Learning to See

I’m pretty busy with work right now. I’ve set myself on the path towards my next credential, which means I’m doing a lot of thinking and reading about work related topics on my own time. I have literally purchased myself a stack of books on this new topic and one of them has a title or subtitle regarding “learning to see”.

The notion of learning to see resonates with me. There is something about its zen nature… You must unlearn what you have learned; you must train your mind; there is no try there is only do or do not… there are poetic underpinnings lurking beneath this phrase that imbue it with a profound resonance.

Like my entry art and poetic snap-shot, below is another camera phone shot of something that captured my eye. I wonder what it is about this scene that caught my attention? Is it the harmony between the coffee cup, orchid and  artwork? Is there some aesthetic mystery embedded in this triptych? Or am I finding more beauty in everyday things because I’m slowly learning to see?

Enthusiasm, Maslow and The Element

I am an enthusiastic convert – I subscribe to Sir Ken Robinson’s updated Jungian view that by people pursuing their passion(s), or being in their Element, there is a transformative effect on the individual and thereby society as a whole. Exploring-Art.com was my manifestation of To-Fu’s creativity rule number 24, Create a Framework, this blog is my framework. My Element? Perhaps I have discovered my Element via continuing education in the fine arts, and it is my word for 2012, to: Write. So to be my most creative, my most contributory I need to write more… I think I have that much right, but there is something I got wrong and reading The Happiness Project brought it to my attention.

I have professed that enthusiasm is a renewable resource. Trees are also a renewable resource; however, we need to plant more trees or we will run out. Renewable does not mean inexhaustible. So what’s my point? By focusing my goals on exploring art, and cultivating my Element, I skipped an imperative foundational step. To illustrate this point and also that I learned something during my Undergraduate Degree, let us talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a Business School 101 concept and essentially it states that people cannot be their most productive unless their basic needs are looked after. The ranking of needs from the most basic to most complex is; Physiology, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and Self Actualization. Here is a sketch:

Okay so that might seem a little abstract, so here is how I would map that hierarchy to categories more meaningful to me and my situation, from foundational to inspirational, Vitality, Family, and the Element.

My resolutions for 2012, both the SMART goals and the poetry were backwards! I can’t just focus on my Element and have the foundation piece as minor side notes. I need to ensure my foundations are well placed so that I can pursue my Element, my atmosphere of growth, as Gretchen Rubin would call it, without the looming spectre of exhaustion.

My enthusiasm is a renewable resource, but it is not inexhaustible. I must first commit to myself and my family in order to succeed with my loftier goals. More to come on what that means soon.

Enthusiasm is a renewable resource

“Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.” – The Happiness Project, Chapter 11 – Gretchen Rubin

YES!

I love this quote from the Happiness Project. Those of you who know me or have read a fair share of Exploring-Art.com know that I am very enthusiastic, I always try to look at the positive, and sometimes that can make Exploring-Art.com seem a little gushy. Don’t fear I don’t feel that way about everything, I just choose to write about the things that I really have strong, positive feelings for.

For instance I loved RED; it received the full gushy review and recommendation. But the Belfry’s offering of On The Edge that I saw just last Thursday received no mention at all. Don’t get me wrong, going out for an evening to support the arts is always a worthwhile endeavour, so if you want more exposure to the arts, and you live in Victoria go see the current play at the Belfry. Just don’t expect the world, and honestly the highlight of the evening was a wonderful dinner and bottle of wine (Road 13 Chenin Blanc) at Stage the local Fernwood wine bar. I don’t want to write about things that don’t elicit my enthusiasm. I want to write about what excites me, what makes me happy what aligns to Exploring-Art.com’s motto – “Design, Philosophy, Art – Liberating Creative Endeavours”. I don’t want to pan, be terse or put down, as there’s enough of that in the world without my help.

So this epiphany shatters a number of planned changes to Exploring-Art.com. I was planning to launch two new columns here on the site, essentially recommending artsy stuff happening in order to promote participation, which I believe is important. One called “In Victoria” recommending anything artsy that was on the horizon, and two “On the Screen”, which would recommend things on AppleTV or Netflix (I’m cable free) that would appeal to like-minded people. These planned columns have been scratched. Not because they’re bad ideas but because it’s more important to me to channel and share my enthusiasm than it is for me to deliver an encyclopedic reference of the good, bad and ugly of Victoria’s or Netflix’s art scene.

Embrace enthusiasm! Focus on the positive! Free your mind from your subconsciousness, break your innate cycle of want, go forth and conquer… with a smile!

Fortuitously, enthusiasm is a renewable resource here at Exploring-Art.com. There’s more coming.

Truism 02-01-2012

I have a million things in the fire right now. It’s ironic that I’m currently writing a short story on how I recently dropped my UVic night class in an attempt to simplify my life, and yet I keep filling up the space with a million other things. Alas, we humans are odd creatures.

With the million and one things on my mind, keeping me awake, a truism arrived from somewhere in my super conscious and I was inspired to share – Laughter is not the enemy of progress. 

His and Her’s – Entry Art

This will be an unusually short post for Exploring-Art because I had an impromptu moment of aesthetic bliss and I wanted to share. My wife and I have been in Vancouver this weekend, and we are preparing to return to the island amid gale force winds. I was sitting in one of the club chairs  in our hotel room and was struck by the view on the console table in the entry way. Poetry really is everywhere.

Downton & Judgement

My interest was sufficiently piqued to watch the first season of Downton Abbey with my wife after reading the fantastic 1000 word essay on the death of the american dream and the denial thereof featured in Esquire this month.

Over a brisk weekend soirée we breezed through the 7 near DVD quality, commercial free episodes via AppleTV. I must say I was impressed. (As an aside please don’t tell my wife. I have painstakingly created the illusion that by me watching the show with her I am doing her a huge favour.)

One theme from season 1 that really resonated with me was that of endeavouring to avoid judging others. It was poetic partially because it was in the context of some very nasty characters and trying circumstances. Alas! In the season 2 premiere, which became available this week, the nonjudgmental poetry and allusion to truth has been shattered. Here’s why ~

During the season 2 premiere a fair amount of effort was put into the redemption of some of the nasty characters from season 1. One character professes that he was picked on because he was different. Another confesses to losing her favourite brother when he was returned to the war front after a spell of shell shock. The direction and writing teams are busy creating excuses for the characters’ nasty behaviour, reasons to excuse them from harsh judgement. Herein lies the problem, this introduction of reasons and excuses misses and more importantly obfuscates the point of being non judgmental. The point is not to make excuses or to accept root causes. It is much less linear than that. It is not about cause and effect, or a mechanical existence where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, or where bad things have happened to good people which has turned them bad. Not judging others is about transcendence. Sparing people your judgment isn’t about them, it is about you and your acknowledgement and mastery of an autonomous externality. A mastery that can only be pursued through mastery of oneself.   That autonomous externality is everyone’s origin and no one’s excuse. Season 1 did a wonderful job alluding to this poetic truth, and sadly season 2 has already undone this meaningful allusion.

Unfulfilled Visions and Machinations of Change

My father recently read my post on Soliloquies and Utopian Visions, during our Christmas get together he commented that the counterculture of the 60’s was largely interested in doing away with work and promoting “leisure” as well. I knew this of course, with the cliche of “working for the man” being a hallmark statement capturing the sentiment; however the comment led me to think of two things I’d like to add as a philosophical tributary to the earlier monologue.

In his book The Element, Sir Ken Robinson differentiates between three types of pursuits that people spend time on: Work, that which you do professionally to make a living. Leisure, that which you do to relax or take your mind off things. Recreation, things that you are passionate about that you pursue with the rigour of professional. I think of this last category as extra curricular activities. It is in this category where peoples’ “Element” often lives. It is here where the path to self fulfilment lies – Meaning just hanging around and having a cocktail won’t lead to self actualization. Indulging in libations would be categorized as leisure and is fine in moderation; however it is not going to lead to a positive transformation of the individual and by extension society.

There’s a problem here that a skeptic will quickly surface. Recreation, or extra curricular activities require effort, and quite possibly blood, sweat and tears. If people aren’t getting paid to do it, how do you get people pursuing their passions instead of just lazing about? There’s two high level answers, one at the individual level and one at societal level.

In the RSA Animate clip of a Sir Ken Robinson speech they do an excellent job illustrating the first contributor to the individual’s motivation. Following your passion feels good! It wakes you up, you like it, you’d do it even if you didn’t have to. So what’s the problem? People get busy, have other priorities, get dissuaded and generally lose sight of whatever their favourite extra curricular activity is. So once you’ve found it, you still have to make time for it and practice it, which can be hard especially in a culture that is skeptical of the inherent rewards. Making and keeping a schedule for your activity is a good place to start. Finding other people who share your passion can also be an important part of routinizing it into your daily life. Robinson reuses “finding your tribe” to describe this important facet of successfully cultivating your passion.

The societal level answer is culture. If a country’s culture can create a sincere outpouring of grief over the loss of a not so benevolent dictator, or an impassioned defence of a “democracy” where only one party is allowed to field candidates, then surely it can also create an environment where pursuit of one’s passion is more highly valued than having 500 television channels. Culture is a complex emergent entity… Where do we start? We start with ourselves as individuals and as Sir Ken Robinson rightly indicates we start with our public education systems as well. Why schools? They have relatively less for profit corporate vested interest. They are a common starting place for much of the worlds population, and they are very clearly broken.

As a New Year’s resolution and a commitment to practice what I preach, I will be seeking out my tribe at the Victroria Writer’s Society General Meeting, and the Victoria area Wordcamp. What are you doing next year to enrich yourself?


Soliloquies on Capitalism and Utopian Visions

Two of my favourite soliloquies from film are focused on capitalism and the effects of industrialization. One is affirmative and one is critical and yet both are brimming with truth. I was unable to locate the clips on Youtube, so I mashed them together and vimeo’ed them for your viewing pleasure.



Albert Einstein, in one of his many insightful writings in Ideas & Opinions, asserts that the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century is that automation and mechanization (extensions of the Industrial Revolution) were used to create new forms of work, rather than liberating man from labour. This envisioned liberation would enable men and women to pursue their passions (be it art, science, theatre, poetry, writing, philosophy) without the requirement to earn a living from it. To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson’s words this would enable every individual to pursue their Element thereby contributing to society at their highest capacity. Robinson argues that this is our best strategy for surmounting the cacophony of crises that lie ahead. This thinking of course is an extension of Jungian philosophy, but taking the focus away from the transformative power of art, to the transformative power of passion. More specifically the transformative power, both for society and the individual, of individuals following and being successful in their passions.

So standing on the shoulders of giants where does this leave us? Capitalism and Industrialization should be encouraged to the extent that they enable opportunities for people to pursue their passions and lower the costs of living for all. As these mechanisms begin to encroach on personal freedoms and engender the extreme consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, they should be eschewed.

There is an irony lurking here. Part of the cold war sales pitch of unfettered capitalism was the dominance of the individual over the state; it’s apparent that the dominance has quickly left the hands of individuals and is now firmly grapsed within the hands of economic necessity. “Don’t be a painter you won’t be able to make a living at it”. Perhaps that is the sad truth now that the Government assistance that sustained Poluck and Rothko in the early days of their careers has ceased. This failing of our societal mechanisms must be corrected… but how? Transform our systems of education? media? democracy? How do we affect a system with so much inertia, and vested short term interest? I suppose the only answer is to lead by example, follow your passion and encourage others to do the same… There’s nothing quite like the smell of utopia in the morning.