Dear Laura and Friends,
May 14th I attended a lecture (part of a weekend workshop) by Natalie Goldberg presented by The Sophia Institute in Charleston, SC. Her most famous book is Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I picked up the book thinking that I could improve my writing skills and apply her principles of writing to art making. This book has been one I go back to over and over again for inspiration. I read and re-read her chapters always finding something new I can relate to.
I thought I would share a bit about what she talked about at the lecture. First of all, she has a wonderful presence in a crowd. She talked with us not at us. She asked us to do a short meditation exercise which brought about an important understanding for me. We were to sit in our chair, feet flat on the ground, back against the chair, and hands resting easily on our legs with our eyes closed. Then we sat quietly for five minutes. The understanding that came to me was that during those five minutes I realized how noisy my life is. Sitting quietly for a short five minutes put my mind into a different, more reflective, place. It is now a technique I use when I arrive in my studio each day. It clears my mind of all the events swirling around about life and helps me focus on listening to my creative voice. That creative voice is a bit shy so needs a bit of convincing most days.
Natalie Goldberg talked about “breaking the structure” of what we know, how we write/create art, live, read, etc. Once the structure is broken we may be able to look at the same topic at a different angle or in different light. It is then that fresh, new writing can be started. She said that we all have the similar experiences and know similar facts about life, but it is in the details of our own lives where we will find the gold. I can directly translate that to an art practice. Yes, there are amazing artists that have come ahead of me and are working around me presently, but what can I bring to that table from my experience that is fresh and new.
I need to break the structure of what I know. I believe I have started this during graduate school when I officially left my painting practice for a practice of collage, assemblage, photography, and drawing. I am on the path, yet I know I still have a long journey ahead of me. The photo below is of one of my new art pieces about my experience canoeing in the tidal creeks of my neighborhood on James Island, SC. We loaded up the family and went out. I collected objects and photographs along the way that later translated into the artwork.
Another exercise from Natalie’s lecture was to write for a timed period of time. This can be for 5 or 10 minutes. Never let the pen stop during the time. My writing started out with me whining about something and was complete junk. The more I wrote with the speed the more my brain could not filter out thoughts. I did truly get to some interesting thoughts that I am still contemplating today. Natalie said this will “get underneath discursive thinking”, which it did. This small exercise got at how I truly feel and not how I think I should feel. It is a powerful short exercise that is worth trying incorporating into any creative practice. The trick is to use the timer and keep the pen moving at all times.
Anyone looking for tips on how to sharpen their creative practice, Natalie Goldberg is a wonderful inspiration. She speaks to the writing practice, but this can easily be translated to a visual art practice (or other creative practices too).
I will end this post with a quote from Natalie’s book Writing Down the Bones:
“One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body; to grow patient and non aggressive. Art lives in the Big World. One poem or story doesn’t matter one way or the other. It’s the process of writing and life that matters”