In 2001 I took part in a painting workshop that changed my relationship to artmaking in a very fundamental way. While I had dabbled in various creative pursuits for much of my life, only after this particular workshop did I begin to accurately appreciate the value of those pursuits. Over the last ten years I have experienced how maintaining a personal creative practice yields a remarkable return on investment.
The workshop emphasized the basic elements of design: color/line/texture/form/etc. It was an opportunity to explore the fundamentals, relying only upon basic technique. Without rigid structure, it afforded ample space to experiment. In doing so, the workshop facilitated deep engagement by providing sufficient time and conditions (through acts of painting and collage) that were favorable for open-ended exploration.
Though the exercises would change each week, every exercise served as a lesson in observation and reflection. I was deeply engaged during each two-hour session. Over time I noticed that many of the skills activated by this new hobby also informed the hours between my weekly sessions. As a result of artmaking I was developing a sensitivity to details like texture/shadow/color/line. Increasingly this sensitivity extended into everyday life, and I began to attend to aesthetics during my non-painting hours much more vividly. This new lens was a direct result of a shift in my attention, born from a desire to express abstraction on the page in an authentic way. Researcher Ellen Langer explores this manner of conscious attentiveness brilliantly in her book, ‘Mindfulness’.
One summer, several years later, I conducted a painting workshop as a volunteer in an assisted living facility. The experience of deep engagement I had found through painting was echoed in the stories that were told to me by some of the participants. Their own lives were enriched as a result of their increased awareness to detail and nuance, much like mine had been years before. Eric Booth, in his book ‘The Everyday Work of Art’, describes the nature of such awareness in exquisite detail.
The true return on investment I gain from painting is never the completed painting. No, my technical skills are still a work in progress (a fact that often motivates me to devote more time to the craft of painting!). The greatest benefits are the Habits of Mind that result from the act of painting, habits that inform and improve my everyday life. Awareness through deep engagement enables me to think more critically and creatively, which extends into my relationships, my professional life and my academic pursuits.
Painting, much like watching a live performance, sensitizes me to my own interior world, and, more broadly, to humanity. Once I learned to consciously traverse the terrain of deep engagement, I began to regard the thinking skills I had acquired through the process of painting as invaluable life skills. Knowing the dividends that I will receive from a regular practice of artmaking makes it far easier for me to choose how to invest my time.
© 2011 Kira Campo