One can practice the technical aspects of piano, of a dance or song, but can one practice visual Art? Is there something besides technique that one could be practicing? I began pondering this question after someone asked Ajahn Sona, the Abbot of Birken Forest Monastery, how long should one practice meditation. His answer caught my attention because before becoming a monk, he was a classical guitarist, and so used practicing music to illustrate his answer.
“How long to practice?
Until I get it.
Not how long but
How good? How beautiful?”
He also said, “If you don’ get the right map,
you won’t get to the right place.”
So this underpainting is a map of a painting, but it is not about technique–it is about the practice of slowing the eye down, insisting on gradual inspection. It is also a way to practice caution: paint what matters most first, create a safety net for the composition, figure out how to build the territory up alive over the flat contours.
One can also practice courage.
At some point one has to just get in there and make marks.
Sometimes courage gives way to daring.
The eye softens as the choice turns to this way,
never to return to that way.
And yet the map is not the territory,
The name is not the thing named.
Maybe the most profound practice in art is that of creating effective surprise. Because for art to be truly effective, one must first surprise oneself. I felt Ajahn Sona spoke to this when he said, “To know and not to do, is not to know.”
So what do I know? That this 19th painting in the series of 47 dreams from my Journey Oracle deck has been a remarkable opportunity for practicing caution, courage, daring, and surprise. Sometimes the greatest surprise is the glimmer art gives us when we allow others to tell their story in their own way.