When I was a child, I admired the fact that my mother was a professional artist.
She painted stark watercolor land and seascapes, inspired by the windswept beaches, watering holes and harbors up and down the New England coast that she and my dad sailed through.
She was often commissioned to do pastel portraits of our friends, neighbors and their kids. I remember going with her to the portrait sittings and playing with the siblings of the kids who were sitting. We were all bored, and made fun by creating our own portraits. That’s where it all began for me.
This is one of her watercolors of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, where we lived.
I wasn’t such a huge fan of her portraits, but I loved how she could get across the idea of the glassy water of Bar Harbor, Maine using one swipe of her brush, or the freedom of a gull in the air with only a squiggle made perfectly, freely just-so. Because of her, I started drawing at age six, and never stopped.
I used to pore through her art history books, study her sketches, snitch any old art materials it looked like she’d abandoned, and practice on her scraps of paper.
One of the things I remember clearly about her books were the gory, hideous war paintings from before World War I.
I didn’t realize that at the time that they were painted, drawings and paintings were the only way that anyone could communicate what was happening to people in one part of the world to the people in another.
Instantaneous communication is so now ubiquitous – even back then in the 50s with our dial phones, radio and the beginnings of TV – that I thought it was just sheer perversity that anyone would want to paint such subjects.
I misunderstood the function of art before radio and TV. I didn’t get that Goya’s paintings and Daumier’s drawings were like newspapers today, conveying what was going on at the time.
If you look back at their amazing work: Francisco Goya (see here) and Honore Daumier (see here), could have unquestionably been Pulitzer prize reporters for their eras. Nonetheless, I was dismayed by their subject matter – most of which was far milder than what is “normal” to see in the media today.
Not for me
I decided that I’d never paint or carve anything so gruesome. I wanted to see color, light, delight, soul, depth, honesty, courage, beauty, inspiration, power, connection to the divine. I decided, too, that I had to go beyond just making art – I wanted to live my life artfully, as well – although I really didn’t know quite how to do that yet.
Over the years since those days, I have made a practice of just that: trying to live my life as artfully as I can. I’ve found that attempting to make each thing I do perfect leads to stagnation, boredom and huge anxiety (will it be good enough; can I do it?). Instead, I just slow myself down a fraction to be able to breathe in and out, look at what I’m doing or the person I’m with, then appreciate them as much as I can. When I do that, life seems to light up somehow.
Speeding through life
I’ve noticed that people who have a hard time don’t quite reach the levels of success they’d like, or the relationships or money they want. They are also the ones who forget to add beauty to their lives.
I have also noticed that these same people also have a tendency to speed through their lives as if they are being chased by some huge expectation … that they simultaneously believe they will never attain!
Speeding through life produces an inability to appreciate your surroundings, your relationships, yourself or what you do accomplish.
Without appreciation, how can you thrive?
You can’t – at least not as fully as you would, otherwise.
Think of the word “appreciation.”
The root word from which it is derived means “precious.”
To appreciate is to make precious, dear to your heart. Imagine if you stopped long enough during your day to appreciate your feet, and how they carry you all over the place. Even though you give them so little attention, there they are doing your work.
- What could you do for your feet today that would make them (and you!) feel delicious?
- What could you do for your friend today that would help him or her feel great?
- What can you do as best you can that would make you feel like you accomplished something today?
That’s living artfully.
Think of your kitchen. It’s where all the food in your life comes in, gets stored, cleaned, and prepared for your life fuel. How much do you appreciate your kitchen? What would it take to stand in the middle of that kitchen and look around, radiating appreciation to the counter tops, the sink, the fridge, the floor? Not much!
Try it and see how that feels.
Then do it with other places in your house. You’ll notice that there will be places you’ll want to clean up a bit, maybe move some furniture around, open windows. Don’t be so anxious to do it right away, though.
Give the room your love first, and ask yourself, if I were to really love myself, and live artfully, appreciating and doing everything the best I could, how would I like this room to be?
Make mental notes as you go through your day as to what you could slow down, take a breath in and out, and appreciate. Then do it. Doesn’t have to take long at all!
Make mental notes about what you’d like to change in your house, your behavior, your relationships, your business. Make changes gradually, and celebrate them and how those changes make you feel.
Note and appreciate the people, things, and places that you want to honor for having stood by you for a long time. Even take a second to write a line of appreciation on a card and send it off to one of those people.
THAT is living artfully: create your life on purpose, in beauty and appreciation.
I know you can do it, and that the more you do, the better you’ll feel. And the better you feel, the better your life will be, day by day by day.