Pushing the boundaries

I am applying for an award. This particular award is for a twelve month project that will push the boundaries of your art practice into new and uncharted territory. It is an award presented to an artist with a desire to break new ground in their creating life. Part of the award is set aside for a mentor who will contribute to the development – a partner in crime, if you like.

It sounded exciting. My initial plans were relatively ‘out there’, although many of the details were unformed. That’s what the year of the project is for, after all – to explore, research, innovate. Having secured a fabulous mentor, however, the vision has taken on a life of its own through her enthusiasm and guidance. It is still exciting, but also now terrifying. I’m not sure I can live up to the confidence she has in my ability to extend.

She is absolutely right. If you are going to explore, then REALLY explore, actually step outside your comfort zone. Don’t just morph what you do now but turn it into something new. I’ve been playing it safe.

I am reading a book called Think Again by Adam Grant. In summary, it talks about reframing and re-thinking one’s often errant or outdated views and assumptions. But it also talks about the fact that we can be resistant. We are often happy in our bubble. Grant provides a glimpse into a way we can make a transition easier, that being to keep in mind the essential things that will remain the same while change happens around.

Without going into details here, I can now see more clearly that I can stretch my practice, break new ground, without having to change my core artistic loves. That fact is an eye-opener and a relief. I can now hop on board the excitement train and apply for the award with a whole heart. So, onwards and outwards!

Until later,

Kirsten

Waves

Since I’ve been painting abstractly, I have been trying to find ways to explain what I do in my own mind so, ultimately, I can explain it to others.

When I put brush, or whichever tool, to canvas, I am trying to capture my essence at that moment. It’s like finding a way to capture a fleeting experience in visual form.

Listening to a podcast by artist and teacher, Nicholas Wilton, I heard him speaking to professional photographer and surfing tragic, Jonah Allen, who was able to put a new and lovely spin on the theme.

While speaking of waves, not just his favourite recreation but also his artistic subject matter, Jonah described them as the expression of energy with water as the medium.

This struck home with me. That’s what I am trying to do. I have energy, or the moment has energy, and the paint is the medium with which that energy is expressed. The paintings may not ‘look like anything’, or may be ‘messy’, but they are a wave – a transfer of energy from one place to another.

Let’s ride them!

Until later,

Kirsten

Saved on the road from Mount Gambier

I must confess it has crossed my mind that perhaps it was time to gracefully wrap up this blog, recognising that it has been a great thing for me but that maybe its time was over. It seemed I had much less to say, to muse about. I didn’t really want to shut it down as I love having it, but neither did I want to ramble on about nothing month after month.

On my last big car drive, however, listening to podcasts (so often an impetus), I became inspired again. Suddenly, I had thoughts – about art, about life – thoughts that now need to be explored. There were words and concepts running through a head which had been quite empty of late. Such a good feeling. There’s a little bit of life in the old grey cells yet.

And so this blog, my blog that I am fortunate enough to share with you, is saved (that sounds very dramatic; I don’t think, in reality, it was in terrible danger). There are ideas out there that trigger thoughts in us. Sometimes those ideas float around in abundance, sometimes they are more elusive but they still exist. We might just have to work, or listen or read or watch or write, a bit harder or more often to find them.

Until later (a definite and enthusiastic later),

Kirsten

Wordle

Maybe you Wordle. Maybe, if you’re really into it, you also Quordle or perhaps Nerdle if numbers are also your thing. If you seek the sometimes near-impossible puzzle, you may Worldle as well. It may be that you have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s fine. The underlying principle remains relevant

These new puzzles, grown from humble beginnings and taking the world by storm, are similar to each other. The greatest of these similarities, though, is that each iteration only has one version available each day. Only one. Either at midnight, wherever you are in the world or, for Nerdle, at a shared, planet-wide refresh time, you can access your daily fare. Once it’s done, that’s it. You wait twenty four hours for the next.

‘Always leave them wanting more,’ said circus impresario P. T. Barnum. That is genius. Make an experience rare and it becomes in demand. Don’t overload an audience and they will long for the next opportunity. If you sing, keep it sweet but short. If you talk, keep it brilliant but brief. If you exhibit, keep it captivating but compact. If you write, for heaven’s sake, don’t labour the point.

So, until later,

Keep wanting more,

Kirsten

Tell your story

Depending on where you get your information, it is posited that the average length of time a viewer spends in front of an artwork is somewhere between eight and thirty two seconds. Apparently, the length of time spent in front of the famed Mona Lisa averages out at only fifteen seconds (although the queues pressing from behind may affect that). I have even seen two seconds put forward as a statistic. Regardless of the actual number, and the particular artwork being viewed, it seems like a pretty poor return for the time put in by the artist.

So, what makes some art require, or demand more looking? I have done a great deal of thinking and talking about this recently but I’m not sure I’ve come up with any great answers. Is it layers of paint that peek through the upper surface? Is it visual spaces in the work that invite the audience in? Is it ‘slow lines’ – broken, bent or curved – that prevent the eye slipping out of the piece?

What I DO know, though, is that, in order to command more looking, a painting must provide reward. Details, surprises, hidden gems, unexpected textures and the like need to be offered to the viewer who takes longer. Their giving of time and value to your work should give to them, in turn, a richer experience.

Easy to say, difficult to execute in a way that isn’t tokenistic. Like so many aspects of art-making, though, it’s a worthy goal. Paintings should tell their story slowly. They should craft it, weave it and the ending, if there even is one, should be a ripper.

Until later,

Kirsten

Process

I was watching Ash Barty play in the Australian Open tennis last week. Jim Courier was commentating and drew our attention to a quality this great champion possesses. ‘She doesn’t think about what is ahead,’ Jim pointed out. ‘Instead, she focuses on the execution of her work.’ The end product will happen but the crux is the process – each shot, point, game that eventually, makes up the entire performance.

The distinction between process and product is not a new one. Mid-nineteenth century writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is credited with saying: ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’ Another tennis player, the famed Arthur Ashe, echoed the idea and added that ‘the doing is often more important than the outcome’. Educational theory, in the eighties at least, was heavily invested in the importance of process over product. Certainly, in my area of classroom drama, the difference between exploration and performance was starkly drawn with the former valued more highly.

It becomes obvious that visual art, another creative discipline, works similarly. One can be concerned with the product one is trying to produce – for exhibition, commission, sale. One can also focus on the application of the craft, the process of making, with an endpoint less clear. Both approaches are valid. A professional practice inevitably moves between the two ends of the continuum.

But, it’s easy to fall into a distorted place where concern with a product takes a dominant position and the value placed on the process is diminished. This is to the detriment of the transparency and honesty of the art. Sometimes I need a reminder to reset; to concentrate on the execution of the work rather than the result of the game.

Thank you, Ash.

Until later,

Kirsten

Advice (or not)

The last couple of years of Covid, and resulting limited travel, have played havoc with my podcast listening. The slowing down of the input of new ideas has been for me, and possibly you, noticeable. Other things have taken off, of course, but the challenge posed by new thoughts has waned a little.

New year, new hopes. One of these is to reignite my own little pondering habit. As such, I recently listened to my first podcast in a long time. It was The Tim Ferris Show, hosted, not surprisingly, by Tim Ferris. This show can be a bit hit and miss personally, as it probably has an other-than-creative business focus (and too much advertising!) but I struck good one on this occasion.

The guest was Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of a book called The Advice Trap – a publication aimed at corporate managers who find themselves diving into giving advice to other employees too often and too early. I don’t think I’m an over-advice-giver (some may beg to differ) but I could relate to the premise.

There was the expected talk about drawing solutions from the people directly involved in a project and of not being immediately solution-focussed. But there was one piece of, dare I say, advice which made the whole show worth listening to. It was: Stay curious just a little bit longer.

Simply fabulous. And so applicable to everything I tend to do: ‘finish’ a painting too early, give up research too quickly, stop reading if not immediately gratified, not bother with rough artistic sketches and exploration.

It has become my mantra (if I subscribe to that sort of thing at all). Stay curious just a little bit longer. Don’t tie it all up too quickly. Don’t seek the end at the expense of the means. Leave it open, incomplete, as a question for a slightly longer time. Then see what happens.

Until later,

Kirsten

Christmas

Christmas comes at the end of an arbitrary marking of the year, the closest thing we can get to the representation of regularity in the solar system. The ‘end’ is random. The year could start anywhere, after all. My rudimentary research indicates that there is no astronomical reason for the placement of New Year’s Day, although the earth is closest to the sun in its orbit at this time – a fact discovered long after the siting of January in the cycle. In fact, the first New Year’s celebrations tended to be held around the equinox in March and cultures other than ours maintain alternative traditions.

But this is about Christmas, not New Year, and how it seems to nicely wrap up the previous twelve months. There is pressure, in some quarters, to tidy the loose ends, get jobs completed and catch up with everyone before the big day. The fact that, in the Southern Hemisphere, the great hiatus of the summer holidays tags along, adds to the desire to ‘get stuff done’ before many of us head away from home or routine.

We often reflect at this time. How did the year go in terms of goal-reaching, health, achievement, personal life? We could just as easily set, say, August 22 as our evaluation deadline but Christmas, the close of the year, the last moments before revving up for the new one, seems a logical and emotionally comfortable choice. It’s like breathing a long sigh before we gird our loins for a new set of hopes and expectations for the next chunk of time.

So, this Christmas, I will reflect a little, revel in family connection, eat delicious food and exhale deeply. In the coming weeks I’ll look forward. I’m not a subscriber to the New Year’s Resolution but I do like to look at the year, get a picture of it in my head and put some aims in mind. I’m not sure if it’s necessary or helpful but, for me, this is a good time to take stock.

Thank you for you support. Have a merry Christmas, however you celebrate and wherever your priorities lie.

Until next year,

Kirsten

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