Entr’Arts

A residence for Francophone-Canadian artists at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

In late August I took part in a very special artists’ residency called Entr’Arts, a program assembled every two years by rafa(Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). 

This year’s edition hosted 23 francophone artists from four artistic disciplines: visual art, music, writing and television arts. They came from five Canadian provinces and worked under the caring guardianship of six mentors who came to us from as far away as Belgium. Each artist applied for the program with a project to work on during the residency and a mind open and welcoming to whatever might unfold.

Even though it was the fifth time I participated in the program, it’s still difficult to put this incredible experience into words because, quite literally, those six short days always succeed in rocking my world. After the first edition I participated in years ago, I came home and wrote to friends that it was like having been in the eye of a hurricane. While I was there, it seemed like everything was calmly happening within the little world I occupied. But when I left that creative cocoon, it felt like the whole world got reorganised while I was gone.

This time, I thought, I knew what to expect and felt immune to what was coming. Been-there-done-that, I thought! In fact, after a year packed to the brim with things I didn’t necessarily want to do, this opportunity felt like just one more ‘have-to-do’.

Was I ever wrong! This session might have been the one that got to my soul the most. How can I possibly explain the energy of that place and of the group in which I was immersed?

Let’s start with the land itself. The Banff Centre sits on sacred land where archaeological evidence proves that humans have lived for at least 10,000 years. It was the traditional territory of the KootenayStoneyBloodPeiganSiksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations. The word going around the Banff Centre is that the land where it sits was a gathering place where Nations came to be together and to seek healing.  After a few days on site, we all started to feel it. The land is indeed more than breathtakingly beautiful. It is sacred.

It’s every artist’s dream: a world-class facility, a brilliant private studio space and a creative and technical team there to teach you what you need to learn and provide you with the guidance you didn’t even know you would be looking for. Your only responsibility is to expand your mind and explore new vistas in your creative work. And when your mind needs to take a break there are yoga classes, a swimming pool and endless hiking trails at your doorstep. And when, finally, you’re both tired and hungry, you’re fed a gourmet meal and provided a beautiful room where the only noise to disturb your sleep is the wind sighing through the forest that surrounds you. That on its own is a gift.

And then there was the group. The artists and mentors who were there for this summer’s program were particularly caring. Some of us got together in Edmonton a week later and had a chance to reminisce about our Banff Centre experience. We tried to decide what word could best describe this group. We chose “bienveillant”. Benevolent. All of us were so happy to be there, to work hard, to exchange our thoughts about life and art and to do it all in French, each of us with our own unique Canadian and European accents. All of us, away from home, felt right at home in one another’s company.

Part of the Banff Centre experience is to put yourself in danger as an artist, to push your comfort boundaries and see what else you can express while staying true to your own voice. At first I was almost frightened by the profound discomfort of feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. But then I discovered the joy of seeing my ideas unlock and come together and, in the end, the work I set out to do went really well.

I was there to test an installation project that can now accompany my paintings in gallery shows. (I’ll let you know more of the details about the installation in a future blog). The group discussions really helped with this process, even when what was being discussed had nothing to do with what I was doing. Hearing the others going through their own struggles and finding solutions is both nourishing and reassuring and generates unexpected answers.

I’m still riding that wave of energy! And I hope to keep all that I learned close to heart in the work I will take on in the next two years. Then I hope to go back to the Banff Centre and fill up my creative tank again.

Ent’Arts: a residency for Canadian francophone artists from New Brunswick and the western provinces is a gift to all of those who have the chance to experience it. You go there thinking you are stepping out of reality to enter a privileged time away from the usual worries of the world. But you come out of it feeling like this was reality and that the world outside of that time has taken on a whole new meaning – not fully real and all of a sudden malleable.

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When your heart first opens

Yesterday, as I was staining new baseboards for my home, I finished listening to an audio book titled The Roots of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield. “Art allows you to rediscover those moments when your heart first opened”, said Kornfield, and almost immediately I realized that he was describing precisely what I’d been endeavouring to do as an artist.

In his profoundly peaceful book, Kornfield speaks of approaching life with the eyes of a small child. For a toddler, every moment of every day is filled with the excitement of discovery. That child is absolutely devoted to that moment and she is completely present for it, ready to discover what it means and how it fits in her little world. As adults, we should strive to replicate those flashes of wonder, and pause to marvel at them long enough to discover what they might share with us.

Creating artwork is very conductive to that state of mind. Each moment spent painting, sculpting or creating an installation for a community project is exactly that; a moment of discovery and of presence.

For most of us, the very act of creating art is naturally conducive to presence and discovery. It just happens! You might start a painting feeling frazzled or distracted, but before you notice, three hours have past. And at the end, you’re surprised to find yourself calm and grounded. No matter what you manage to accomplish on the canvas, even though not every painting may turn out well, your mind has benefited from the act of creating. Your heart has opened up for that moment.

When you start your practice as an artist, you read and are told all sorts of things. “Know who you are and what you are talking about in your work,” “Have a recognizable style.” “Your work must be true.” I could go on and on, but none of this means anything until you, the artist, spends years of your life working. The work ends up telling you who you are; the work affirms what is true to you. You can’t guide your work into meaning; it guides you!

The collection of work that I’ve been creating for the past two years can fall under the title of “Longing for Lazy Days”. And now, after many, many years, I realize that each piece I’ve created is an attempt to recapture those days in my childhood when my heart first opened to those moments of wonder. In my blog, Longing for Lazy Days, I recall some of those happy experiences.

Today, I am simply grateful that my work has, over the years, guided me to towards this realization that what I need to strive for is the ability to be present and to maintain that sense of discovery that comes with an open heart.

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Are you a painter, a sculptor or both?

Summer is finally here, and with it comes the very precious daydreaming time I need to let my work flow freely. Paintings to create, sculptures to finish and mould, and an installation project to put together; those are my summer work plans. And as I reflect on them, looking at the steps each requires, I realize how very different but, at the same time, how very similar they are. To me, they’re different in the creative process but very similar in their spirit.

The Rocker, limited edition of 25, hydrostone gypsum cement, 6″ x 6 1/2″ x 5″

Many artists consider themselves either painters or sculptors, but rarely both. I play with all of it because each way of working provides its own reward and allows a fresh perspective from which to visit an idea. Painting offers me a place of further freedom simply because a blank canvas offers an opportunity to create a new world. Sculpture, on the other hand, tends to present more ‘material’ limitations. In fact, the level of ‘limitation’ varies for each material. Glass, for example, is a very bossy material that comes with precise rules one must abide by. But if you can put up with its neediness, it’s one of the richest, most dignified materials to cast. Clay is more forgiving, but it’s still not as free flowing as painting.

Larry Cornett, in his blog titled When it comes to creativity, are you a sculptor or a painter? approaches the subject this way: “Painters visualize and place their dream on the canvas. It can be anything they want. A purple cat? No problem. Clocks that melt and drape over tree branches? But of course! If they can imagine it, it can be. Sculptors have to be much more realistic about what can be brought forth from the stone. A granite block cannot reveal a fluttering red feather boa. There are limitations imposed by the material and the tools.”

The lovers, limited edition of 25, hydrostone gypsum cement 5 1/2″ x 5″ x 2 1/2″

And what about installation work? It can be anything you want, but it focuses on occupying a space. In that sense, the choice of material is guided by what is relevant for the space. Wikipedia defines it as “An artistic genre of three-dimensional works that often are site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space.” The installation I’m focusing on this summer is the final step of a community engagement project I’ve been working on since September. I will elaborate on it in a future blog sometime soon when I’ve seen the final product as well as the interaction of the community group with it. What I want to say for now is that creating an installation is an opportunity to focus on a concept, and share an idea by using materials that will best convey that concept. In other words: the idea comes first. The choice of material, second.

Communion, limited edition pf 25,hydrostone gypsum cement, 8″ x 8″ x 6″

 

After 20 years as an artist, I know I’m comfortable with, and even excited about, working with a variety of materials and techniques, but I realize that some might fear that this risks creating confusion. In my case it’s coherent with what I’m trying to express. All my current work has a common underlying spirit that is true to the way I want to exist in this wonderful world. Each piece flows with life and speaks of entanglement with each other and with our environment, no matter what the material!

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Is it Possible to Separate Art from the Artist? And Should We?

Can a misogynist, a racist, a rapist or a convicted criminal be a great artist? Can we value their work separately from our evaluation of the person behind the art? Should we support art done by people of low moral character?

When a friend challenged me to answer questions like these, I thought long and hard about the best way to answer. They’re appropriate questions, especially now. In the emergence of the Me Too movement, a number of public figures -who are also artists – have been revealed as having very questionable morals.

The White Horse by Paul Gauguin, 1898

I’ve stewed about this for a couple of days, and have realized that the question is just too big and broad for a short and simple answer. So, first let me start by saying that artists are no better or worse than others who live in the society they do. My guess is that that statistics would prove the proportion of good people and bad people in the art world in the same as in the rest of society. Second, it would be foolish to think that only people of good character can create good art. History is full great artists who had questionable morals. Charles McGrath, in his Globe and Mail article titled Good Art Bad People offers a long list of such artists including Picasso who was basically a bully, and Gauguin who had sexual relations with under-age girls. And yet I still love Gauguin’s’ work. Does that mean I support his behaviour? Absolutely not!

Maybe we’re confusing the meanings of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when they refer to people and when they refer to art. People are judged according the moral standards of the society they live in. And, thankfully, societal standards evolve with time. As a woman, if I had been born 150 years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to make a living as an artist, although countless men certainly did. Today, we wouldn’t dream of this kind of discrimination against women, but for most of human history, women had no choice.

But art has no moral compass. A piece of art is either well done, or it is not. It either speaks to you, or it doesn’t. It either accomplishes its purpose – be it as entertainment, as social critic, or simply as a beautiful object. Or it does not. So the words good and bad are used to evaluate different things when you’re judging art or judging character.

And what about the link between the artwork and the artist who created it? I am an artist, and I have a personal perspective on that subject. To me, once the work is created and I have applied the final coat of varnish, it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the world. The world will value it, judge it and allow it to live or it will not. I am perfectly aware that most of my work will exist well past my expiration date. In that sense, the work matters more than the artist who created it. Think about it! When we travel and see all the incredible artwork around the world, we’re frequently unaware of who created it. Some of those artists’ names have long been forgotten, and some of them may have had questionable characters. But their art lives on and continues to enrich our lives.

Does this mean I could handle having one of Hitler’s watercolours in my house? No, I don’t think I could. But I could look at it in a museum and appreciate the technique – if it’s any good.  

As a society, I don’t think we should discard artwork created by bad people. We should provide context when we show the work, but we shouldn’t destroy it, ignore it, diminish its importance or hide it indefinitely in closets solely based on the character of the creator. The art should be considered based entirely on its artistic merit.

Yes, I realize that this opinion is harder to defend when it comes to living artists. Gauguin has been dead for 100 years and he’s not personally profiting from his artwork today. He gains nothing. But his art lives on. But art institutions are entangled with the society in which they exist. If they promoted the work of today’s sex offenders and racists, they’d risk offending their public audience. Thus, living artists who are exposed as morally corrupt run a serious risk of seeing their careers destroyed. They are just as vulnerable to societal censure as all their morally corrupt contemporaries. If their work is strong and relevant, however, it will outlive them.

I, personally, want to decide for myself what I support. And what I don’t support.  No one is forced to enter a gallery, to read a book or to watch a movie. All of us can make decisions as to whom we give our money when we select artwork. I’m not inclined to create financial benefit for people with questionable values, but I am opposed to ignoring art that has the potential over time to contribute to society and to nourish people’s minds and spirits.  

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Longing for lazy days: a series speaking of Nature’s entanglements

Some time ago, after painting realistic landscapes for ten years, I began looking for my own visual voice. I had realized that the landscapes I’d been painting could no longer speak of the depth and magic of my relationship with the natural world. So I set out to paint differently, to paint in a way that truly speaks of who I am, of what I value, of what I want to bring to the world, and to leave behind. This led me to think deeply about what has influenced my visual world and I soon found myself longing for the lazy summer days of my childhood.

Connected, 24″ x 30″, Oil on cabevas

When we were little girls, my sister and I would float on the Chenal du Moine close to the small village of Notre-Dame-de-Pierreville. Our family cabin stood on a small dirt hill protected against the yearly spring floods, and we were two little girls free to find time to daydream in the dark waters of this gentle river.

Those delicious summer days flowed into one another as we followed the warm currents that led us to Saint-Pierre Lake. As we sat on our life jackets, the water surrounded us with its love and patience and we reciprocated fully. Trusting in its arms, we stood witness to its infinite creations: the plants, the insects, the trees, the fish. It felt magical and boundless and we sensed we were part of it, savouring the smells, the sounds and the landscape. Our skin drank the sun, the water and the wind and we were nourished by Nature’s infinite wealth.

At night, I would dream. I would dream of water, trees and sky. I would find myself floating again, this time, amongst the clouds. Sitting on my life jacket, I would weightlessly travel the sky. My subconscious reviling the ultimate expression of the freedom that lived within us during those summer days. Protected from the watchful eyes of adults, my visual and emotional world was taking shape, strongly rooted in the water and in the forest.

Longing for lazy days, acrylic on canevas, 40″ x 60″

Today, I strive to reproduce those childhood experiences through my creative process and to visually express the powerful emotions they awake in me. My work is a visual expression of that sense of freedom, of communion with nature, and with the world. I long to reproduce those experiences, but being an adult with a to-do list that never ends, I find the only place I can replicate that feeling is while I paint them. Today, in every piece I paint, I make a deliberate decision to, at least emotionally, plunge back into those delicious lazy summer days and to express the magnitude of their grip on my being. And my hope is that I can share them with you, offering the peace and magic they have instilled in me.

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When the creative brain needs a break: an Ode to My Friends

I spent last weekend with my closest friends in a lovely cedar cabin built in the ‘60s by my husband’s grandfather. Nestled in the trees at the foot of beautiful mountains, the cabin is an oasis of peace with magical powers of relaxation. But being there with my besties? It was all about giggles and sharing, and that was exactly what I needed.

You see, for several weeks I had been working with a community group to plan a permanent piece of art only to have it derailed at the last minute by unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. Within 24 hours, I found myself rethinking the whole concept to make it feasible under the new parameters we were given. That meant going to a temporary art installation where we are to involve the 100 teenagers who are part of the community. Basically, it became a creative marathon! Although it all went very well, (and I think we are good to go), by Friday night, I was exhausted.

I needed to escape… and I needed my friends.

I hope your friends are as amazing as mine. They have an uncanny ability to make every occasion feel like both a celebration and the most relaxing thing any of us can be doing at that moment. No matter what the circumstance, these amazing women know how to create an ambiance that makes everyone feel at ease. And for me – who spends my workdays making decisions and leading projects almost always by myself – following their lead is truly a blessing.

When I talk to my mom about my friends, (even though she has very few real friends herself), she reminds me how lucky I am to have these witnesses to my life. And I absolutely agree. My friends make me a better person because they are honest, even when it hurts and, because they know me so well, they can bring clarity to every situation in my life. I hope I do the same for them.

With our aging population, researchers are looking into how to stay healthy as long as possible, and not so surprisingly, they’ve discovered that strong friendships become more important the older we get. In the blog titled Why Friends May Be More Important Than Family, the writers mention research in the journal Personal Relationships that explores the findings of studies about relationships. “In the first, involving more than 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries, author William Chopik found that “both family and friend relationships were associated with better health and happiness overall. But at advanced ages, the link remained only for people who reported strong friendships. By that stage of life, those friendships have stood the test of time. You have kept those people around because they have made you happy, or at least contributed to your wellbeing in some way.” says Chopik. “Across our lives, we let the more superficial friendships fade, and we’re left with the really influential ones.”

Saturday afternoon view

Of course you can also be besties with your husband and your sister, but friendships seem to come together magically and I’m not entirely sure how we chose one another. But I can promise we’ve never been as cold-blooded with one another as this BBC Future story blog suggests in How and Why Do We Pick Our Friends  “Friendships might serve as a strategic mechanism for maintaining a support system in advance of potential future conflicts. Human conflicts are usually decided by the number of supporters mobilized on each side (rather than strength or agility). So perhaps friendship only seems to be a riddle because if we were explicit about the transactional nature of our alliances, their strength would falter. In other words, we might like to make grand claims that friendships are without an agenda, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the case.”

Well, as they say, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’

I can guarantee that the only kinds of war my friends and I could team up to win would involves who-giggles-the-most. And yes there was a time not so long ago when we might have won the who-can-dance-the-longest contest. All I know for sure is that, once in a while, life puts someone on my path with a few shared interests and with whom things feel easy and transparent. If I’m very lucky and can be around them long enough, a friendship might form. And for each of those friendships, I’m grateful.

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Intentional Ignorance: how the artist preserves her studio time

We’re way too busy! Who ever said that technology would make our lives simpler and allow us more leisure time was seriously wrong. Past the laundry machines and the dishwasher, it’s only made our lives more frantic and at this point we’re all racing along at an inhuman pace. But, in the midst of all this madness, the artist is expected to protect her creative time. Yes, it’s true that all our new technology and communication tools have made us only a click away from information and anyone who might need us, and it also means we’re expected to do everything by ourselves and to do it fast. But if I cater to the pressure to do more, how can I keep my energy focused on what matters the most to me – creating artwork?

The orange cat, acrylic, 40″ x 40″

Of course the younger generation has discovered a pretty effective strategy for dealing with the information onslaught. I call it ‘intentional ignorance’. They only reply to texts and emails when and if they feel like it. It’s irritating to the older generation, but I see their point. It’s too much. Too many emails, too many social media posts, too many texts. There’s only so much anyone can do in a day and each of us has to select what deserves our attention. For me, it’s creating my artwork. Everything else, (except for walking my dog, of course), can wait.

Jess and Blair, who run Blogging 4 keeps; an interesting site dedicated to helping would-be-bloggers figure out how to be good bloggers, recently sent a newsletter titled Be More Ignorant Please.   They write about the overwhelming amount of ‘important things’ that we must deal with to be present on the web so we can promote our business. (And yes, it’s subject that concerns artists as much as any other business person.) They say “… allow yourself to be intentionally ignorant on certain things, even if people are telling you that it’s important to be an expert. Pinterest is important. Instagram is important. Email is important. Photography is important. Networking is important. But you can’t do it all, and if you do, you’ll be overwhelmed.”

Last week, a friend of mine generously volunteered to organise the details of an artistic group event. Others in the group had unintentionally neglected that project, perhaps, simply because they put their own priorities ahead of it. This meant that my friend was spending the best and most productive hours of a few days on this project – which also meant she wasn’t in her studio working on her art.

As we talked I realized once again that, for me, my job is to be in my studio creating. Yes, promoting my art on the web is important, yes being available to help organise artistic events is important, yes seeing my friends is important, but none of it is as important as the time I reserve to be in my studio. And I need that time every day for a number of hours.

Cisco on our morning walk in the forest

Some artists give themselves a rigid schedule to make sure this happens. I have a friend who’s in her studio by 8:00 am and doesn’t leave until noon. No matter what. Me, I try to be aware of how much I can stand of each distracting chore. Mornings are best for me, so I get up early. I dedicate the first hour and a half to writing, researching and thinking things through for my various art projects and marketing my work. Then Cisco and I go for our walk where the forest re-centers me and puts me in the right mood for my creative work. By the time we get back, Cisco’s ready for his nap under my work table, and I’m energized and alert, ready to be creative until it’s time to teach my after-school painting classes. Of course some projects will inevitably compromise that schedule, but I’m pretty conscientious about sticking to it.

Art Work Archive recently posted a blog titled How to create more time for your art: a worksheet where they share a handy printable “little exercise in self-reflection that can help you figure out how to gain more time back for your art.” Through a short series of pertinent questions, they encourage us to look at where we spend our time and to question if it is where we really want to spend it.

Our crazy world is frenetic! More than ever we need to discipline ourselves into choosing where we want our focus to be. I want to concentrate on creating inspired works of art. As to the rest? I try to cram what I can into the not-so-productive hours of the day. That often means I don’t get it all done, but I’ve made my peace with that. The funny thing is, though, nobody seems to notice what I don’t get done – or care, for that matter.

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How do you know when a painting is finished?

My students see the evolution of my work. I’m a slow painter and paintings hang on my studio walls for weeks, so my students see the work from the original charcoal drawing to the final brush stoke. Some of them notice the process; others don’t. Some ask questions and all of them seem interested in my answers. But the other day one of the boys asked, “So? How do you know when it’s done?”

I love their questions. They force me to be more reflective about my own paintings, so I can be more intentional about transferring my own learning to their projects. When this delightful young man asked how I would know when my painting was done, I said, “When none of the colours jump out at me; when the colours are in equal balance. But I know for a fact that my rules of colour are different from other artists and from people who look at my work.”

“You see, my dad was seriously colour-blind. One day, he went shopping for a new car and came home bragging about the new station wagon he’d just bought. We were all pretty excited of course – at least until we had a look at it. It was bright neon orange! “I got a great deal on it,” he said proudly.” None of us had the heart to tell him why that salesman was undoubtedly bragging to his family that he’d finally unloaded that awful orange wagon. But, needless to say, we all came to love it despite its colour and, whenever we’re together, my sister and two brothers still tell stories about that ugly orange wagon dragging all 6 of us to the cabin every weekend.

Detail of The orange cat

Two of my three sons have inherited my dad’s colour-blindness so, to me, colour is an objective thing and colour balance can only be discerned by the viewer. In fact, the use of colour is what makes the ‘voice’ of each visual artist unique. And I think I’m a slow painter because that pace allows me to disappear into the process, to engage in a real dialogue with the colours. In a world where the private gallery system wants us to pop paintings out at an alarming rate, I go against the current and paint slowly. Not because I can’t paint fast, but because I’ve created a process for myself that allows me to spend the time to really see the colours live beside one another as the canvas fills. During that time I can observe the evolution of their relationships, and I can feel the tensions and releases between them. Being involved with a work of art for many hours makes me feel as though the whole world is contained in that one canvas. It’s a simpler version of the world, where everything exists in a state of respect for what surrounds it, and where I can exist as part of the process.

Detail of The orange cat

I have no idea how other people see it. But, to be honest, that’s not relevant. The only way for an artist to get to where she is going is to follow the path that her work is tracing for her, and to make abstraction of the outside world when it comes to painting decisions. One painting at a time is how an artist moves forward, each piece paving the way for the next work.

But, strangely, as soon as the painting is finished it doesn’t belong to me anymore. As much as I live in them while I’m painting, once done, my mind has moved on to the next project and the art has become part of a larger world that is out of my control. As Katie Ohe once told me, “All an artist can do is believe in what he does.”

My painting is finished when it feels right to me.

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In the Moon Again: the power of daydreaming

As my young students were finishing their art lesson last Wednesday, one of the moms arrived at my studio to pick up her daughter. We chatted as the kids collected their belongings and trickled out the door but, as her daughter stayed focused on her artwork, I could hear the impatience in her voice when she said “Can you please pick up the pace a bit?” She laughingly explained, “No matter what the occasion, my daughter is always the last one ready to leave.”

Photo credit Jean Wallace

Yes, I thought, this kid really does live in her head and she’s perfectly happy there. But she’s also one of my most focused and clear minded students when it comes to painting with intention and finishing her artwork. Watching her at that moment, however, reminded me of my own childhood, and I could hear my mom saying “t’es encore dans la lune”!  You’re in the moon again – a poetic French expression perfectly describing that peaceful daydreaming state of mind. I must confess I was very good at it.

 

But then, of course, I grew up. I learned to ‘make the most of my waking hours’, and put my brain to ‘useful tasks’. Now though, I wonder. Am I really doing myself a favour? What if daydreaming offers powers of its own? Shouldn’t I tap into that?

Business Insider, in their blog called Here’s How To Daydream Your Way To Success, say that “History is full of high-achieving daydreamers: Einstein, Newton, and the Bronte sisters all lived much of their lives in their imaginations.” But there are right and wrong ways to daydream. They go on to explain the different styles of daydreaming as defined by Scott Barry Kaufman in “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” at Psychology Today:

First style: “Poor attention control daydreaming. It’s characterized by easy distractibility and difficulty concentrating on either the external environment or an ongoing train of thought,”

Second style: “Guilty-dysphoric daydreaming. It features unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, guilt, fear of failure, and obsessive, hostile, and aggressive fantasies about others.”

Neither of those styles is constructive, and both can have serious negative impacts in most aspects of one’s life.

Third style: “The best kind of daydreaming is Positive-constructive daydreaming. It’s associated with openness to experience and reflects a drive to explore ideas, imagination, feelings, and sensations. Good daydreaming is linked to happiness, success and creativity.”

Daydreaming, as long as it’s done right, is a place where we can rehearse scenarios about our lives without any real consequences. But one must have a clear goal in mind, make sure to focus on positive thoughts, and brush away the obsessive and negative thoughts.”

Details from Longing for lazy days. Acrylic painting

As an artist, I believe that daydreaming is an important part of the process. It’s a place where I can plan a work of art without wasting materials. I can imagine new ideas. I can move subjects around in my mind. I can effortlessly visualize colours and movements. I can make changes without spending a dime.   And best of all, I have access to this tool anywhere and almost any time. I can daydream as I walk my dog, or when I’m in a boring meeting, or loading the dishwasher, or shovelling the walkway. It is my most powerful, portable and accessible creative tool and I use it as much as possible.

Detail from recently finished work

The subconscious mind is willing to go where our controlled thinking refuses to. While daydreaming, I can turn my project over to my subconscious brain and let it do its creative work. When I relinquish control and let my mind wander, suddenly the answer to whatever was blocking the process just shows up and all that’s left to do is to run with it.

This is what Brain Pickings, in their blog called A 5 Step Technique for Producing Ideas, call the “seemingly serendipitous A-ha! Moment. Out of nowhere the idea will appear. It will come to you when you are least expecting it — while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night. But for this moment to occur, the stage has to have been set up during daydreaming.”

“T’es encore dans la lune?” Good for you!

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The Power to Connect: why an artist should get out of his studio and work with others

In May of 2016 I met with my francophone artist friends at the annual event organized by RAFA (Regroupement Artistique Francophone de l’Alberta). Le Forum du RAFA is a two-day event that has consistently been one of the most inspiring of the year for us. With nourishing discussion panels and activities gathering some of the best artistic minds of Alberta – who also speak French! I look forward to it every year.

It was at this forum that some of us agreed it’s important to stay connected throughout the year to share insights and trade ideas and resources. Five of us, Karen Blanchet , Sabine Lecorre-Morre , Doris Charest,  Daniele Petit, and myself, are self-employed, and managing our careers is no small task. It dawned on us that sharing our tools of the trade and some of the work could fun and beneficial for all of us.

We created an Artist Collective we named DEVENIR. It means ‘to become’ – a name inspired by a poem written by Michel Pleau , a Canadian poet. According to Wikipedia, an artist collective is “an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims. The aims of an artist collective can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist…” 

For more than a year and a half, the five of us have been meeting on skype once a week at 6:45 in the morning. Why so early? Because it’s the only time that’s almost guaranteed to be open for all of us. Our meetings are organized, with a set structure that includes a template based on Mastermind, a concept developed in 1925 by Napoleon Hill in his book The Law of Success . We each contribute our ideas and concerns and discuss them together at every meeting, an exercise that takes less than an hour.

The most important part of the process is the continuity offered by meeting regularly. It allows us to get to know one another’s art practices, personal habits and aspirations. It means that each of us can receive constructive criticism and encouragement from the other members of the group. Few people are able to clearly identify their own good or bad habits, where they might need a little encouragement and how to realize their limits in terms of overcoming obstacles and finding their own the solutions. Meeting regularly gives all of us a chance to be observed and receive support. So during our meetings, we use a series of affirmations that remind us of the power of the group and of the humble, respectful and trusting attitude we all need to embrace toward one another. We get to understand one another’s goals, it reminds us what we’re trying to achieve and brings us back on track when we stray. Best of all, we’re also there to celebrate our successes.

The quarterly physical meetings are more substantial. That’s when we spend a full day together and dig deeper into subjects that deserve our attention. It’s where we set the plans for collective artwork and exhibition projects. We discuss projects, ideas, share tools and discoveries. We also look at opportunities both for each individual and for the group, and we share the workload related to that. Five people applying to galleries have a compounding effect on our access to professional exposure.

Another important aspect of this process is the accountability factor. Once you have told the group you want to achieve something, it’s a powerful motivator. I don’t know about other people, but for me, my pride kicks in and I have to accomplish whatever I said I would do.

Putting our minds together saves time. Each of us has discovered useful tools, sourced a list of suppliers, assembled a list of galleries, and created our own systems. I use to spend two to four hours before each show building up my list of works and preparing tags. Now, though, I use Karen’s recommendation and it has saved me hours of work. She suggested I try a web tool called Artwork Archive that painlessly manages inventory. Thanks to Karen, I discovered that once I spent the initial setup time entering all my work into their system, (a task that can easily be delegated to a 16-year-old at $12/hour), then I could prepare a show catalogue and the tags to go with it in a matter of minutes.

This short, early morning skype meeting each week has done more for our respective careers than most other endeavours we’ve tried. And, as a bonus, we have a solid group of friends with similar goals and interests. As my mom would say, “They are people who are constant witnesses of your life and can vouch for you. And you can do the same for them.” DEVENIR has helped make life manageable. It multiplies opportunities and renews our focus, dedication and power to dream big.

Merci DEVENIR!

 

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