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A Little Push

There are times when we need a little help, like a car with a dead battery that can’t get going unless someone pushes it until there’s enough momentum for the engine to start.  Pushing a car on your own is not as effective, and it can be dangerous.  You have to be quick enough to run around and jump in once you get the car moving but before the car gets away from you, or off your car will go on its own; directionless, picking up speed, knocking down mailboxes and garbage cans, or worse.

I needed a push recently.  I was like my first car with no charge in the battery.  Normally, my 1966 Pontiac Catalina was great.  It was a solid, reliable piece of automotive engineering.  It was also a huge boat of a car; long, broad, massively heavy.  With the battery dead, that car couldn’t go anywhere without help.  Neither could I.  Life’s difficulties had gotten between me and my easel.  I had stopped painting.  I was stalled.

I enlisted the help of a professional, someone trained and experienced at pushing people and giving them enough momentum so they can continue on their own.  At our weekly meetings she assigned homework.  Doing the assignments would help her to push me forward in the same way that disengaging the brake and putting a car in neutral allows the wheels to turn.  I had books to read, writing to show, reflecting and contemplating to busy my brain.  My first artistic task began with a benign question.  “What would you paint if you could paint, if nothing was stopping you?”

Unable to think of a subject to paint, I floundered, stammering “Uh, um, well, ummmmm, not sure, really.”  I was pressed to guess what I might paint if I could paint.  After more ums and well, uhs, I blurted out “A hand!”  Theoretically, I might paint a hand from my visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery during my stay in Hong Kong last summer.  Hundreds of life-sized, gold-painted buddha statues line the mountainside pathway to the monastery.  They are lovely.  The light falling on the statues creates shifting shadows and changes in color.  I intended to paint that.  I made sketches.  I  took photographs.  But I hadn’t painted.  Somehow, I  couldn’t.

“Your homework assignment is to begin a painting of a hand.  One hand.”  I was mortified.  I had agreed to do the assignments because I had asked for her help, and why ask someone to push your car if you keep your foot firmly on the brake?  Still, I went home thinking I should have blurted out something else, anything else.  A hand is, at the best of times, hard to draw and harder to paint.  I was out of practice and my painting arm was surely stiff and awkward from disuse.

I went to the studio and turned an abandoned, half-finished painting upside down to make the whole thing less intimidating because, as Cezanne pointed out, ‘It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.’  Standing in front of this scumbled up canvas might be less fine, but it would definitely be less terrible.  The canvas was already a disaster, so I figured I couldn’t mess it up much more.

I started.


I went back.




Though the painting was still unfinished, I got a new assignment.  Give the painting a title.  “Easy.” I said, because I give all my paintings plain, straightforward titles.  How about ‘Hand‘?”  Not good enough.  My professional prodder told me that the title of this painting must have something to do with my new start, something about the direction I want to go with my art.  Dang.

I went home and thought about it.  I mulled it over.  I contemplated.  Aha!  I remembered from an art history class taken decades ago that each of the features in an image of the Buddha has specific meaning.  I looked up the hand gestures (mudras) and discovered that the hand I started is the Bhumisparsa Mudra.  The gesture is called “Touching the Earth” and is said to be the gesture the Buddha made at the moment he achieved enlightenment.  It represents unshaken strength and truth of his commitment to liberation, which helped the Buddha overcome the darkness challenging him right before he entered the light.  Touching the Earth would be the title.

Naturally, I do not imagine for a nanosecond that one painting will bring me to spiritual enlightenment but I do want to move toward unshaken strength, to be committed to creative liberation, to overcome the darkness.  I want to be artistically grounded and feel always that I am Touching the Earth.  Admittedly, one mediocre, unfinished painting is a very small beginning, but with a helpful push, I have started moving again.

~ by anitawesto on May 28, 2015.