A possible answer?

In June of 2020 I posted a piece of writing about overthinking. It was meant to be a little ‘wry’ but did pose some questions about thinking, whether there was an optimal amount of thinking, whether there were rules about how much thinking is appropriate and that maybe overthinking should be treasured or, perhaps didn’t exist at all. I’ll attach it below, but don’t feel you have to re-read.

In the past week, in an artistic context, I had a discussion about thinking. We were teasing out the act of painting and decided that thinking sits at the opposite end of the continuum to instinct. A work of art, particularly a successful one, balances the two elements of instinct and thought. There is, or should be, the imprint of both to make the piece live and yet be unified. The place each piece sits on the continuum will depend on the stage of development of the work and the particular preference or comfort level of the artist.

Overthinking in art then, we decided, sits beyond and outside that continuum. Overthinking occurs when all reference to instinct has fallen away or, in reverse, overthinking in itself kills the instinctive element of creation. In that respect, it’s not a good thing, or to be treasured. It is to be avoided. The antidote? Perhaps a deliberate dive into the far, gut-led end of the continuum.

It may not be an answer, or the only answer, to the questions I posed last year. In other contexts the picture may be entirely different. I have found the visual image useful, though. I think about it often. Not too much, though.

Until later,

Kirsten

10 June, 2020

Just wondering….

I’d hate to self-fulfil the prophecy …. but what is overthinking?

Is there a certain amount of thinking that could be called optimal? Certainly, underthinking could be said to be rife but how do you know when you step over the line and think too much?

That’s assuming it’s even possible. Perhaps the capacity of issues to be thought about is infinite. Perhaps the distinction, then, is the type of thinking. There is musing, ruminating, evaluating, comparing, remembering and anticipating, just to name a few. Does overthinking apply to one, some or all of these? Are some more damaging than others when done excessively?

Is overthinking a habit or something we do randomly? Can it lead to greater understanding? If so, can it really be called a negative thing? Overthinking has certainly had some bad press and I recognise there is no smoke without fire, but one could argue that thinking more than is necessary leads to concepts of greater depth, ideas of greater complexity, solutions of greater creativity. Overthinking might be what generates the great developments, the outstanding decisions and the history-making discoveries.

Perhaps overthinking is, in fact, a skill that is not universally possessed. Perhaps it is a gift exclusive to a few and learned by a few more through awareness and practice. Is it something we should actually be treasuring and cultivating?

But, I don’t want to go on about it …

Until later,

Kirsten

Alignment

I have dropped off the car, and its tyres particularly, for a rotation, balance and alignment. I chuckled to myself: rotation, balance and alignment. It sounded like an excellent idea. Where was the human version? What was the procedure that attends to our physical and emotional state in such a way?

I suppose we all have our various ways of rotating worn thoughts, balancing ourselves and realigning. It may be exercise, yoga, reading, movies, hobbies. It may even be the routine of work.

I decided, however, that, at this point in time – this specific hour on this particular day – I perhaps couldn’t talk personally about the desperate need for a rotation, balance and alignment. Things were travelling fairly well. Just the normal ups and downs, annoyances and mistakes, but nothing warranting a full service. Lucky me. I did bemoan the fact, though, that my blog post concept had become redundant.

I am humbled by the treatment I receive at my regular café. The care is exquisite, the familiarity comforting and the coffee fabulous. Some days the staff are almost the only people I speak to. It is a haven. This morning, though, there was a totally unfamiliar young woman at the counter and a barista whom I had never seen before. I was thrown into a spin. I actually had to order the coffee I wanted and was even given a number so they could find me to deliver the goods. New staff! The service was completely acceptable but it came with no conversation, no hearty greeting from behind the machine, not even an enquiry into the progress of my painting or a laugh over a long-held mutual amusement. There had been a rotation of personnel that had changed my experience. So much for my balance. The world’s alignment was completely disturbed.

Of course, in reality it’s totally unimportant and the coffee was still excellent. But I chuckled to myself, aloud this time, about how quickly things change.

And then the service business rang to tell me I needed two new tyres. Back down to earth.

Until later,

Kirsten

Anticipation

The Christmas decorations hang in the street and adorn the statuesque Gallery and City Hall I can see across the road. The supermarkets sport puddings and treats. Communal anticipation has begun.

Christmas can be a joyous family time, a holy festival, a cause for anxiety or a commercial necessity. Often it is a mixture of several of those. It is, regardless of the feelings attached, anticipated for a long time before its arrival.

That anticipation reminds me of childhood. Christmas was an important period – gifts, school holidays, summer. Easter and chocolate marked another portion of the year and one’s birthday was the third big event.

The last of those came with the added benefit of becoming a year older and the anticipation associated with that was acute – so much so, one would count down (’54 days until my birthday!’ or ‘I’m six and THREE-QUARTERS!’). The best thing was when Mum rounded up – for convenience and to give more useful information, I now realise – placing you a year ahead of the strict numbers. You were unofficially grown up before your time!

Anticipation can bring forward and extend the joy. Anticipation can drag out the concerns. Anticipation can be shared, or a secret. Excessive anticipation can even take the edge off the main event. Whatever the case, for our special times, the anticipation reminds us to prepare.

So I’m off to prepare – just a small element but certainly part of the picture. The decorations have possibly got me moving. Anticipation has commenced.

Until later,

Kirsten

Know your stuff

We have someone in to clean the house. It’s not strictly justifiable, as we could certainly do it ourselves, but having a cleaner to help us out means those household chores never become an issue. Bonus. Win-win.

But when the wonderful Sharon comes, I tend to get out of the house to avoid any guilt. I am now, you won’t be surprised to know, in the café but I have just been in a boutique – not buying for me (again, not surprising) but seeking a gift.

It was, actually, quite fun, mainly because I was transacting for someone delightful but also because the process was facilitated by a very helpful employee; someone who had an excellent grasp of the stock, had a sense of what may suit a certain age in a certain setting (and was very gracious when I pointed out that one of my potential purchases had a mark on it).

The experience reminded me that it’s good, in so many ways, to operate in a space with someone who knows their stuff. It gives confidence, breeds success, saves time and brings enjoyment. If they know their stuff, if they are experts in their field, everything is that little bit easier. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the mechanic, the dentist, the barista or the bank manager.

Or the cleaner.

Safe to go home now, I think.

Until next time,

Kirsten

Consequences

I went to the golf club and hit a bucket of balls.

You know how it works. I paid my ten dollars, took a container of random balls to the practice fairway and belted them, one by one, into the blue.

The best thing was that I didn’t have to go and pick them up. That’s the deal. You pay, you play, you walk away. It seems irresponsible but that’s how it works.

As I swung, I felt that absolute liberation that comes with there being no consequences. If a shot was good, that was fabulous. It it was bad, it did not affect my life one bit. I didn’t have to go and find the ball in the rough. I didn’t have to chip to the green from behind a tree. I didn’t have to search, or plan or think. I just placed the next ball and went again.

We learn consequence from an early age. If I cry, something changes. If I do something good, or bad, that elicits a certain response. Even as adults, our action lead to other actions or results or outcomes that we need to deal with. We navigate our path in the world by judging the consequences for us or others ….

…. unless we’re hitting golf balls down the practice fairway. It simply does not matter what happens. My life is enhanced no matter what the result.

Of course, someone else unknown has to go and pick them up – but I conveniently forgot about that. For me, in that moment, there was utter freedom from having to pay anything for my activity.

Except the ten dollars. Worth every cent.

Until later,

Kirsten

Investing

I spoke to the dentist at some length about a treatment option that requires a significant investment. Needless to say, I’m reluctant because of the cost. If it’s deemed necessary, I guess I’ll acquiesce. It will be a one-off, a long term prospect, but the spending is all a bit agonising.

From the dentist’s chair I went to the art supply shop and, without thinking too much, created a moderate dent in the credit card. The stuff I bought will only last for the short term and a similar event will happen within the year, if not months. Only mildly concerning, though – no agony involved.

I had a vague feeling, after all of that, there might be a double standard operating. I did some maths.

The significant dental investment, over which there will be discussion, thought, vacillating and possible resentment, will last forever. Let’s say that’s another forty years. In less than a mere two years of my professional art practice, I will have easily spent an equivalent amount. Yes, it generates income but, even so, there is no real discussion, thought, vacillating or resentment about that spending. It just joyfully happens because it’s fun, immediate and colourful – like toys – not boring, like teeth. I don’t even want to imagine what will be spent in total over forty years while my dental work is happily chugging along.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ve learned: perhaps the dentist won’t be ripping me off; perhaps art is an overly expensive business to be in; maybe discussion, thought, vacillating and resentment can be left for other things.

Until later and keep smiling,

Kirsten

Starting from the beginning

On Monday, I had my first hit of golf for over twenty years. I was on the driving range, not the course, so nothing mattered. It was fun.

My tendency, though, is to expect to pick up where I left off, to experience a seamless transition from then to now. That’s obviously unrealistic.

Next Tuesday, I’m booked in for my first training session at the gym for several years. Of course, I won’t be starting from the position I finished as time, COVID, other things have occurred. I’ll be starting from scratch and I need to be ready for that.

As adults, we are sometimes reluctant to start from the start. We feel we should be able. We are no longer accustomed to being beginners – that’s for kids. And being a beginner can be hard, especially within a group. It takes strength and courage.

So I gird my loins, as they say, and return to these things. It will be well worth the discomfort but there will be discomfort. Some degree of proficiency will return but return is the important word. It won’t be there straight away.

So, here’s to being a beginner, or a returner. May we know nothing.

Until later,

Kirsten

Slowing down

I have been involved in a lot of arty talk recently about slowing your audience down; drawing the viewer to take those extra moments to look into a painting and begin to enjoy the subtleties, examine the finer points, get lost in the marks. How do we do it? What prizes should we deliver for them? How do we ensure that there is something special at each stage of looking?

As if to back up that thinking, I came across a post from the Olsen Gallery in Sydney about an exhibition of works by Melbourne artist, Andrew Taylor. It reads: ‘Andrew Taylor invites us to slow down. His new paintings reward a studious viewer who takes time to look beyond their surface, to the layered oil gestures that have been built up over many days. Taylor recognises that our bustling reality cannot simply be captured, and instead its likeness must be made anew – slowly.’

I can’t pretend that I live a ‘bustling reality’ – I know many who do – but I do tend to hurry, to prize efficiency over depth. The desire to slow a viewer down in front of my paintings could, just as easily, be turned towards myself. I have been known to bolt around a gallery dismissing, in an instant, works that don’t grab me at the most superficial level. I am improving, I am pleased to say, but there is greater progress to be made. And especially now, when I am tackling in my own art the very thing I have been guilty of, I need to strive to take more time.

I also need to ensure that I give in my artwork. As someone toiling on the other side of the gallery wall, I need to invite the viewer to stop and gaze, or study, or question. It’s a joint effort, certainly, but my part is within my control whereas the viewer has their own motivations and bustling reality over which my influence is fleeting at best.

So I’ll slow down, in both my looking and my practice. I may discover things in both that, in my rush, I missed before.

Until next time,

Kirsten

Momentum

Momentum is the thing. In Physics, a body that is in motion has momentum proportional to its mass and velocity. Motion is vital – if the velocity is zero, there is no momentum.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that ‘a body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force.’ Basically, the second part of this Law means that, in a vacuum and frictionless setting, once something is on the move it will stay that way forever, unless one actively inputs energy to stop it.

Clearly, far from vacuums and ideal theoretical states, we don’t live in a frictionless world. There are stoppers all around us. Thus, any momentum we achieve will wane unless we deliberately inject further (and continuing) energy into the system. To keep up the forward motion we have to keep working.

That may sound exhausting. I don’t mean it to. It’s just a reminder for me today that coasting for longer than the indeterminate ‘little while’ isn’t possible. One needs to pedal that bicycle at least occasionally. That steam train needs its fire.

Until later,

Kirsten

Drawing to a close

I guess things do it all the time. Draw to a close, that is. A piece of music proceeds to its final chords. A lovely meal inevitably comes to a conclusion. A holiday will always have its last twenty-four hours.

Things drawing to a close can inspire different feelings; we can be relieved, we can fear we’ll never capture that time again, or we can have hugely conflicting emotions. But, as the saying about doors opening and closing goes, a coming to finality is rarely the end of the story. Our memories, our learnings, our new directions carry us forward. And yes, opportunities emerge to explore the follow-ons or to create new experiences.

It’s hard to remember, sometimes, that a close is not an end. If we choose, we can see it as a beginning, a kick-starter, a call to action.

So let’s act.

Until next time,

Kirsten

What’s necessary?

The barista in my adopted café has had her eyelashes done. They are luscious, long and black. On her, they look amazing and the wonderful thing is that, even with a mask, we can still see, enjoy and compliment.

This is not the time for lipstick-wearers to experiment with a new shade. Eyes are the current fad – they are responsible for expressing our all. Luckily they are, as the saying would have it, ‘windows to the soul’ and, therefore, quite up to the task of communicating. Certainly mouths, noses, cheeks and chins are of assistance but, in these times when they are out of the equation, we are managing very well. The bright eyes of smiling table service are eminently readable, warm and engaging.

And not just because of the eyelashes.

Until later,

Kirsten

Gathering

I am having a morning coffee to gather my thoughts

and then I thought

what a gorgeous phrase:

‘gather my thoughts’

as if they had fluttered a short distance away

or were growing around my legs like wildflowers.

I will gather my thoughts in an imaginary basket where they will mingle in a mess

until I can order them.

Go gathering.

Kirsten

Scraps in the air

I don’t deliberately try to listen in on conversations. I’d hate to think anyone was doing that to mine. Sometimes, though, those little scraps of talk pop out of the ether. Usually they pass by unnoticed. Occasionally, they trigger a thought.

I came to writing today with no conviction that I had anything worthwhile to contribute for this week. That would have been fine – just enjoy a coffee and head home. As I walked in, though, the café owner and two staff were having what seemed to be an impromptu discussion on the back deck. As I walked past, I caught a definite ‘We have to think outside the square, don’t we?’

It’s by no means a new phrase or exhortation, but it caught my ear.

For some time, I’ve been musing about the fact that painting and other two-dimensional forms of artistic expression are so often confined to a square or the like. Straight sides and right-angles are, regularly, the essence of what we choose as our surface. Certainly that’s what I, unthinkingly, grab when preparing to work. We look for fluidity and looseness in our craft but limit it inside a box. There are occasions where that contributes to the piece. There are times when it is simply the default.

With an intensive period of painting approaching, and a roll of unstretched canvas at my disposal, I am resolved to experiment with some other shapes: torn and ragged edges, kooky corners and the like. Those pieces may never see the light of day. They are unlikely to ever be stretched on a frame although you could mount them as you might paper. I am encouraged to think beyond that default square, further out and down than a straight edge allows.

It may come to naught, but at least I will have pushed the boundaries. It may be successful as an adjunct to more conventional approaches. Let’s get the stanley knife and the hand-tearing onto my six square metres of canvas and see what happens.

I’ll let you know!

Until later,

Kirsten

New things

New things can be really exciting. New things can bring with them opportunities and potential. New things can be shiny doors through which we can find amazing experiences. New things can bring anticipation and hope.

New things can also bring fear. Even small new things can carry some anxiety. Fear and change can go hand-in-hand. The ubiquitous ‘they’ say we’re hard-wired to keep ourselves safe so willingly stepping into an uncomfortable situation can be counter- intuitive. Thus, we like to avoid fear when we are able.

There’s no shortage of esteemed quotes (and some not so esteemed) about fear and dealing with it; about fear and not letting it stop you. Susan Jeffers wrote a famous book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. George Addair, American businessman, suggested that ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.’ One I particularly like, although it doesn’t mention the word itself, is Karen Salmansohn’s ‘The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone.’

You can, of course, read all the guidance in the world and it may assist with girding your loins and pushing forward. But you still have to actually do it; to look past that trepidation and remember the excitement and anticipation that attracted you to the new thing in the first place.

It is hard sometimes, though. Good luck!

Until later,

Kirsten

Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh spent a portion of his life in a psychiatric facility. I believe that, during this time, he was artistically prolific. I can imagine him throwing himself into what he loved to escape the mental pain he was feeling. It is purported that Vincent only sold one painting in his life. My question is this:

Where the hell did he keep all the rest? As someone who acutely understands the challenge of storing many artworks, I can’t even begin to imagine how cluttered his room, ALL the rooms, may have been. Pieces would have been stacked in every corner, along every edge, in the cupboards, on top of wardrobes: small ones, medium ones and, most inconvenient, the large. I suppose he couldn’t encroach on others’ living areas, or bedrooms (as I do). He was, perhaps, more constrained (more polite?!).

My problem is one that won’t go away any time soon. In fact, and obviously, it is a difficulty that is only going to get worse! If I could talk to Vincent, there are many questions I would ask but, without a doubt, I would certainly include one about that ever-growing volume that exceeds an ever-shrinking space!

Until later,

Kirsten