Draw For Your Life

I stumbled on to this beautiful passage of advice on the plum tree this morning. I just had to share it with you.

If I had a single piece of advice to offer to any artist, it would be this: whatever your practice or medium, draw constantly. Be like the dancer, who never lets a day go past without a class. Draw as much as you can, wherever you can. Draw from observation (of course) but draw for practice too, from memory or from imagination, mark-making for precision or beauty-of-line alone, regardless of subject or likeness. Draw with pencil, with nibbed-pen, with charcoal or crayon or Conté pencil or biro. Draw with brushes and inks, or twigs dipped in watercolour or with old toothbrushes or the tips of feathers. Draw with anything. Subvert habit with new experience. Drawing can be for recording, but more than that it’s an expressive form that can be endlessly reinvented. Keep project-books and work at them even when the spirit doesn’t move you. Work in them out of discipline and respect for your art-form. They’re money in the bank for later, when you need the inspiration stored in them. Draw. Draw again. Never stop drawing.

Drawing is life.

~ Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Art + Sleepy Local Business = World Leader

Absolut Vodka began working with artists in the 1980's beginning with Andy Warhol. They have continued this practice to this day and have built a beautiful and valuable art collection in the process not to mention how the artists have been empowered with the revenue that kept them moving forward.  Absolut Vodka was a 100 year old company, small, local, and sleepy in its long ago established legacy. Their first step was the redesign of the bottle. The next step was to begin commissioning artists.  These two simple but very intentional steps kicked them off into a transformation that has made business history and launched the company as a strong visionary leader in their market.

At the very heart of the City As Muse is a desire to bring together of the local art and the business communities believing that this mix will bring about powerful transformation within our urban culture.  We believe the creation of these resulting symbiotic relationships will yield healthy and vigorous growth in many different spheres. If you are interested in learning more about City As Muse or Absolut  Vodka please click and be inspired!  We would love to here your ideas of what this might look like in our own city. It would be helpful to hear of other examples of companies that have developed similar strategies of working with artists you may know of.

This Is What Artists Do

Alonso Sanchez Coello

Alonso Sanchez Coello

Yesterday I asked the question, "What do artists do?"  I got some very thoughtful responses that were helpful.  I want to share two of them below and at the same time invite you to respond as well.  I really appreciate your thoughts on this because I believe we can understand this better together.

Artists help us see things in a different way and give us new perspective on things familiar and unfamiliar. The ordinary becomes interesting and worth spending time with. We get a private look into others lives; a day dream, a moment in time, and wonder what will happen next. We are transported to another place with the work of artists. - Deborah Mankoff

Good artists make me feel wonderment and sadness. They make me think about the world around me and help me see things I might have otherwise missed. Artists are storytellers and make a record of our time. There have always been good artists and I think there always will be. - Roberta King 

What Good Do Artists Do Really?

I have had a practice of art making for now thirty years.  It is at the core of my life, how I express the deepest things I carry in my heart.  Art making can sometimes feel like an exhilarating up hill battle. I do what I can to create a healthy environment of friends and family around me so that I can continue making things and sending them out into the world. I am like a boy making boats out of twigs and launching them into the current of a little stream in the woods.

I pose the question to you, what good do artists do really?  What are they and their work adding to our daily lives?  What would life be like if they all just disappeared like the buffalo in the 1880s? 

How About A Little Chaos Theory?

I am right now re-reading The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch.  I love this book which is helping me right now re engage with what "Church" means to me. In this book he looks at both the first 200 years of the church as well as the church as it existed in China after Mao's intense purge and violent persecution of christians. As it turns out these two vigorous expressions of church look absolutely nothing like what happens in a typical building with a cross on top today anywhere in the US.

 Grand Rapids has been called "The City Of Churches"  New comers to the city are often surprised how often they are asked "Where do you go to church?"  What are we really doing in those religious buildings is an important question.  The Bible itself is a very strange and mystical book chuck full of supernatural events. Angels, demons, off the charts miracles and interprated dreams that change the course of history.  Where is that happening today?

I grew up going to church.  I have had some very dynamic, life changing experiences within church. Yet my experience of church came to be stifling, suffocating and boring. It became something  that I have come to avoid and yet I carry on with a heart that goes towards Jesus like a compass needle wants North.  I feel like I need a new word for church, heck I feel like a need a whole new language, a new paradigm. I want to tap into the power that touched those guys on the beach who dropped their nets and walked off with Jesus leaving their dad shaking his head.  What was that?

Just Get Dressed And Show Up

Lately I have been feeling the resistance to good things that want to open up into my life. It seems that just before something really wonderful and significant is about to unfold I get swamped by dark and troubled feelings.  The voice of this resistance says something like, "what's the point? Who do you think you are? No one cares and besides this whole thing is something you made up in your head and it's about to collapse right our from under you". You know how life is. You have your plans and routines and yet you don't know the out come.  You plan the party but will any one will show up?

I have learned (the hard way) to push through these troubled feelings, ignore the negative thoughts. Just get dressed and show up.  Again and again I have found wonderful and satisfying rewards on the other side of that hill.  It truly feels like a battle much of the time and I am so thankful for the good people around me at this time in my life that help me stay true to my course.


Heavy Petting Lowers Your Blood Pressure?

Sick Boy with a Cat, John Brown

Sick Boy with a Cat, John Brown

We are currently sharing our home with no less than 7 cats.  4 of these felines are kittens just 5 weeks old.  We did the unspeakable and did not get Lu Lu "fixed".  She went into heat, got knocked up by some Tom in the neighborhood and had a litter in a laundry basket on Dove's bed one evening. When these wee little blind ones came into the world there was  still two feet of snow and ice on the ground outside.

Princess and Fluffy are two older lady cats that have been with us for now about 6 years. They seem to spend the lioness share of their time sleeping in their respective favorite chair or sofa. I read somewhere that it actually lowers your blood pressure to pet a cat.  I believe it may even lower your blood pressure to observe a cat sleeping wrapped up like a ball of fur in the cushions of a worn out couch (at least my blood reacts that way).

Our laying hens are not pets in that, yes they are beautiful and at times heart warming, they have a job to do - they earn their feed.  The cats with the exception of the occasional tortured house mouse, the are pets with out a job.  But a wait a minute, maybe lowering blood pressure is a job....    What does living with animals do for you I wonder?

The City Is Creating Me

Consolidated Edison - City of Light Diorama - Artist painting model

Consolidated Edison - City of Light Diorama - Artist painting model

I share with you here the current City As Muse statement of intent along with a short video teaser made for us our dear friend John Hanson.

“City as Muse” is the 2014 Artprize project, by Grand Rapid’s native and artist Rick Beerhorst, that looks into the idea of the transforming power of positive change released when an artist fixes his gaze on his city. It also is a project that seeks new ways local artists and community and business leaders, can partner in creating habitat for arts and culture.  Rick says, “I have been painting and drawing our city for the past twenty five years. I have watched first-hand as the city rediscovered it's inner core. With paintbrush in hand, I witnessed restoration of historic buildings as well as the addition of new glass and steel structures. It is on this foundation that I am dedicating 2014, to creating a large scale painting that will be the culmination of what has been building up over these past 25 years of painting and drawing my hometown. As I meditate on my relationship with the city of Grand Rapids, I realize that this city has become my Muse, she both inspires creativity and creates a culture and place for me to create.”

Beerhorst has identified Grand Rapids as the city in which he creates - the city he participates in creating - also, in a sense, a place creating him - and who he is. In companion to the piece itself, we’ll give a look into how the painting came to be. A short film is being shot, that tells the story of how much work, mixed with trial and error, lies at the foundation of a piece that is intentionally so big it needs a community to create it. Over the course of 2014, sponsors and supporters will join the project - as collaborators and contributors, showing the context and community in which the city of Grand Rapids builds support and habitat for the arts and artists. AMDG Architecture has come forward as our first corporate sponsor. If you are associated with a company that would like to come alongside of us for this adventure please contact our director of friends Pam Vitaz.

The resulting large oil painting depicts a new form of seeing the city. We see the personification of the muse in both the Grand Rapids skyline and the literal description of muse as (in Greek and Roman mythology) — a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. In Rick’s work, there are two women, symbolizing, perhaps, collaboration…The beauty of “City as Muse” lies not only in seeing the city of Grand Rapids as a place and habitat for artists, but in the project’s potential to raise awareness and change our relationship to community building - the collaboration of businesses and artists, making partnerships in creating culture.

Grow Your Soul

 Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow. - Kurt Vonnegut from a letter of advice to a grade school class

Don't Kid Yourself, Real Life Is Wild & Scary

Book of Prayer, Omartian pg. 201

This is my prayer this morning.  Real life feels like a wild scary thing that can not be tamed let alone controlled and any attempts to do are a complete illusion.  The belief that there is a God who loves me and is working things out on my behalf is not only a comfort but this thought renews my courage to continue when my way is dark and threatening.

The story of Abram becoming Abraham in the book of Genesis a very significant one for me.  God gave him a promise that he would be blessed with many descendants and yet his first child was born when his wife was 100 years old.  He had to wait a long, long time until he and his partner were far past all human possibility and firmly in the territory of "you did not do this, I (God) did this."  The fact that Abram believed God in spite of the impossibility of what God promissed became the defining characteristic of this man and why he got a new name, Abraham.

This becomes a very powerful story to me because it says that the relationship I have with God is like a hinge on a door and faith is the pin that holds it together.  This story reminds me that the impossible hopes and desires that live in my heart will come to pass in God's timing and by his power.  This means I don't have to work my fingers to the bone.  This means I can take a nap in the afternoon because it is not all up to me.  This feels like real freedom.

It's Time To Share How The Trick Works

It was always the intention with the City As Muse painting to have a video present when the painting is exhibited in order to give the viewer a sense of the process.  We think that telling the story of how a piece of art came to be may make for a more meaningful experience with the art work.  When you share your process you give the viewer permission to go make their own.  Maybe it is like the magician showing you how the trick works, but at the risk of undoing some of the mystery, we hope to make what we do open to a wider audience. A portion of audience we are particularly interested in reaching is the business community.

City As Muse keeps looking for ways to build community where artist creatives and business leaders are naturally interwoven.  So much of what it means to be an artist revolves around innovation and taking risks.  From leaders like Seth Godin who coach the business community towards being more successful, those two qualities continually come up in their writing.  It just seems to make sense that building bridges between artists and business leaders who are often on different sides of the room at the party makes a lot of good sense right now. Do you feel like me, that you are struggling to find your way in a world where so much of what we used to do just does't seem to work anymore? 

When a business becomes open to change and accustomed to taking risks that business will naturally grow stronger.  This benefits our community in many ways.  Grand Rapids wants to be a place full of vitality where everyone can find a place where they can plug in and feel like their voice is heard.  Grand Rapids can be a place where we share our trade secrets. With this sharing of information and experience comes a healthy cross pollination that brings about the innovative changes that will not only help us more fully engage in our present reality but get us ready for a future that is coming at us with lightening speed.

Just Do Your Work

Kiki Smith: "Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn't, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I'm given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one's own vision."

It is true that there is so much that is not in our control and that is a good thing.  When I am facing a future that looks very unsure and shaky I remind myself that this is the day I am in and I will just do what this day requires and not worry about what "might happen" tomorrow.  There is a profound wisdom in simply doing the work only you can do.  This will be challenged from time to time.  Some times we may get off track, maybe way off track from what our real work is. In that case it may take some time and risks to find our way back. This is ok, because we all get lost from time to time  just like guitars go out of tune.

I would love to  hear a story of how someone found their way back to "Just doing your work".

"Only Love Interests Me" -Chagall

Only Love interests me and I'm only in contact with things that I love. -Mark Chagall

raspberries, good chocolate, turntables, movie trailers, a long bath with candles, hamburgers, 40s hairstyles, owls, cashmere sweaters, Balthus, new sharpie pens, a well stacked wood pile, and Bo Diddley's square guitars.

These are thirteen things I love from a list of 75 crammed on to a 3x5 note card in my "wisdom box".  Some times I just read through them and jog my memory of who I am and what gets me going.

I wonder what you love?

Doing The Work - Changing The World

Art is a force of transformation and self-realization.  As a potter transforms an ordinary lump of clay into a work of beauty, that clay transforms the potter into an artist and craftsperson of his or her community.  This transformative power of the arts gives us a sense of belonging and unlocks the doors of optimism and hope.  Satish Kumar

Artists have the power to reveal the underlying meaning of any period precisely because the essence of art is the powerful and alive encounter between the artist and his or her world.  Courage to Create, pg 52,  Rollo May

Keep The Fire Going

Carriage House Studio winter '09

Carriage House Studio winter '09

I heat my studio with a wood stove.  Before I begin working out int the Carriage House Studio there I have to go out and get the fire going to warm up the space.  Once the fire is going it needs to be tended or it will eventually just burn out.  Tending a wood fire is not the same as setting a thermostat which once done can be forgotten about.  The fire must be tended.  It requires an on going relationship.  This has been powerful and active metaphor in my life through out this long and harsh winter.  

There are relationships in my life that can sort of just sputter out if forgotten.  These may be relationships with key people in my life or these may be activities that have been an important part of my life that quietly fall away into neglect.  Maybe it is just entropy. What ever the reason for the fire going out it will come the time to re ignite the fire and that is an important realization.  A call to action,  a time to re-invest, kick the engine started and get going again.  Is there a fire that is about to go out in your life right now?

If The City's A Potluck, What's Your Dish?

Winking Girl, House & Ladder, Record Player woodblock 71/2x17 inches

The Beerhorst Family is currently working together on an ArtPrize project called City As Muse. We are excited to announce that the UICA will be our venue this year.

Something exciting and unusual is happening within the cultural community of Grand Rapids that is unprecedented. We believe that we are just now reaching a cultural boiling point when things are becoming possible here that never where before.  City As Muse is all about turning up the heat of this movement so that we can realize our greatest potential. We see a city that doesn't just tolerate it's creatives and visionaries but actually celebrates them.

It used to be that a typical date night was dinner and a movie.  After five years of ArtPrize along with the assiduous efforts of several other art villages working inside Grand Rapids to make places for artful expressions, a common date now is dinner and looking at art.  I remember one day after having a 20 minute in depth conversation with Dan our mail man about what is legitimate art, that it occurred to me  what I just experienced was becoming normal in my city and just isn't any where else I know of.  Everyone, from all walks of life, want to talk about art.  What is it for, what does it mean, how can I get involved?

I want to know what you see changing for the better in our city.  I want to know what  contribution you want to make towards this city becoming more fully alive in every aspect whether it is a business start up, a new venue or just a crazy idea that won't let you alone.  If this city was some kind of big potluck, what dish would you be bringing over the threshold cradled in your arms?

The Beauty That You Are

Max Beckman, Gypsy Woman

Max Beckman, Gypsy Woman

I'll be your mirror 
Reflect what you are, in case you don't know 
I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset 
The light on your door to show that you're home 

When you think the night has seen your mind 
That inside you're twisted and unkind 
Let me stand to show that you are blind 
Please put down your hands 
'Cause I see you 

I find it hard to believe you don't know 
The beauty that you are 
But if you don't let me be your eyes 
A hand in your darkness, so you won't be afraid 

When you think the night has seen your mind 
That inside you're twisted and unkind 
Let me stand to show that you are blind 
Please put down your hands 
'Cause I see you 

I'll be your mirror

Lou Reed

Relation - Ships

New World Drawing, ink and white conte, 2013

Relationships are by there nature always moving. Relation - Ships.  They need to be going somewhere.  They can just sort of float for awhile but if you are not paying attention they can end up on the rocks and begin to break apart.  We are social creatures by nature.  Some of us define ourselves as introvert or extrovert.  We all need people in our lives who we can love and that can love us back.  Finding ways to keep our key relationships healthy and moving forward is important.  It seems to take a continual reinvesting and taking stock of where you have been and where you want to be going.  It helps to have things you are working on together.  This is one of the main reasons I like having my band the Wealthy Orphans because it brings me together with a couple of my closest friends to make music together on a regular basis and that keeps these friendships activated and going somewhere.

One of the challenges of a long winter like the one we are still in is the way it tends to close us off from people because getting out and about is just so much more work . With getting out such a challenge we tend to instead burrow into our cozy places and isolate.  I know that for me I find myself reenergized by being with other people.  I guess this would put me into the extrovert camp.  I am curios how you have found ways to keep your self plugged into a community that is vital and going somewhere.  When is loneliness actually a healthy place to re encounter your inner self and when is it just a symptom of a long merciless winter or worse, a symptom of giving up and shutting down?

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell

Literary legend has it that Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for a while before she began her day's work; this foretaste of the grave was supposed to inspire her macabre fiction and poetry. 

This is an out take from the book Daily Rituals, How Artists Work by Mason Curry.  The book is a collection of the daily routines of writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers and scientists on how they create (and avoid creating) their creations.  The creatives included those long gone as well as those still living. I found this an inspiring read because these are very obviously flawed humans simply doing there best to continue in their creative journey.  It is particularly helpful for me to hear how much struggle was a regular part of staying on course for people who left such enduring legacies of great work.  If they had a hard time keeping on keeping on why should I be surprised at the daily hurdles I face. It helps to know that we are in good company with our flaws and idiosyncrasies.

How Do We Feed Our Souls?

Willem de Kooning

Making a painting is for me an act of faith.  Every time I begin again I hold on to the hope that at some point in time a person will come into the presence of my piece and receive something they need for their soul. Perhaps in looking something will be touched off inside of them that will begin a chain reaction of longing, searching, risking and finding.  It is my deepest hope that my paintings would wake people to a more alive life.

There are many things we do in the world that are out of necessity like buying food, washing dishes and putting gas in the car.  These are tasks that obviously have to happen on a daily basis for life to continue.  There are other things like reading poetry, walks in the woods and standing quietly in front of paintings that may actually have a necessity of their own that is not as obvious.  Our souls become hungry in a different way than our stomachs and we must satiate them for our life to continue in a way that is rich and meaningful.  I wonder what our city would come to be if we began to take our inner lives seriously?