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Mindful : June 2017
and the third was allowed to complete their drawings uninterrupted. Afterward, the first group not only reported enjoying the activity more than the others, but judges also rated their work superior. Why? Because, Langer concluded, incorporating mistakes made the process more mindful. “The fear of making mistakes keeps people sealed in unlived lives,” she said, and removing that fear can be “enor- mously freeing.” In her book, On Becoming an Artist, Langer chronicled her journey teaching herself to paint and eventually showing her work in galleries. In the process, she learned that “to be a true artist is to be mindful” and that work executed mind- lessly, even if it’s done by skilled artists, will usu- ally feel “in some sense dead.” The key is authen- ticity. “ When we are not pretending or are not mindless in other ways,” she wrote, “the products of our labors will have our own signatures.” Early on, Langer showed one of her paintings to an art collector friend who told her, “You know, Ellen, there’s something there, but don’t go thinking you’re Rembrandt.” Langer didn’t respond at the time, but she recalled saying to herself, “ ‘And Rembrandt isn’t me.’ Meaning that if I’m true to myself, no one can do Ellen Langer better than me. And I’d rather be a num- ber one Ellen Langer than a number 500,000 Rembra ndt.” “ What now?” asked Barbara, studying my rendering of a bearded young man canoodling with the woman in the striped dress. “Perhaps a picnic scene,” I said. “Isn’t there something more dynamic you could do?” I drew a blank. “C’mon, there must be something you can think of...” “ Well, I could paint an org y,” I said half- jokingly. She smiled and flashed that mischievous look of hers. Then something startling happened. As soon as I added another naked body to the picture, everything changed. Not just in the painting, but inside of me as well. I suddenly felt unfettered and alive, and the images just started to flow. As the picture blossomed with men and women frolicking together, my brushstrokes became more and more primitive. I no longer felt as if I were controlling the painting; the painting was painting me. Ever since I’d started studying art, I’d longed to paint groups of people relating to each other. But mostly I’d worked with single models because I didn’t have the guts to try anything else. Now—caution be damned—I realized I could do anything I wanted to, without worry- ing about making it perfect. That wasn’t the only lesson Barbara had to teach me. Later that day, I told her I was think- ing of leaving some of the figures in the painting unfinished, and she bristled at the idea. “ You’re still thinking visually, about making a pretty picture,” she said emphatically. “This painting is about relationships. And these people can’t relate to each other if they’re half-finished.” To her, the figures were living beings, not just lines on a piece of paper. “ Don’t jump ahead of yourself,” she added. “ Paint those figures and then see what they want you to do.” That night I was bursting with energy. I woke up at three in the morning and started madly drawing sketches to add to the painting. When I finally got to the studio, I was pleased with what I saw. The painting was like nothing I’d ever done before. It was whimsical, almost child- like, the kind of painting I normally hated. But I loved its raw energy and innocent charm. As a final touch, I added a large-breasted, Mother Earth figure floating angelically above the whole scene. I had no idea where she came from, but she made me smile. Barbara was excited, too, but she was even more interested in my early-morning drawing spree. “Isn’t it great that all those things are moving inside of you?” she said. “ Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that could happen every moment of ever y day?” I wasn’t the only one in the room who’d had a breakthrough. As I looked around the studio later that night, I was overwhelmed by how powerful the paintings were. I expected to see lots of landscapes and flower pictures. Instead the walls were filled with heart-wrenching paintings of grief, sorrow, and dark yearnings. “ Who would have g uessed?” I wrote in my note- book. “So much pain and suffering hidden inside such nice mindful people.” One of those painters was Elizabeth Bessette, a former yoga teacher and body worker from Brooksville, Maine. “It was scary and hard,” she said, looking back on the process she went through. “ But when I completed a painting, I’d look at it and learn something about myself. It was like my unconscious was speaking. One thing I became aware of was about how much I was trying to protect myself from life’s pain. I Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird; that's easy. What's hardistobeas simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." CHARLES MINGUS Breathe in experi- ence, breathe out poetry." MURIEL RUKEYSER A true work of art must be a grand improvisation; that is, meditation and composition should be steps to a goal which the ar tist will glimpse unawares." WASSILY KANDINSKY 64 mindful June 2017 creativity