Shining the Artistic Light

One of the most rewarding things about teaching art workshops is the wonder of how unique artistic talent is to each individual. I don’t teach workshops where everybody expects to paint the same thing and have them all come out looking like a row of cookie cutter canvases. The freedom for each artist to express what is inside themselves makes for constant surprises. It is truly rewarding to watch personal expression reveal itself through art. It is like a window into the soul what might otherwise stay hidden from the outside world. The cookie cutter can’t unmask the heart. The heart of all art is in the freedom of allowing each individual to bring out their own personal inner light.

Changeable artistic expression is a great way to experiment with what is inside working its way out. One day the feeling may be one of quiet, of solitude and the art that is made will reflect that. A maple leaf painted with slow, painstaking detail comes from the still quiet heart. Another day when the fall wind is crisp but the sun is breaking through the clouds bringing a light heartedness depicted with a few quick swishes of bright color on the page. Instantly, joy pops out for the world to see. (Let’s Make Art can show you how to do these!) There are as many ways to depict maple leaves as there are artists ready to depict. And as many maple leaves as there are ways to capture their essence through art.

One artist chooses the softness and gentle color changes of a sweet gum leaf with its starfish-like structure. She expresses silence and an inner choice of order and attention to structure. God’s amazing creation in fine detail. While another artist decides to go for bold bright color in a “larger than life” oak leaf hydrangea. Two different artists, two different leaves, two different approaches. We would never see this beautiful expression of uniqueness if we were all painting the same exact thing, exactly alike.

Last Saturday at Watkins College of Art at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tennessee, our workshop focused on painting fall leaves and flowers. We decided to go foraging around the campus to see what sparked our imaginations. Oprah Winfrey is quoted as saying, “You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.” Giving artists the freedom to let the sparks be lit is a wondrous thing. You never know what might be expressed. Every little bit of expressed light means that much less darkness. While I am there to give direction and impart knowledge of skills to use, my biggest job is to stand back out of the way when the light starts shining! And that is a thing of beauty!

A Magical Imagination

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“One of the virtues of the very young is that you don’t let the facts get in the way of your imagination.” Sam Levenson  (from The Painter’s Keys)

Is true imagination alive and well today?  Imagination can appear to be an exercise in futility when art is created by rote.  Over and over an artist strives to reproduce a preconceived idea yet it isn’t appearing on the paper or canvas.  Something else entirely keeps happening so the artist scrapes it and tries again, over and over. It becomes a mechanical process until eventually the artist moves on to the next project.  What would be the outcome if the artist, instead stopped trying and just let whatever is pushing to happen, happen?

“When you’re a kid, your imagination has no limits. You believe in magic powers and incredible characters that don’t exist in the adult world,” writes Landon Lee on his blog.  As adults, the imagination has been beaten down and suffocated by the practicalities of life.  Or it has been told to conform to the “real” world.  For artists, it may mean stifling the imagination to go for the prevailing concept of what acceptable art may be.  Stamping down the childish imagination to gain acceptance replaces the freedom to create what the imagination sees.

Stuckismwales states, “Concetual art is shackled to the earth and can’t ‘fly’ because it has no ‘wings’ of imagination.”  To fly is the greatest adventure.  Unshackling the imagination leads to flying.  Who doesn’t want to fly?  Okay, so some may fear flying.  How about releasing the sails to fly across the water?  Or slide down mountains? Or dance on a sandy beach in the moonlight?  Giving the imagination the freedom to do whatever it wants is the beginning of magic.  Magic makes the impossible happen, the un-thought-of appear.

Art that knows no bounds, recognizes no confines is free to fly, or dance, or sail. Art with the “wings” of imagination can go anywhere, be anything. To get there, the mechanical must be scraped, the control relinquished.  Forget the preconceived notions.  Let the child out to play.  Start dancing.  Unfurl the sails. Reach for the sky.   Bring on the magic!

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