Continued from previous post: Enchanted Place

Passing through the multi-colored tiled hallways of the museum, I came to a small flight of stairs. By this time, the crowds were flocking in for the Russian exhibit and the groups of children were deafening.

However, I was lucky; at that moment this part of the exhibit was sparsely visited. 

You climb the stairs and it gets quieter, there is a faint sound of Chinese bronze bells playing in the background. The light becomes soft and filtered. This pavilion is simply magical. The entire space is divided by floor-to-ceiling, mist-like gauzy white curtains arranged in flowing curves. So you get lost in a maze of curves, following one and suddenly coming to a little alcove formed by more curtains. And in a glass showcase sits a stunning bronze vessel from 600BC.  You just wander in and out of these corridors and niches, from one delight to the next. The walls are light blue, as is the floor, and I believe the source of the light is daylight, though it has something watery about it perhaps reflected from the canal below.

Very rarely do you encounter more people than is comfortable. One or two ahead or behind, but basically one wanders through the clouds of translucent white cloth alone.

I floated out of the museum and home on a cloud of my own, feeling totally refreshed and inspired.

Enchanted place

March 20, 2008


Groninger Museum,  Photo Rende Zoutewelle

One of my rants is about getting art out of the museums and back into people’s lives. I have been anti-museum in the sense of having art locked away somewhere. Usually you have to pay to see it and for many people there is a high threshold to cross. 

I’ve had to reconsider.

Yesterday I took myself out for a treat to see the Russian Fairy Tales exhibit in our wonderful Groningen Museum.

I came in off the street and after the rituals of paying, checking my coat and rucksack, I entered an enchanted world.
The museum gets tens of thousands of visitors. But at 10 AM on a Wednesday morning, it was still quiet, though I could hear distant shouts and chaos of a class of school children in another part of the museum.

Delightfully, and unexpectedly, one of the first rooms held the paintings of a favorite artist of R’s and mine, Nicholas Roerich. We even made a pilgrimage while in India to visit his surviving brother. But that is another story.

The hyper-modern Groninger museum paints the exhibition rooms for every show. It is not at all noticable unless you
well, notice! But the paintings are beautifully complemented by dark green, tomato, or deep lavender walls; and it is magical moving from one colored space into the next. .  

What I loved about being there was having time to appreciate the beauty and artistic skill of the work, and to sense an entire craft and cultural tradition stretching back in time.  One painting I am thinking about was by Victor Vasnetsov, Tsarevich Ivan riding the Grey Wolf, 1889, Oil on canvas, 249 x 187 cm. It shows two young people riding a huge wolf through the woods. At the top of the picture a pearly light filters through the trees, the detail is lush.  It was delightful to almost physically absorb the colours and the whole sensibility that created this one charged piece of canvas. I felt privileged. And was grateful that there were museuem curators travelling the world’s art treasures and bringing them to people who might never have the chance to see them in their native habitat. 

I spent a solid hour with the paintings and illustrations and Russian calligraphy. I stopped for a cappucino in the museum café looking out over the water, feeling a little spring sun on my face. The museum is built IN a main canal opposite the railway station here.  As you see in the photo, the bottom floors are actually below water level.

I was reluctant to leave, I felt that I’d left the outside world behind and had been lifted out of time. Some museums succeed in creating  an enchanted atmosphere or sacred space, and I hadn’t fully appreciated this before.

And then there were the Chinese Bronzes on the upper levels. See next post.

Refresher course

March 14, 2008

This is a joyful period where life’s lessons seem to be clustering around the previous topic, ‘letting go of having to be the authority or teacher’. Letting go of using will only, and making room for trust and grace.

I hit a wall teaching my 11 year old drawing student. I was running on empty and was no longer giving her the quality I felt she deserved. I also saw in her a similar trend to mine of going for results at the cost of process and even at this early age, identifying with being able to draw well. She was gobbling up techniques as fast as I could give them to her, and I felt pressured to keep coming up with new things. She, meanwhile was perhaps not getting the time needed to digest all she was learning.  This is all natural in the first stage of learning a new skill, but I felt she needed a balancing influence  in order to develop wholeness in relation to her art.

This is where my dear friend M was called in. She is starting her own practice in working with children and art and she has an entirely different approach than I. She is more a painter than an illustrator and and her work is more raw and dynamic, while mine tends more to aesthetic and controlled.  With the agreement of E and her mom, M took over E’s lessons for about 2 months.

My approach had been to  plan every lesson thoroughly, being aware of the goals, material skills, and procedure.

M , on the other hand,  made her studio inviting, prepared a general idea with a loose theme, set out materials and set E to work. She didn’t interfere or try to ‘teach’ E anything, yet she was totally present to what E was doing and did jump in if there was a question. The child worked solidly (this particular girl has ADHD) for an hour or more in total concentration. She explored and experimented and flourished with very little open interaction between her and the teacher.

Of course the intent was slightly different. E came to me with a clear request to learn to draw, in this, failure is an inevitable part of the process. With M the goal was to get acquainted with paints and have room to experiment with few constraints.

She is coming back to me on Monday. The break has given me time to refresh myself creatively and to reassess my own teaching method. I realize that I can give E the room to make her own mistakes and discoveries, can intervene less and generally step back a bit.

Friends of mine, the Jenkinses, have written an excellent book, 9 Disciplines of a Facilitator.  I will review it at a later point, probably on Amazon, but it got me thinking.

Yesterday I led a workshop on ‘Creativity and Success, the inside story’. It was more or less the ‘soft’ marketing workshop for women I had been fantasizing about several months ago.

Beforehand, I was debating just what my role as leader of the workshop was. Was I there to teach, preach, convert, raise consciousness?  I have led workshops in such a way, and when they were successful, I was left with a curiously empty, cheated feeling.

Somehow, this had to be different. I felt I was asking the 15 participants to take some creative risks, which meant I needed to take some myself.

The risks I set up for myself were to let go of the need to be the teacher. I couldn’t do this entirely, it will take several times before I find a new way to be with the group, but this workshop was a step in the right direction. I let go of some of my agenda to make room for the participants to share their own wisdom and thoughts on the subject. And I saw myself as someone sharing the wisdom of my experience only, so it could be enhanced and given meaning by their own experience.

Part of the workshop was a hands-on art exercise, this too was an opportunity to let go of showing hoew to do everything. Actually there were too many people for me to give individual attention to, so some were left to improvise, and they were the ones who got fantastic results way out of the box of my expectations for the assignment.

There was good feedback on the workshop, and I felt great afterwards. For me it had been an experience of sharing the love I have for creativity and my belief in the power of creativity to transform and heal.

And I am learning that the power of a workshop to touch lives comes less from covering all the points in the lecture than from creating an environment together where magic can happen.

In several areas of my life I am being challenged to let go of old ways and venture into new territory.  This is exactly what I am always trying to stimulate my students to do and I am getting a dose of my own medicine.

My singing teacher pushes me to be less self conscious and to let go of trying to make a beautiful sound.

Re my artwork, a cherished artist friend has asked me if I would be willing to surrender some control in return for a more raw, true kind of markmaking.

In both these cases perfection and polishedness stands in the way of something more authentic. My friend finds my artwork  ‘beautiful’ and ‘refined’, but in the experimental pieces I’ve been doing lately, she sees more guts, more me. My music teacher had me make some experimental noises and observed that I was more present and spontaneous in those than I was in my singing.

I have spent a lifetime perfecting technique in a number of areas and it has served me well in my professional work. But that perfectionism also seeps in where it is not helpful. And it is in those areas I am being offered ways to stretch out of my comfort zone into unknown ground. Uncomfortable? Most definitely, but exhilarating too.