back to faith and doubt and the swirling of these two states in my head.

I have no answers and this week has been a roller coaster of emotions and questions. This coin of happy/sad has flipped back and forth for me. In the end though, I released this new piece of art into the world. I am proud of the book and I think it will make people feel a sense of hope and it supports the seeing of nature - and in these times that is a necessity.

My book on Amazon: "Zen and the Art of the Sunrise" -->

 

Some additional great reads to pursue:

Stephen Cope "The Great Work of Your Life" -->

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "Flow" -->   and   "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention" -->

Lewis Hyde "The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World" -->

 

A State of Flow: One of my pieces of art in progress:

 

 

Aligning Courage & Vision

 

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This is an update to an earlier post. I think I will always be refining and updating my words. 

The Proof is in, well, the Proof: Aligning Courage & Vision

My book, “Zen and the Art of the Sunrise”, just launched this past weekend and the journey has been a pretty humbling experience. When I got my first printed proof to review it was a huge moment of accomplishment. Now I have an ISBN number. Crazy, sexy ISBN (an ode to Kris Carr here).

I never meant to do a book. For three years I took a daily sunrise picture, found an inspirational quote or song lyric and posted it to friends and family on social media. Taking the photographs started as a place of wanting to share this amazing beauty of living on the ocean’s shoreline. The ocean is a calming source - until it isn't. I will take the storms too. I have been taught, moment-by-moment, about change and the immediate upheaval in the atmosphere and about the chance to live another day and be a better person (still working on many things like road rage and my need for sugar – it is all about baby steps).

Whatever our days hold, whether we are doing what we love, sitting in silence, going to a job we love or hate, a day full of errands or care-taking, I am learning that we need to find the soft spot that allows us to be fully present and in the moment. That sentiment can be a place of peace for us as it helps make our day brighter. The sunrise kicks that off for some people. The guys from the Minimalists say (paraphrasing here), "We all get the same 24 hours to create a masterpiece. Picasso, Michelangelo, all had the same 24 hours in a day." That blew my mind intellectually. The sunrises back that up visually and viscerally.

What could I do with my 24 hours? I started to make the book. I organized quotes, I searched for copyright laws, and I reviewed over 6800 photos looking for just the right ones. I had to figure out the publishing world and its options. The process made me look inside myself to determine my voice. My friend said that I needed to get my Sasha Fierce on but I think I am more of a female Lou Reed and Ziggy Stardust type. Her point was well taken though. I had to open up and be more. I had to be vulnerable and I could not shy away from what I wanted to say. It is okay to be messy and pretty all at once. The ocean has taught me a lot about that.

Someone once told me that if she was overwhelmed with cleaning the house, she chose a corner and then chose whether to go left or right. I have used that example many, many times in my life. Whether it is making myself sit down to do artwork, creating this book or designing websites, it is all about moving forward and finding that small place of “okay” and heading outwards from there.

In the end, through making this book, I have a huge sense of accomplishment. I started in a corner and I worked on it in bits and parts. As I send this book out into the world, I want to take a moment to sit quietly with it. It has been a source of love and honor to share the inspiration of these beautiful sunrises. What can we do in our next 24 hours?

~ beth ortman

Click here to buy the book on Amazon -->

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