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The Power of Intention-less Activity
I failed miserably as an artist painter no less than 4 times in my life. Each failed attempt began the same way, with a dialogue in my head that sounded something like this: “My skills as a creative director will easily make me a great artist which in turn will mean I will produce valuable work which in turn will make a lot of money.” Assured of my own success and pumped up on my inner Tony Robbins speech I would gleefully spend whatever amount of money it took to gather all the best materials I needed to make great art. Why should I even think of a budget when it was a pittance compared to the large return I would receive from making great paintings.
So each time, after my spending bender, I would sit in front of my canvas, fully provisioned, cocked and ready and begin my first masterpiece.
I remember thinking, I’m a successful creative director, why wouldn’t that easily translate to successful artist? I knew how to plan, to sketch, and to clearly envision the result I wanted, and to execute against the vision faithfully.
Without hesitation I would jump right into my painting, make my thumbnail sketches, produce a wealth of ideas, and hone the final idea for my great painting and take to the canvas. True to form, my canvas would reflect the idea I planned, and my discipline would reward me with a solid execution.
Each time after finishing a single painting, I would stand back, look at it, and then proceed to dismantle my easel, bundle up my brushes, medium gel, tubes of paint, palettes, sculpting knives, oil pastels, ink pens, and various drawing pencils, and store them in the attic or basement and forget about the whole damn artist idea entirely for at least 5 years.
What happened? The answer should appear as you read the italicized words above and contrast those words with the ones in italics below. My failed attempts were all designed to fail because they were so…..designed. This became crystal clear to me recently after I pulled out my stockpile of artist materials for another go at painting.
This time, instead of replaying the grand artist illusion tape in my head, I decided to have no thought in my head. I had no idea of what I wanted to get from the painting, and no identity or status to support, and no thought of any value, or results. This time my only desire was to just paint, and let whatever happens happen. This time I didn’t care if it was a good painting or if anyone would want to buy it or even look at it. Because none of this mattered, I felt free…I only wanted to experience the process of painting, and to be free of my desire for anything other than to paint. Each time I felt my thinking start to take over, as it did many times, I stopped painting. I did not paint again until my mind was clear of itself.
Almost immediately this intention-less painting had a beauty and soul to it that none of the other paintings had, for that matter, I don’t remember anything else I have done possessing these qualities.
This change in how I approached painting has revealed a powerful irony. To do something just for the sake of itself with no intention or desire for results can produce a higher quality of work and yes….even results.