This week I finished a painting — or the painting finished itself. I’m not sure which.
There’s a thing that happens sometimes, when you’ve worked at something for a long time – painting, cooking, running, writing, whatever your daily pursuit may be – and if you’re lucky enough to really enjoy that activity and need that activity and cherish that activity in a way that you didn’t even realize, there’s a thing that happens. Sometimes.
And it can seem either matter-of-fact and automatic or it can seem kind of out-of-body and hocus-pocus-like – I prefer the latter. The thing that happens is this: you become kind of “one” with the thing you’re doing and it’s no longer you performing the task, but somehow the task performing you.
I know that sounds really heavy, in a Berkeley kinda way, but seriously, I do mean it. And it’s a wonderful thing. I think it’s about the value of the work, of putting in the time, of learning a craft or skill and respecting that craft or skill and then just letting it happen and getting out of your own way.
I began this painting of a cloud. A portrait of a cloud. I love clouds. They’re air and water and seem to be solid, they’re here then gone, they’re obvious yet mysterious. The painting is big, so there’s plenty of room to fall into it and as the work began, I think I did. Brush strokes held no hesitation, colors blended subconsciously. It had air and space and movement and stillness and a deafening quiet. And as soon as it was started, it was done.
The great reward of learning how to do something and really working at it is, then, knowing how to do it to such an extent that you understand intellectually what can and can’t be, what should and shouldn’t happen, according to the rules. And you know that they’re just rules, after all.
When you get to the point that you trust your instincts enough to ignore the rules and see where they take you, when you truly understand that there’s no such thing as a mistake, when you finally acknowledge that excuses are boring and irrelevant, when you fully realize that the only real loss is not trying, then you meet another part of yourself that’s been there all along.
And together, you and you can do just about anything. I’m sure of it.
Nature is a mutable cloud, which is always and never the same.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson