Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nothingness and what it teaches

Here’s a glimpse at the latest painting—a bit of a diversion from my typical farm animal subjects, but I’ve been feeling rather typecast lately and wanted to try something different. Already there’s a benefit: I finished this in about a half hour.

What is the painting OF? Well, it’s nothing. It’s a place I visit in my mind when I need respite; it’s a perceived moment of retreat. We live in a rather tempestuous society, with lots of noise and even more flashiness; a person can start to feel sensuously saturated very quickly in America, and I’ve never even been to NYC—I’ll bet I’d just pass out from the overload.

I’m a person who seeks quiet, who usually doesn’t feel at ease in the daily upheaval that is most of our lives—to the point that I can be a bit of a loner. I’m afraid that I’ve passed this tendency on to my son; even in crowds of other children, it’s not uncommon for him to be playing by himself in the midst of the chaos, perfectly happy as long as there are plenty of trucks and some imaginary people and emergencies for him to attend to.

And that concerns me a bit, because I want my little guy to be able to hang with the crowds. But I do want him to appreciate quiet, too—and not just audible quiet, but also visual quiet. I believe that all kinds of quiet can be good for the soul if not overdone. Whereas sensory overload can dull the senses, sensory stillness can refine them, sharpen them. Quiet can remind us of our place in this order of things: “Be still, and know that I am God...” (Psalm 46:10.) Be still, and know that you are my child. Be still, and know that I am in control. Be still.

The painting—creating it and then looking at it—is a way for me to be still. Years ago, in another life (or it feels that way, anyway), I traipsed across the country with a tent and much innocence; I kept a journal, and years later was surprised to re-read my own writing which declared Utah as my favorite state. Utah? Why Utah? I thought back over it, and I can only conclude that it earned such honors for its absolute quietude. Big, rosy cliffs, lots of flatness, rugged country, and a sky as open and unencumbered as you could ever hope for. Just as big as “big sky” country in breathtaking Montana, but different—because somehow, in that complete and total nothingness, you felt even smaller than when surrounded by mountains and peaks. There were no distractions. You could notice even the smallest details, could appreciate a slight breeze and a single bloom that you wouldn’t even detect anywhere else. I haven’t yet made it to Arizona, but I imagine it’s pretty awesome, and pictures of New Mexico make me suspect I’d feel quite still there as well.

Nothingness helps me uncover quiet, which helps me achieve stillness. Not an easy feat these days, but highly beneficial. Stare at the painting, close your eyes, and go there. Try it.


Anonymous said...

Dont worry about your son, its perfectly normal for a kid that age to play alone in a group of kids, its called "side by side" play and most kids that age do it. It will change in the next year or so.

Mel said...

okay, anon., I'll try not to worry--I've heard that term (side by side) and I know it's normal, but I wonder when we get together with lots of other kids and I see the other kids playing together but not him. however, most of those kiddos were a bit older than him last time I saw him do this--and the ones who were close to his age were girls, and maybe a bit more mature.

Anonymous said...

Lovely picture, Mel! Thanks for sharing. Just curious...were you always an artist (one of those kids who were good at it even in grade school)? I know some people come late in life to painting, but...for so many people, it seems to be evident from early on that they have the "artist gene."

Mel said...

thanks, chris h!

I doubt that I have an artist gene. But I did always like sketching and drawing, even in grade school, and could do it better than math (which doesn't say much! tee hee!) and then in high school took more art as an elective and really enjoyed it. So, I've always had a fondness for that type of stuff. I just got into the painting part in college (tried oils for the first time then) and really started doing it for fun a few years after I'd graduated. It's always been a relaxing hobby.