What will you do with your one wild and precious life? - Mary Oliver

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Basis of Everything - Wabi-sabi!

I took my first ever art lesson in 2007. We had just moved to Memphis and I was on a self-imposed 3-month sabbatical so I could get to know my new home. I had always wanted to learn to paint. So I go to Michael's and purchase a 36" x 36" stretched and gessoed canvas. Not 10" x 10", mind you, which would have been much less intimidating. I got the "big one".  My thoughts leaned toward, if I'm going to do this, I may as well do it big. I had no idea what to put on that canvas.

At my first art lesson with Kay Spruill, I took my brushes and paints, but no canvas. She said she wanted to spend the first lesson talking about paints and brushes, and how to begin with the right background, then talk about what I wanted in my first project.   She revealed to me the nature of my amateur choices in brushes and paints by showing me the good stuff. I fell in love with every color . . . cadmium red, ochre yellow, cerulean blue, and a dark substance which she said is the same element that is used in the production of blood pressure medicines. Interestingly, the color looks like dried blood. I was fascinated at how the addition of a drop or two of that dark substance to a yellow or white paint changes the emotion of it.

My first painting ever.
We talked about the use of black and white. From what I remember, titanium white is the strongest, most brilliant white available to artists in the entire history of art. In nature, all colors added together makes white, and black is the absence of all color. White refracted through a prism becomes a rainbow of color.  So I go back and look at my big canvas. Next lesson, I bring it in and say I want to paint chickens. We look through several of Kay's art books. I find pastoral scenes with cows and tractors but no chickens. I could see those chickens in my mind's eye, so I just started in, stabbing the brush onto the canvas. That was my first project. Two chickens, "The barnyard standoff."

The chickens came out okay. But the background is not the right color, and the trees not the right green. The shadows have no depth. I concentrated on my painting's flaws instead of the chickens, the "good stuff". Why do we do that?

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term that describes the beauty in decay, that values asymmetry and doesn't look for the symmetrical perfection most folks prize. By recognizing this beauty, wabi-sabi not only accepts but values impermanence, and flaws. Why can't we embrace the Wabi-sabis of life? Why do we want things to be so perfect? What is it in us that pushes us away from imperfection?