Same Song, Different Dance

The assignment was to take a new approach to an old idea. Pick something we’ve painted a bazillion times and do it in an entirely different way – new tools, different support, mix up more than just the colors.

I used my favorite spot — my Giverny — a favorite view of Mt Equinox in Manchester, VT, framed by white poplars. I twisted it from my usual landscape to a portrait view. Instead of my usual 8″x10″, I found a big canvas that had been gathering dust for a couple years and started painting one of my favorite Vermont landscapes with Lake Michigan colors. Instead of painting it in oil in a single plein-air session, this is evolving in acrylic in the studio at a slower, more meditative pace.

I have no idea where this is going or where it will end up.

It’s one if the reasons I’m loving this course. The course isn’t about being all things to all people or even about how to paint. It isn’t about changing who you are. It’s about  challenging yourself to better find the artist you are. It’s about seeing the same places with fresh eyes.

After over a year of pandemic and healthcare-related doldrums that have desaturated every part of my landscape from personal to the professional, being able to find a new perspective on the same old places and the old me is better than a rest. It’s  a new take on life and art which, for me, go hand in hand.

The Knowledge of Good

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Whether you think it’s allegory or history, you’ve heard the one about Adam and Eve eating that apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For years, I’ve felt like the bulk of the knowledge I gained has been that of the evil humanity commits against itself and against its only known livable habitat. We turn a blind eye to bad behavior by trusted people. We cluck our tongues at the latest mass shooting and then wrap ourselves in our cocoons until the next horror appears in our social media feeds. 

And I’ve been guilty. 

I’m guilty because I let fear of that evil, for me spawned in the aftermath of a crime, keep me mummified. I work at home because I’ve been afraid of the world. I’ve tried to keep my kids safe on a mountain, hidden from the world and life.

That fear has been shrinking over the last few years.  As I’ve rediscovered my art, I’ve rediscovered the better things about humanity. I’ve seen my son stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I’ve seen people expend enormous energy raising money to help people they barely know.

And last summer I had a chance to pay it forward a little.  

I was raising money to buy art supplies for children who were refugees or in foster care. Then a friend who had helped spread the word to raise money for kits for almost 100 children asked if I would lead a drawing workshop for the children.  I said yes immediately, even though the only thing I’d ever taught anyone to do is wash their hands after using the potty.

The afternoon started with 15 boys assuring me they couldn’t draw. I know everyone can draw so I started them on a free drawing exercise I had learned.  

It took less than 30 minutes for the boys to kill their inner critics and start experimenting.  

As they began drawing from their hearts, we saw abstract trees, scenes of and an occasional portrait emerge.  We saw art doing exactly what it was supposed to do – open the door to healing.

That workshop was a gift.

I got home and started investigating paths to becoming a teacher, something I’d just been considering for the last year or so.  

I neglected the blog through the months of researching certification options and reconfiguring my schedule. The drawing just about stopped.

The education, however, was just beginning.

My own history with mental illness, as well as the experiences of friends who were sometimes at the margins of school society, made special education seem like a good place to make a difference. I got a second experience-building job at an elementary school, and, as I felt like I was starting to be a small part of a small solution, my knowledge of good started to grow.

I’m breathing a little life support into my blog this afternoon, but the reality is that as I watch kids learning to accept others who are not like them and have the chance to give support to kids who might be having a hard time with the business of growing up, my creativity is thriving. 

All creativity isn’t an expression of hope, and that’s okay.  It’s an expression of how someone feels. But I knew that, for me, constantly feeling afraid of the world was stagnating. 

Acquainting myself with a bit more of the Knowledge of Good has prompted ideas for future children’s books. It makes life more colorful.  It forces me to engage with the world.  And when I stop for a moment to breathe, it makes me aware of how blessedly creative – and hopeful – engagement can be.