I was recently approached by a horsey friend who wanted advice on how to encourage her sister-in-law back to being a productive artist. While cooling our horses one evening at the old redwood barn, we talked as we circled around the arena. My friend told me of the very talented, but stuck, Patty. “She really wants to do it. She wants to be a successful artist.” I asked, simply, “Is she painting?” “No.” My friend’s reply was heavy with sadness.
Suddenly filled with wisdom, my instinctive answer was in my mouth and on it’s way into the arena. “Well, you can’t be painter unless you paint.” My friend came back with, “Yes, but she is sort of paralyzed. She has a lot of excuses and is simply not working. She needs a kick start.”
I then went on to advise this artist-in-waiting to unhinge herself by creating one painting per day. “Just anything. No time limits, no subject rules. Just one painting a day. She can burn it or tear it up or file it away. No one has to see it. It is all for her. One painting, every day.” The rhythm of the four hooves under me completed my thoughts. “It is like the exercise of making a horse more supple. You put them on a circle and then unhinge them by bringing their haunches inside the track and then outside the track. Suddenly they are thinking differently. They are literally out of their tracks. This simple act has a wonderful loosening effect on their whole being. A few of those exercises and the horse is tuned in. Opened up. And then you have a horse in your hands.” She liked this analogy as I knew she would.
“It’s the same thing with art. You think about it. You think you know about it. You have a bunch of expectations. And they limit you — even paralyze you from actually making art.” The advice flowed from me to her through my horse and up into her own saddle. “Once you set yourself free from these expectations, and your only goal is to produce, you tap back into the joy of making art. You remember why you started in the first place. Just touching on that again is enough to inspire bigger and more specific goals. But you have to unhinge and open the flow again. The rest will follow.”
Our horses were cooled off. My friend thanked me and nodded that it made sense. “So, Sherri, are you painting?” I told her that no, I had put it aside lately to focus on completing my book project. It then occurred to me, like the feel of the hard ground when you are thrown off the back of your horse, that it was time for me to take the very advice I had just so wisely passed along. After the initial jolt, it made me laugh. It is still amazing to me how the universe communicates to us if we are listening. And to my own delight, what I had predicted for the other artist was true. I needed to paint again. And so here she is. Day one.