When people come to my classes they often show up because they are enticed by a promise. I find them on my doorstep because they've been to my website, or they've seen a flyer or read my blog. They come to me believing that what they want are all the things that I say I'm offering which is an opportunity to become more creative. To regain the freedom and joy that they once had as a child to express themselves in any way that they want.
They come filled with hope that through this process I can help them unlock the door to their unique creative juciness. To experience the happiness that comes from not worrying about what other people think and the permission to just be themselves.
And this longing to be creative without constraints is very, very real.
But what they also secretly or not so secretly want is to make a beautiful painting.
Stoners are creative people, too.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area which is a place that is a mecca for the arts of all kinds. And one of my favorite places to go when I'm needing some major hit of art inspiration is the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.
One of the things I love about the DeYoung is their focus on diversity. Which basically means that they are partial to featuring creative installations from people and cultures all over the world and not just art made by dead white men who used to reside in Western Europe.
Many of you reading this are probably too young to remember the stoner comedy duo who called themselves Cheech and Chong. *Warning: Potty mouth alert*. Their comedy routine was basically one, long, stupid and mindless riff on being majorly fucked up, primarily on marijuana. I was never a huge fan, but they were cultural icons when I was growing up in the 60's, so I knew who they were.
Apparently Cheech took some part of the millions that he made acting like someone who could not get his shit together to save his life and became a patron and collector of Mexican art over the years. And the DeYoung was showing that collection.
In my classes one of the things that I hear a lot is people deciding that certain colors are ugly. Sometimes they will actively avoid these colors or sometimes they will consciously decide to use them because they are challenging themselves to branch out. And the colors that most often get put in that category are the shockingly fluorescent blues, greens, reds and yellows with some hot pink thrown in for good measure.
When I was walking around the Cheech exhibit at the DeYoung the thing that really stood out was the abundant use of those wild and what are often judged as garish fluorescent colors. And these paintings were beautiful. Alive. Intense. Practically jumping off the walls in their vibrancy of color.
And it struck me in that moment how much our conception of what is beautiful is actually based on a social construct. In this western culture our idea of beauty is largely conditioned by those dead European masters. And those boys were certainly no fan of hot pink.
Who DO you think you are?
One of the things I love about the intuitive painting process is how it challenges you to stretch beyond your usual conception or (should I say misconception) of yourself.
People come to a painting class with some pretty clearly defined ideas about who they are, what they like and what they think they want out of the process. But if they are really listening to their intuition all of those things get blown out of the water on a regular basis.
The intuitive process helps people to see more clearly how they are constrained in ways that they never even realized by societal expectations, family expectations, church and school rules and regulations.
It asks you to consider certain questions like why do you think that something as innocuous as a color or a particular image is ugly or unacceptable? Where did that idea even come from? And is it even remotely true?
Claiming the freedom to be ourselves is a sometimes difficult process where we have to come up against those firmly ingrained and often entrenched beliefs.
We want to be accepted. We want to fit in. We want to be valued. We want to belong.
And ultimately, we want to feel safe.
We sincerely believe that if we toe the line and agree with what we have been told, if we go along with the party line that tells us that taupe is classy and chartreuse is trashy, then we can relax. We can trust that we won't be hurt or judged or found to be lacking in some way.
Given the choice I'll vote for lime green ANY day.
But all along our intuition is calling to us, beckoning to us, saying "Come on in. The water is fine. There is a WHOLE WORLD out here beyond what you have been led to believe is OK.
There is a world of blinding colors and never-been-seen-before creatures of your imagination, a world where things are often turned upside down and don't always make sense. And this world can nourish you and startle you and amaze you. And make you come more fully and completely alive."
Sometimes venturing away from what you know has already gotten a stamp of approval can make you a tad uncomfortable... but that's only because you've never been there before. And you might find yourself more than a little worried that if you start going hog wild with neon blue or sizzling magenta it will seriously call into question things like your good taste or color sense.
I often tell my students with all sincerity that I have never in my life seen an ugly painting. Especially in my studio. I have seen paintings that have evoked all kinds of reactions in me. And not all of those responses are comfy. But I am grateful to anyone who is able to make me feel something because they have been courageous enough to have their own feelings and to express themselves from a deep and authentic place.
One of the things that has been enormously helpful for me is to expand my definition of beauty. To recognize that beauty also includes things that are intense, passionate and demanding. Sometimes beauty makes my skin crawl. Or makes my heart break. It can even leave me feeling incredibly disturbed.
And sometimes beauty can literally make my eyes bug out of my head as I am almost blinded by the electric, spine tingling, overwhelmingness of a shimmering and unearthly green that could only have been produced in a mad scientists laboratory.
That living experience of beauty is something I can never get enough of.
And believe you me... I am happy to say that I have NEVER had that kind of reaction to taupe!