Art does more than change the world: it changes YOU.
I’m very fortunate that just before I left Oman, a friend asked me if I’d come with her to a local artist retreat. I’d heard about it since I first moved here, but my own labels and judgements kept me away. I don’t want to do this “intuitive” art stuff, I want to make “real” art. I knew that reluctance and resistance were a clear sign I had some deep work to do. Thankfully, the “universe” didn’t wait for me to sign up. (Thanks Natalia for the push!) I had a collaborator and friend by my side for the day :).
The day before the retreat I packed up my art supplies and I felt this burst of energy: like someone gave extra wind to my sails. I felt that door of vulnerability and judgement close and something else open up. And I realized just how excited I was to NOT be the teacher, and to go to an art event and play. I decided right then that I was going to be open to the instruction and activities and let myself be surprised by whatever came my way.
Per usual, construction had the roads a bit messed up, so I rushed into the Hormuz Hotel feeling really late. And per the customs of this region, I was one of the first people there. 😉 My lovely friend, Natalia, was already at the art store station, deciding which canvases to buy. She got us a great corner and the lovely Huma gave me my name tag and welcomed me to the event.
Once everyone was here we moved into a room with a circle of chairs and took a seat. Gailani then introduced himself. He is an Omani artist who has had quite the journey with his own work. On an artist retreat in California, he realized this was something people need in Oman, too. He brought back his lessons, injected his own personal experience and adjusted for the culture of this region to create the Gailani Art Retreat. He shared a bit of that journey and then we all settled down together for a short, guided meditation. I felt this sense of openness, of being a receiver, grow inside me. The door that opened the day before grew larger, more open. I felt genuine joy and relaxation and felt I was exactly where I needed to be. We shared in our meditations and then he announced the theme for this year’s retreat: validation.
It was like lightning struck. This was exactly the message I’d be reflecting on in my art and with Artist Strong. I’d recently realized how much outside validation still mattered to me, in part because I wasn’t giving myself the inner validation that could fuel me and my work to even greater heights.
As soon as we got to our canvases, we were asked to sit and stare at the blank space for 5-10 minutes. Well, I guess I can’t say I listened to every bit of instruction, because I knew straight away what color to use for my underpainting and I just went at it. My easel faced the windows, so people had to walk around and behind me to see what I was up to. When Gailani came by he said, “Wow.” We started chatting a bit and he asked me, “What’s your least favorite color? Yellow?” I nodded. And he got my tube of yellow paint out and told me to hold out my hands. He gobbed paint ALL over my hands. And we said, no paint brushes. Just hands. And I started to paint.
The freedom I felt from doing this activity is profound. Natalia and I talked about how as artists we don’t often give ourselves this kind of permission. I think about wasting paint, or, making a mess of my studio. (Don’t dirty that easel!) So to be instructed to work like this, well, I loved every minute of it. We worked all morning and from the beginning I knew I needed to create a mandala. (Of course! Haha.) And the strength emanating from the work was apparent. It was like an energy permeated the work because of my color choices, perhaps too because of my mental space.
We had the whole day to do this. And, at the end we had a group kind of show and tell. Each artist stood up, shared a bit of their story behind their work and how it related to our theme of validation. People loved my work. And yet, as the day drew to a close that opening I felt began to close. This work was so unlike any of my usual work: controlled, referencing life or geometry, etc. I was pleased and embarrassed that Gailani asked for the works to be displayed in the yearly group show that celebrates artists on the retreat. Were these paintings, completely organic with super powerful colors, me?
I brought the works home. Hubby had friends over and they all were like, “Can we see?!” I said no and with a real sense of panic, abruptly ran upstairs with the canvases to hide them. Vulnerability was back, and I wasn’t sure about the work anymore.
It’s good to practice getting in front of people to speak about your artistic choices. These works are seriously outside of my comfort zone but I had a LOT of fun making them. Sometimes I think we forget that’s the point!!!!! #gratitude #mandala #fingerpainting
A photo posted by Carrie (@artiststrong) on
Those paintings sit in my studio, waiting for me to decide what’s next. Are they finished, as Gailani confidently told me? Does my overworking nature want to go in and do something to undermine their sense of freedom and power? I don’t know. But I’m so glad I spent the day at the retreat, investigating these ideas. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, we all need to give ourselves permission to create. And Gailani has opened that door for more people living in Oman to begin to live this truth: you deserve your creativity. It’s important, and it just might make this world a better place.
Be Creatively Courageous: Tell me, what is that one thing you know you want to do, but keep waiting for permission to do it? Be honest. Be vulnerable. And share that thought with us below.