Being the Observer

Painting from life, whether en plein air painting, still life or figurative painting, requires direct observation. This means the subject portrayed in three dimensional reality is translated and expressed onto two dimensional surface. The painter is now capturing an experience rather than simply an image, and must organize a point of view amid a multitude of optional perspectives. The painter also paints through the filters of what energetically is being perceived, emotional states, memories, and learned responses.

Observation is a powerful tool. It creates a sense of balance within the subjective creation of an artwork, captures a specific moment in time, and can create a bridge between illusion and delusion.

As an intensely emotional being, both highly sensitive and imaginative, the practice of objectivity both helps me in creating a stable mind, and offers a familiar language to the viewer, an entry point between a noun and a feeling.

A stable, objective mind is what the practice of mediation and yoga offers. In this realm, we are capable of being the observer…of our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions, our bodies. When we are able to step away and see from different perspectives, we are capable of being more compassionate, more tolerant, and more aware human beings.

The practice of objective painting alone won’t necessarily offer this deeper practice of genuinely being the observer. But when we live in a holistic way, and take this state of mind into other areas of our existence; immense growth, healing, and understanding can take place. This has been a revelation for me.

I recently made a huge life style shift, from living in the gentle rolling green hills of Vermont, to the wild west, where the desert is harsh and a lot of the land has been unfairly exploited. From being surrounded by Bernie supporters, I now find myself around Trump supporters. And while I don’t agree with the division taking place politically in our country right now, I have my own preferences and set of values that are usually supported where I’m from in Vermont. It is within this feeling of isolation, within this stance of feeling like a minority, that the power of observation has helped me to grow and become a stronger, more compassionate human being. Instead of becoming rigid and rebelling against the behaviors and ideals of the places I find myself in, I’ve begun to soften, I’ve begun to try to see from another person’s perspective, even if I don’t agree with it.

Around the same time I was going through this trial period, I had a painting that I was working on that just wasn’t working out. I must have gone back to the same spot several times, trying to get the foreground to work with the distant mountains and red rock cliffs, and I couldn’t find a solid composition. I came back to the same trail head to begin a different painting, so I took a different hike and left my usual orientation. Still not finding an inspiring scene where everything clicked, I turned around and there it was, the answer to what wasn’t working in the previous painting. It was a new foreground entirely with a slightly angled shift to the atmospheric mountains, but it still worked. Instead of trying to impose my views, the “right view” naturally aligned. Even though I had worked on this painting for a few sessions at this point, it felt as if I was beginning a new, as if I was seeing the scene for the very first time. Zen mind, beginner’s mind. The mantra for a happy life. A mantra to reduce suffering and strife. This aha moment made a lot of personal experiences clear to me. My anger from a lot of negative personal interactions turned into real compassion.

When we relate our lives to our art, significant changes can occur. The two are inextricably linked.

If you’re always standing from the same perspective, or around those who agree with you, you will have no opportunity for growth. It’s so important to embrace these shifts fully, in order to become a more transformative person and artist.

Amid so much violence and hatred that can occur between individuals and groups of people, any chance to practice kindness is ground breaking and revolutionary. It’s important to remain objective. We don’t live in a black and white world, a dualistic world. We live in a multi dimensionional world and we ought to reflect that.