The Art of Enough

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Art of Enough

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.

Wendell Berry

We live in a world of constant stimulation. Despite our best intentions, many of us struggle to be present for even the most important, meaningful moments. The mainstream culture bombards us with messages that we’re not enough the way we are–not attractive enough, wealthy enough, fashionable enough, fit enough, smart enough, successful enough, popular enough, young enough. Not enough. Shame, the fear that we’re not worthy of love or belonging because we are lacking in some way, thrives on messages of “not enough,” and shame is highly correlated with addictions and mental health problems of all kinds. For creativity, too, these messages can be lethal. Not good enough. Not talented or skilled enough. Not enough time. Not famous enough. Not original enough. Not enough.

The basic need to be “enough”–to be worthy of acceptance and connection the way we are–is both adaptive and prosocial. Yet when chronic and unchecked, fears of not being enough can drive us away from the very sources that can truly fill the void—our own present-moment experience of reality, and our connections with others. Though I try to stay present, I can easily get sucked into the material world and its trap of finally having, indeed finally being, enough–if only I do more, have more, look differently. Nice things are nice, and external approval feels good. But I always return from these endless missions to realize that the material world does not equate to a good life, and external approval lacks the deep salve of self-acceptance and inner contentment.

So how does this apply to painting? Overtly, my paintings are about growth, change, loss, and renewal processes in the natural world, but they are also, more fundamentally, about simplicity. Each painting is a conversation with the question, “What is enough here?” What’s enough detail, color, form, and movement to describe the simple essence of the natural world I love? How much space does each flower and tree and leaf need around it in order for me to actually slow down and see it? How much of an outline indicates that I’ve painted each individual form carefully, to honor its role in the larger whole, and when does the outline make too much noise and detract from the overall harmony? How much empty space do I put in a painting to see the true shapes of things?

These questions lead back to wondering what I need (and don’t need) in my life to really see the beauty and gifts of what I already have, love, and am.

I suspect that rich, creative, and satisfying lives are as much about what we eliminate as about what we include. Too much stuff—too many details, too many options—they distract and scatter us. We rent ourselves out to everything at the risk of experiencing nothing. This emptiness only deepens the void that stimulates such endless seeking.

My paintings are places where I’ve slowed down, wondered about what is enough, and tried to remove what feels like too much. I don’t always get the balance right, but this question is at the heart of my compositional decisions. Waiting to have the right materials, the next art show, the sense of having enough talent or experience or time or vision or inspiration—waiting to have these things blocks my access to what is already here, what and who I already am, my relationship to the natural world as I engage with it now, and my relationship to others just as we are, all of us: Enough.

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