The Weblog of Marabeth Quin

The mental canvas of a visual artist

The Touch of the Muse October 21, 2010

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The Touch of the Muse 48x36 Acrylic

 

A Muse, defined in the dictionary,  is as follows: noun–the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like; and as a verb–to think or meditate in silence, as on some subject.

Being a professional artist for the last few years, and having worked my entire adult life in the creative arts, I have  been able to witness how the world-at-large views artists–they are separate, different, they march to a different drum.  To some practical degree, this is true.  People who work in the arts are, well, artistic.  They move to creative rhythms, they think in different patterns, they are in the business of bringing things into being that weren’t there before.  But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the separation–I don’t think its accurate.  Culturally, we have come to define people as artists and not-artists, but watch any child at play and you will see that we all begin life by being artistic.  No one ever has to teach a child how to pretend or use their imagination.  It is inherent in their nature–which has to mean that it is inherent in every adult’s nature as well.

We are addicts.  Its true–look around you.  We are addicted to ‘what is’.  We talk about it, we call it ‘the truth’ and spend entire lives making statistical lists about it.  We defend it, we war over it, we kill for it.  We predict our future based on what has happened to us in the past.  We believe that there is one reality that we all share and go to many lengths to establish that common reality–what else are 24/7 news channels doing if not establishing a ‘common reality’?  Look down through history and see what has happened to people that dared to say they saw things differently.  It is quite striking–we are highly invested in the idea that there is one world, and we all need to see it the same way.  We even go so far as to say that some people that see it differently, or experience it differently, are mentally ill or insane.

I went through a period of my life where I felt insane.  I was highly invested in ‘the truth’ and it was pulling me apart at the seams.  I behaved in ways I never thought I could–I hurt those I loved.  I hurt myself mostly.  Then one day I went for a walk in the woods and felt the wind on my face and I knew everything was going to be all right.  I found a thread; it was small, but it felt a little better than powerlessness, and I held on to it.  Now, fast forward about 16 years and about a million threads later, and here I am….sane, stable, happy.  How?  It started with a moment of disregarding ‘what is’ and instead,  feeling as if everything was going to be all right.  And then another moment, and then another.

There are as many different worlds as there are perceivers.  I’ve heard this before, and now I’m beginning to understand it.  Two people can be walking down the street and, depending on what they are thinking, are experiencing the same street differently.  I have a few friends that are highly invested in the idea that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, so to speak.  They have all the proof.  There are statistics that make it clear, they say.  Its ‘the truth’, they say.  I used to buy into it–after all, their evidence is pretty convincing.  There’s this disease, there’s this war, there are these terrorists, this evil political party, this evil religion, this corporation, this pollution, this soul-crushing technology, and on and on… but I can’t buy into it any more.  I know what’s going on when they are telling me ‘the truth’–they are simply telling me their interpretation of the world, and I just have to smile and say that I just don’t see it.

And I mean, literally, I don’t see it.  I won’t see it.  I can’t see it and believe what I want to believe at the same time, because  finally I  have made my choice.  I want to be like a child again and see the world as I want it to be.  Some people say this is burying my head in the sand, and some have even gone so far as to say it is ‘irresponsible’.  That’s ok.  That’s the way they see it, but I doubt it makes them feel better to see it that way, and I’m all about the feeling better. 

These days I approach my life much like I approach a new painting–first, it’s an idea.  It is color and feeling and texture.  I swim in it and dream about it for awhile, and then I pull out the canvas and the gesso and, more through intuition than anything, I begin letting my hand go where it needs to go.  When I’m really in the zone, I don’t even think at all, I just feel my way.  When I don’t like what I’m seeing, I try to keep feeling for it instead and disregard what I’m seeing.  I ‘pretend’ and ‘imagine’ and eventually I see something that begins to match what I’m feeling.  The muse (the inspiration, the mediation) begins with just a spark–a hint of a direction, an idea, a feeling.  The craft is in going with it–letting go of that incessant voice that constantly demands to know ‘where are we going with this?’  It works for me, and the wonderful thing is that I’m the only person that it needs to work for.  I don’t require that anyone else see it my way for it to work…but I wonder, if we were all able to think, even for just one moment, like we did when we were children, would we ever go back to wanting to see everything just the way everyone else does?  I can’t know for sure, but I’m guessing ’no’.  We are all creative–we were born creative with powerful imaginations.  I’m thinking we weren’t ever supposed to leave that behind for something as mundane as a  ’common reality’.

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The Nature of Wealth June 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — marabethquin @ 2:58 pm

The Nature of Wealth  40×40 Acrylic on Canvas

The concept of wealth, like happiness, will probably evoke as many different definitions from people as the number of people you ask.   Being a word that, in many cases, is only used to refer to money or ownership of things that can be exchanged or valued monetarily, it really is unfortunate that most of us have whittled it’s meaning in our own lives to such a limited scope.  I feel safe in assuming that I have been like many other people in not only defining wealth in these terms, but I’ve spent huge amounts of mental and physical energy trying to acquire an amount that I felt I needed to be happy.  If every thought that I have ever had about the lack of money could actually be converted to a dollar, I would be a wealthy woman many times over!  I have expended much of my energy in the past either contemplating how to make money, or where to get it; worrying about not having enough, or actually experiencing the sheer terror of some imagined bleak future where I did not have  enough money to live. 

But what is wealth really?  One of my favorite definitions that was listed when I looked it up was as follows:

Wealth n. an abundance or profusion of anything

Perhaps if we thought of wealth in these terms, it would be more evident that there are many ways in which we can focus on wealth and feel ourselves to be the truly abundant beings that we are.  For instance, I really appreciate my health–but if someone were to ask me if I were wealthy, my abundance of health might not be the thing that immediately comes to the forefront of my mind.  But ask any person that has been seriously ill, and they will tell you that health is their most prized possession and their most valuable treasure.

I once had dinner with a good friend that I had not seen in some time, and upon catching one another up on the events of our lives, she commented that I seemed happy.  I said that, indeed, I was happy; but her following statement was what struck me…she began describing my life to me from her vantage point:  I was happily married to a wonderful man, I was doing something that I loved, I had two amazing children that were so talented and thriving that it overjoyed me just to think about them, and on and on she went.  I could not deny that everything she said was accurate–she was not exaggerating or painting some ridiculously romantic picture–yet, seeing my life as she told it, from an outside point of view, I realized that I did not experience the abundance of it to the level that she was describing, and I had to ask myself ‘why?’. 

I thought about this for several days and came to a very simple conclusion: though I give inordinate amounts of energy and time to not only thinking about the shortages in my life, but actually experiencing these shortages in my body through emotions such as overwhelment, frustration, fear, sadness–though I do this, I do not give the same amount of energy and time to experiencing and thinking about the abundance in my life.   Something about our conditioned brains focuses on the problem, but rarely the areas where  no problems exist–only realized desires.

So, I began a practice.  Daily, if possible, I would write down all the wonderful things about my life I could find and spend time thinking about them, feeling them, experiencing them in my body through my emotions of well-being, contentment, enthusiasm, and yes, happiness.  We are our thoughts, there is no denying it.  After a short period of time, I began to see a change.  I was less likely to see shortage when I had practiced seeing the abundance, and my life got richer in every aspect.  The nature of wealth has nothing to do with money, because if all I can see is shortage, it doesn’t matter how much money I acquire….I still will only see what I don’t have

The painting above was born out of this mind-set.  The funny thing about learning to see the abundance in your life (and if you’re breathing, you’re abundant) is that the more you look for it, the more you see.  It’s like growing new eyes, or finding new muscles you didn’t know you had.  The whole world is simply a projection (a mirror image) of my mind–and if what I see is nothing but an unending field of abundant flowers for me to pick, then so it is.  If the world in my mind is beautiful and plentiful, the world I experience has to mirror that.  ‘As a man thinketh, so is he.’  This is truly good news!

 

Learning to Love the Unexpected March 29, 2010

Filed under: 1 — marabethquin @ 1:24 am

I am a creature of habit, meaning that I am comforted by knowing what is going to happen at the same time, everyday.  In many cases, it gives my life structure, predictability, peace…

The amount of joy I derive from my breakfast every morning actually amuses me–it’s the same everyday; that’s the point.  Two pieces of Ezekial Bread toasted alongside a tall mug of vanilla chai tea with soy creamer is not that exciting, except to me.  It’s delicious, but far from exotic, and clearly, there is no element of surprise in it.  I like it the sameness of it–it doesn’t get old, and someday when it does, I will find something new and then stick to that for months on end and derive great joy from the predictability of that.

Regardless of how it may appear with this revelation, I also have an adventurous side to my nature.  I like variety when it comes to some aspects of my life–for instance, my ideal vacation is having a destination, but absolutely no itenerary and no bookings except the first and last night’s hotel.  Right now I have over twelve paintings spread across every flat surface of my studio.  The process that I use requires that I put on layers of paint and then let them dry before applying more.  And because  I use lots of water when applying paint, there’s not a lot of control–the paint runs, it bleeds, to splatters, and I love it.  That’s one of the reasons I chose the process I use–I can’t control it.  It’s full of surprises and accidents that I have to learn to work with and incorporate.  I have to constantly let go of my specific ideas of what I’m going for, yet hold to some vague picture that keeps the whole thing heading toward some general destination.  I move, almost meditative, from painting to painting to painting, and then start over with the first one and a new layer of paint.

Richard Bach Quote:

The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.

It occurred to me sometime in the last year that maybe, just maybe, things are not as they seem….ever.  And if that were true, what would that mean?  What if, whatever the ‘ultimate reality’ really is, the very nature of it was so overwhelmingly open, and good, and profiting from everything just as it is, that things that appeared to us as injustice and tragedy were really just things for which we could not open ourselves up wide enough?  What if we could actually not only ‘call’ everything that happens good, but actually ‘see’ it as good?

I have to admit, I am only in the beginning stages of being able to imagine such a worldview…I’ve been thinking this way for a long time.  We are taught as children to group things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.  “Don’t play out in the street!  You could get hit by a car and be killed!”   I have to ask myself–if we did not see death as this really awful thing, something to be avoided at all costs, something that ‘ended’ everything, would the above warning have nearly the impact?  What if I believed in a universe in which death was not at all the end, but the beginning?  Or maybe just a continuation, but in a form that, from this vantage point of flesh and blood, we cannot comprehend?

Another Richard Back quote:

Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly. 

I personally am ready to begin really questioning and stretching my ideas about what is good and what is bad, what is fortunate and what is detrimental, what is possible and what is impossible.  It feels natural to begin questioning everything–I’m not sure why, but just with the introduction of these thoughts, I started to feel a bit like I had grabbed hold of something because it was colorful, beautiful and looked fun, and the more I looked it at, the more it captivated me–and my hope is that even if I look down and realize that the ground that I have become so accustomed to living in contact with is far beyond my reach (that is, that trying to ‘go back’ to what I knew before would not be possible=a sort of ‘death’ of reality) I will be so captivated by the view from my new perspective that all I can think about is what wonderful possibilities lay before me.

Bad things are not the worst things that can happen to us. Nothing is the worst thing that can happen to us! 

Richard Bach

 

 

 

Miss Congeniality January 13, 2010

con⋅gen⋅ial     –adjective

1.  agreeable, suitable, or pleasing in nature or character. 

2.  suited or adapted in spirit, feeling, temper, etc.; compatible.

“When you realize how perfect
everything is…you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”  Buddha
 
 
When I hear the term ‘Miss Congeniality’, I always think of beauty pageants.  Typically, most girls that are so inclined to enter a pageant of that sort are not after this prize, because clearly, the one who gets it was the one who either never achieved the level of disharmonious competition needed to win, or was on some plane that rose above it and was able to maintain her regular good-nature and perspective. 
Life can be like a pageant sometimes; it can imply that there is a prize to be captured, a standard to be judged by, or a competition to be won.  Not being competitive by nature, I have always shrunk back from life when it presented itself to me in this way, and declined to participate when the spotlight felt too hot and the judging too severe.  Some people like to be judged, I guess; it brings out the champion that displays the best in them–but it simply makes me want to quit.  Coming into my middle-age, I’ve learned to accept this about myself instead of being so displeased that I was not made differently, but an odd thing has happened in the last year that has taken it past simply acceptance…I’ve found a way to perceive the world that takes me out of the hot lights and off the stage of the pageant competition and into my own little universe where I don’t need to compete with anyone, because there is no need.
 
“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
I have found that when I look for the best, I find it.  When I’m kind, to myself or to others, I get kindness back.  When I expect good things to happen on a consistent basis, generally good things happen.  When I gravitate toward what makes my heart sing–like watching the sun rise or set, painting, reading a really fantastic piece of writing, or watching someone I love do something they love–then the world becomes a warm, wonderful, fulfilling place.  If I tell myself that there is not enough for everyone–whether it be happiness, well-being, money, resources, whatever–then I start to see lack in my life; everywhere I look, there is not enough and I feel scared, anxious and not supported.  Can it be that the world is simply what we perceive it to be?  Can it be that we are all our own little universes that are completely self-fulfilling and self-reflecting?  It’s taken me nearly 45 years, but I’m beginning to see evidence of it–it’s taken me that long because, well, I was reflecting back to myself everything that I thought and I was pretty consistent with my perception for a very long time.
In my best moments, the world is my
playground–a verdant oasis of life and opportunity, donning me with bouquets of kindness and joy, supplying all my needs for now…for this moment. 
For awhile, I struggled with the ‘truth’ of this.  And then one day it hit me–if, by virtue of how I’m seeing the world in this moment, the world reflects this wonderful vision back to me, what do I care if it’s ‘accurate’?  What do I care if anyone agrees with me?  I don’t–all I want is to see how soon I can generate that vision again, and then again…and then again.  Because really, can you win a better prize than to see the world as agreeable, suitable and pleasing in nature?  To be congenial with all things–is that not happiness itself?    

 

 

Alignment August 21, 2009

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Alignment

Summer seems to be quickly coming to a close, the light is changing, school is starting and everything seems to gain more of a structure as that happens.  This summer has been unusual and I have not been able to paint like usual.  Our house is on the market, and so we are constantly facing the challenges of living in a house that needs to keep that ‘non-lived in’ look, so I have had to shrink my studio space needs down to a fraction of what it was.  That means that instead of the usual 7-10 paintings going at once, I have only a few smaller ones that can fit; and instead of my usual everyday fervor, I am compelled to go down and work on them only when I have enough time and energy to pull them all out and put them all back when I am done.  This doesn’t work well for an artist, as most of us like to spread everything out and have it waiting for us in that same way when we return.  It keeps the flow going and there’s room to move about and think and see.

But that is the way of it right now–I spent my typical time of bucking it, or feeling like I should be doing more, or that things should be different than they are.  But now I realize that my life is simply providing me the opportunity to put into practice what I have been studying– loving things the way they are.  I stumbled upon an amazing body of work by a lady named Byron Katie (and here, she would affectionately say, ‘Is it true?’ because she does not see anything in the world as so finite that you can put a lable on it–even if it is her own name).  The premise:  the only suffering is the suffering that results from thinking things should be other than what they are.  Reality is god, meaning that it is all powerful–it is what IS.  And by accepting that and working within that, you eliminate your own suffering as well as make way for the new that is waiting to come into being.  Fighting it keeps you stuck.

And an interesting thing happened as a result of deciding that I was not going to feel like I should be able to paint more right now–I began doing something containable, something easily picked up and put away, and something that I’ve worked on sporadically for over ten years–I began writing again on a book that I originally got the idea for when I saw a play with my daughter when she was in elementary school.  First, it began as a children’s book and that led me to painting.  With the idea for that book, I began seeing the illustrations and bought paints and trepidaciously picked up the brush and began painting.  Over the years, I got so involved with the painting that it took on a life of its own, and that is where all of my creative energy has been channeled.  But now the book, now in a different young adult version, has been calling to me again and all of my creative energies have been pouring into that.  Ten plus years of ideas are gushing out onto the page and it feels good.  It may take another ten to complete it, who knows?  But if so, that is also the way of it.

The painting above is called, “Alignment” and was born out of the idea that our lives are most purposefully and powerfully lived when we align ourselves with what is going ‘right’ instead of ‘wrong’, with ‘what is’ instead of what we think ‘should be’.  Now I can look back and see that, although sometimes it seems that things are not getting done like I think they should, they actually are doing exactly what they are supposed to.  I began writing over ten years ago, and that made me want to paint, which then led to my wonderful experience with all my paintings and now an extremely fulfilling and budding career as an artist.  And now, circumstances make it difficult to paint, which has led me back to writing.  And if there is suffering in this, it is only and exclusively when I say that it should be any other way.

 

on Being June 18, 2009

Filed under: 1 — marabethquin @ 8:29 pm
on Being

on Being 60 x 48 Acrylic on Canvas

 

 

Nothing affects me like nature.  Nothing. 

I never knew about my connection with the earth until about fifteen years ago when, badly needing sanity and stability, I stumbled upon it, and I haven’t let go of it since.  There is a rhythm, a sort of current that pulls you in the direction you always intended, but I had never heard it so clearly until then.  It was like hearing my heartbeat for the first time, and now my life is structured around that pulse.  That is where art comes in.  

 From the first time I ever heard Joseph Campbell lecture on the nature of symbols and their function in our dreams, language, art and myriad other areas of life, I was hooked.  It was only when I came to the understanding that the opposites that we experience in this life ( i.e. light and dark, good and evil, life and death) are merely representations of different aspects of a ‘whole’  existing somewhere, that I began to gain a sort of balance and comfort with nature and my own skin that had been missing since early childhood. 

The resulting realization in my adulthood has been that well-being underlies all existence.  However, awareness of that well-being is often drown out by the noise of life, and in some cases we forget what it looks and sounds like altogether.  When I am painting, I can examine and explore this reality without the confines of culture and its unrelenting dogma, and it opens those places in me that are otherwise inclined to closure and atrophy.  Art is my doorway into the essential, yet unknown aspect of existence and my paintings are many times not what I intended, but a complete and pleasant surprise to me when I step back and realize that it is ‘as it should be’,  and in much the same way I view life…

 

Contemplating Happiness February 5, 2009

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Contemplating Happiness

Contemplating Happiness

Happiness is….

I’m guessing that if you got 10 people to finish the sentence above, you would likely get as many different ideas.  The concept of  happiness has been one of continual evolution in my life.    It has only been recently that I have realized my conflicted feelings on this subject, no doubt resulting from harboring remnants of all the aforementioned evolutions of the word, but it is amazing to see the regularity at which the subject has been rising up under my feet.  But I think for any of this to make sense, I have to map out the crooked road by which I have come to my current views on the subject.
My first memories of actually contemplating happiness were as a child when my father was putting me to bed and would implore me to ‘always be happy’.  I can only assume this statement was in response to the overflowing and naturally occuring happiness that exists in children and was being exhibited by me.  Children are irresistable to us grown-ups, they draw us in like magnets; the most grumpy adult will generally melt at the sight of a laughing baby, and I believe this is a large element of the attraction–joy is our natural state of being and children, for the most part, still remember that and do not resist it, grasp at it, nor feel some stifling sense of guilt over it.  They simply are.  
I remember as a child being keenly aware of the unhappiness of adults.  I didn’t understand this unhappiness, and basically did not question it’s validity, but I did question my right to be happy when they were not.  My naturally flowing happiness became painful to me as I saw myself in contrast to others around me, and that is the moment I began to grow up and leave joyous childhood behind.
When I was in my late twenties I was going through a divorce and someone actually said to me, “You know, God did not promise us happiness.  Suffering is a sacrifice we make to him; if you let happiness direct your life, it will lead you down the wrong pathway.”  Luckily for me, my mental instability was making it very clear that regardless of what God felt about happiness, I could not live without it and would likely end up in the hospital if I didn’t pursue some measure of it.
Since that time, I can pretty much look at all the wonderful things in my life and find a common element–they all originated from my desire to be happy.  I know that whether religious or just simply reflective, most of us are wary of basing anything on happiness.  The religious thought is that our heart cannot be trusted, therefore to be directed by your happiness is pretty much a risky business, however, I find it ironic that our ability to create suffering for ourselves seems to never be viewed with the same suspicion and caution.  The generally spiritual approach is wary of happiness because it is illusive, always just out of reach and makes empty promises of fulfillment with the attainment or achievement of things that can keep you chasing after them your entire life without any self-realization.  But I’m just coming to realize that at the heart of both of these views is a very grown-up misunderstanding of happiness.
Why, as adults, do we associate happiness with things or circumstances instead of a state of being?  The question never entered my line of sight until this last year when I began attempting to choose my thoughts, thereby choosing my moods.  Good feeling thoughts = good feeling mood.  Seems simple enough.  However, I was so convinced that my mood was determined by my circumstances that it took me months to even grasp the concept that the reason it seems that way is that our moods are determined by our thoughts, which 99% of the time are determined by our circumstances.  It’s such a consistent formula, that at some point most of us feel tossed here and there by the circumstances of life, feeling powerless to control much of it, and doomed to feel certain ways about it.
Children are naturally joyous, regardless of the things they have or the circumstances that surround them.  In time, most of our children are taught by example to begin to believe that our circumstances determine our level of happiness, and we can’t control most circumstances.  I have been thinking this way for so long, I have actually found that on certain subjects I actually have an aversion to thinking thoughts that make me feel good about it.  I’m much more comfortable feeling miserable or hopeless or powerless about it, even though I may wish with everything in me to change it.  That’s what I was thinking when I was painting “Contemplating Happiness”–happiness is a choice, as cliche’ as that sounds, and when I am insisting on feeling rotten about something, I really can choose something else.  The joy we were born with is still available at all times, but most of us have forgotten that.  And like all things we’ve forgotten how to do, it just takes practice to become so good at it that it feels natural.