The Artist’s Rule of Life

“Sunset Through Fragments”, 8.5” x 11”, 7632 x 6480 pixels at 900dpi, April 2017, Mark R. Turner. The result of contemplation through pushing oil pastel colors over the surface of watercolor paper then cutting it into pieces and arranging it with magazine fragments and finally photographing it. Consider the texture, placement of colors, shapes created by thoughtful arrangement, the phenomenon of a creature making this intentionally. It all reaches beyond the intellect into the other ways we can know something.
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If you do not understand a work of art, just sit with it like you would sit in Nature. Just allow it to trickle through your thoughts and consider that you are growing in something new, and that is good. The artist followed an impulse in an intentional way which has become the discipline of their life. For centuries this has been called a Rule of Life and usually is associated with the way a monastery conducts life.

In last month’s blog post, “The Impulse to Make”, I wrote that we need to create from our true selves and that we get to know our true selves by creating. This indicates that we need to have a regular practice of exploring our true selves through the work which most interests and energizes us, work in which we have the most peace (not necessarily the most quiet or most calm). As my friend Phil Petrie the painter says, “I’ve got to get back into the studio.”

I have occasionally heard artists say they would rather work in their studio or medium than to have exhibitions of their work. The famous trumpet performer Doc Severinsen once said his favorite thing to do was not to perform in the lights, but to practice in a practice room for eight-hours-a-day! When we take the time and energy to explore the small aspect of our universe represented by our chosen work, we discover more about our interconnection with the whole universe. This revelation grows our understanding of who we truly are and develops our capacities of contributing to the whole with whom we are growing in communion.

This is validation for long works, like my current animation project, or writing a novel which John Steinbeck would say he probably would never finish. The artist “in the zone” often forgets the final object and immerses in the process. Nobody sees the final work of art for months or years and yet every day the artist is chipping away at the work. Hopefully, that work will speak to yet unknown recipients, but in the meantime, the discipline of the long process is revealing more of Truth and reality to the artist than the final audiences will probably discern from the resulting object. The final product is the residue of the growth accomplished in the artist’s life, the evidence of a greater revelation.

Eventually the audience seeks to discern from that object some of the Truth which was revealed to the artist during the process. Often the artist will contemplate the finished piece to understand what happened and return to it to enjoy the experience it represents.

Knowing the process usually engenders greater appreciation of a work of art. It is one way in which humanity learns and evolves toward the ultimate Goodness. This is why it is important to grow in our knowledge of art, music, literature, the dance, theater, filmmaking, … to keep growing in appreciation of our capacities, the contributions of others, and the incalculable value that you and I have.

I’ll go further and say that this growth I refer to has been happening since the beginning of the universe. As we have pursued our work, humanity as the conscious member of this universe, has been discovering our connection with our Origin. We are awakening to the reality that we are like branches extending out from the tree trunk and are bearing fruit by the life flowing from the center. As we learn to conduct our disciplines, we learn how to move with the flow of that life toward the ultimate destiny of the Body we are becoming.