September 13, 2017 – Brave

The most bold and brave painting I’ve done – yet!

The weekend before last I showed my art at the Sausalito Art Festival.  This was the 10th consecutive year and, mostly because of the weather, it was unlike any other.  An intense heat wave moved in two days before the festival; we had 100+ degree (F) weather Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Sausalito is adjacent to the San Francisco Bay where the temperatures are tempered by the cool water of the bay and the Pacific Ocean nearby.  On Friday evenings when the festival opens to those who come to the fancy gala is most often very chilly with the fog coming in.  I’ve had to bundle up in a coat over my skimpier fancy clothes.  Not this year.

I left the gala at 9:45 completely comfortable in just my spaghetti strap cocktail dress. On Saturday everyone:  artists, volunteers and the courageous festival goers who did come out mostly just coped with the 106 degree heat.  It cooled off considerably on Sunday, but it was still hot in the sun.  By Monday the temperature was more normal, but a freaky wind came through in the early morning.  We arrived in the morning to see parts of booths and artwork toppled over.  I’ve heard stories of wind like this at festivals in other places in the state and country, but never here.  Especially on the heels of Saturday’s scorching heat, the wind brought an uneasy vibe to the last day of the weekend.

We did what people do when faced with a common challenge, we banded together.  On the hot days some artists set up fans in their booths, we had spray bottles to mist ourselves and each other.  Everyone was sweaty – and no one seemed to apologize for it.  None of us could escape being in a human body responding to the heat.  Then on Monday people helped their neighbors secure their booths and put things back together from the windstorm.  Every year a temporary community forms – the artists, their spouses and other helpers become neighbors for the three days, and because of all we dealt this year we were even more closely knit.  Someone said we should get t-shirts that said “I survived SAF 2017.”

There is a power in art.  This power, even in the face of the freaky weather, drew people out to come to see and appreciate our creations.  An original painting and many prints found their ways into people’s homes and lives – the weekend was good in that sense.  And, as I always do whenever I’m showing my art in the world, I had many conversations with those wanting to learn to paint watercolor.  There was one particular conversation that won’t leave me.  A woman told me that she’d taken one class and felt like she didn’t have much success.  I could feel her self-doubt as she joked a bit about it.  It’s hard – we have this desire to learn how to express ourselves in this way – to bring forth the art that is in us.  And before we have any evidence that we can, we have no answer to the voices telling us that there’s no way we could ever do this.  Sort of offhandedly, she asked me “so, what comes before beginner?”  I have no idea where my response came from, but it did come – I said one word:  “brave.”

This is it, isn’t it?  We just have to find the courage to act in the face of our fears.  There’s no way around it.  There’s no way to skip the being-vulnerable part.  And this is not just the case for the beginner-beginners.  If we are to stay alive as creators, to keep growing, we have to leave our comfy-ness and risk.

At the festival I had a conversation with another artist I’ve seen over the years – he paints in watercolor in a style that is very different from mine, landscapes in subdued colors on board, framed without glass.  Lovely work. He told me he wants to do something completely different with his art.  But he’s stuck in the cycle of applying for art shows so far in advance that he can’t seem to find a way to make new work and still have enough art to do shows in the short term.  When you make your entire living off of your art, as he does, there is the reality that your art is how you survive in the world, adding enormously to the risk.

The chat I had with him has me seeing how I’ve been holding myself safe in what I’ve been painting. Over the past couple of years I’ve talked about painting things that are outside what I’m known for – the world of colorful flowers and fruit and other “edibles.”  There’s a self-portrait, the big pond from Giverny (another 60”x40” painting), and a cathedral rose window painting – something to follow “Eternal.”  But, I find myself painting what’s expected of me instead of risking.  As a teacher, I’ve been avoiding risking too.  It’s been years since I’ve known that the frontier is some kind of online offering – there’s a whole world of people who cannot drive to Larkspur!

Our world is stirred up right now on many levels and the turmoil seems to be accelerating.  Beyond our country’s political and social upheavals and the catastrophic weather that is burning us and crashing onto our shores, closer to home there seems that a lot of people around me who are going through life-shaking emotional stuff too.  It can feel like the swirl is everywhere and like everything is falling apart. In the face of all of this, the idea of learning to paint, risking putting ourselves out on paper or canvas pales in comparison.  It’s not life-threatening after all.

And yet, they are real fears – ones that are useful to face.  I’ve seen my own life as well as others transform by finding the courage to express ourselves.  For me it was not just painting but writing and public speaking that has let the parts of me that were hiding inside to be revealed.  Along the way a certain solidness develops at our center that didn’t exist before, making us more resilient and better able to handle bigger challenges, bigger fears.

I had a discussion this morning with Maralyn and Lyn, two of my coaching sisters, about the words “brave” and “courageous.”  Though the definitions are similar, the roots of the two words reveal quite a difference.  Courage has as its root the word “heart” – to act from one’s heart.  Brave on the other hand, has the same root as “bravo” which in Italian and Spanish means “bold.”  Its meaning gets even grittier with its link to “savage” and “untamed.”  There is an impetuousness implied in “brave” that can be very close to being foolhardy.  Though they are both useful words, in our discussion there seemed to emerge a preference for “courageous.”  But I’m still making a case for “brave.”  At some deep level, I resonate with brave’s “bold”-ness.

Whichever word works for you, I invite you to find yours.  It feels to me like this is what our times are calling for from us.  See if there is a fear you’re ready to face – a fear that may be between you and your doing something you’ve wanted or needed to do.  It may be painting, it may be speaking a truth, it may be something else completely.  Once you do, those who are really in your corner will say to you:  “bravo!” – or if you prefer “brava!”  Now, I’ve got some risking to do myself.  Stay tuned…

Here’s to our bravery –


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