Recently I was working on creating a zine for the Secret Message Society and the focus was to be on the medium of paint. At the outset it seemed like a really great idea to focus each zine for the year on a particular medium, but as I tried to begin to this particular zine, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by all the things you can do with paint. I wondered if what I do with paint might not be “enough.”
Without giving it too much thought, because I didn’t want to paralyze myself with fear, I started in on the first few pages of the zine doing some things with paint that aren’t as natural to me, but that I thought those receiving my zine might be expecting. I created some painted abstract backgrounds, and didn’t really enjoy myself in the process. I felt so overwhelmed by all I “should” be showing about paint, that it wasn’t until about 4 pages into the zine that I actually let myself relax, start over and think about what I wanted to do with paint.
In a book called Beauty by John O’Donohue I read recently about the traditional cottages in the West of Ireland. They were built on the most beautiful landscapes, but the windows were tiny. While this was done for practical reasons to help keep the home warm and dry, what was also a natural result was that the “window exercised a discipline of proportion in relation to the external beauty. It never offered you the whole landscape: instead from every angle you looked, it chose from the landscape a unique icon for your eyes.”
What I realized quickly with my zine is that there was no way I was going to be able to touch on all that you could do with paint. My friend Teresa calls these high expectations we place on ourselves - Idea Debt. She says, Idea Debt is "Expecting myself to produce beyond my means..."
Instead I was going to have to take a much narrower approach and share only my experiences with paint. It is as if, as artists, we have our own tiny window, and we are inviting others to take a peek through it, seeing the world how we see it from our present angle, one unique icon at a time.
This feels a little threatening if you are longing for your creations to please other people. I obviously want those artists in my Secret Message Society to feel like their membership dues are well spent. I want them to feel it is a worthy society to be apart of. But Robert Henri makes a good point. As we interact with art there is a certain part of us that is open to the surprise and mystery of it. This is because we aren’t entirely sure what the artist could offer us, what new perspective they could extend to us. So we come to their cabin window with a willingness to be shown one way of living and seeing a life, in hopes that will bring meaning and insight into our own way of living.
In the first few pages of my zine, I was attempting to give them something they were used to seeing out cabin windows. Something they were comfortable with seeing. Something that was, in my opinion normal and maybe even trending in the world of art journaling and painting. But in this I was disconnecting myself from my art. It was as if I was holding up to my cabin window an image I’d ripped out of a magazine, rather than something I myself could uniquely create for them.
The experience changed for me when I thought about why I was making the zine. From that place I was able to allow my cabin window to be enough, small and selective as it may be. And if my small segment of how I want to use paint could be enough, than maybe my living, that can so easily slip into feeling small and ordinary, could be enough as well.
All I could do was continue learning how to paint what was important to me, and hope that they in turn could continue learning how to paint their own unique cabin window perspective. I think we have a tendency to believe sharing our perspective is somehow negatively selfish, terribly uninteresting or entirely too narrow and thereby unreliable. When in turn, with art, the opposite is true. The result was a zine that felt to me, much more intimate and personable, not to mention much more enjoyable for me, as the artist, to create. I was proud of the result, and all the more so if it proves to inspire others to create what is important to THEM.