REALITY and THE MUSCLES OF PERSISTENCE
May 13, 2022
One of the best definitions of disappointment I've ever seen is that it is the act of adjusting to reality. We make plans. We have expectations - in life, in relationships, in art - and reality rarely meets those expectations.
Cue disappointment (and the spiritual idea that expectation - or attachment to a particular result - leads to suffering).
If things had gone according to plan, I would've started April with a visit to Barcelona, then celebrated my 52nd birthday in Spain, and would right now be walking the Camino with my husband. And it turned out that we were unable to make the trip. For a variety of reasons, doing a six-week, 500-mile spiritual pilgrimage on foot was not in the cards for us this year.
I was disappointed.
As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to do another sort of spiritual pilgrimage: looking reality in the eye, and doing the long, slow slog that is getting through a big disappointment to acceptance of what is. It takes persistence to handle disappointment and keep moving forward. Persistence is like a muscle. It gets stronger the more you use it, and it needs to rest after strong exertion.
After several months of big effort, my persistence muscles have felt worn out. Then, today, after a tender conversation with my husband over breakfast and several wildly creative and productive hours in the studio, I felt something lift. Like I had moved through the disappointment to a place of finding joy in what reality was offering me.
So often, I find that I know a truth about artmaking, but completely forget that it also applies to life. In artmaking, you often have to let go of the vision you have for your painting in order to have a painting that is successful – that is full of energy and life.
A vision can be a wonderful thing - it's a guide, a compass, that can challenge us and keep us moving forward. It can be the thing that drives us to build our skills and master our craft. And, at the same time, when we get too attached to making the artwork in front of us look exactly like the one in our head, we can get stuck. It can feel like the painting is fighting us at every turn.
And maybe it is. The painting exists in reality. It is a concrete, tangible object. We work to express a vision or an emotion that is internal and intangible, BUT IT IS CHANGED IN THE EXPRESSION. It becomes something new. To have what I would consider a successful painting (rather than just a skillfully executed one) we have to respond to what is actually happening in the painting.
In art as in life, we must be alive to the moment.