Thursday, February 02, 2012

The Freedom to Create

I came across a quote from a book recently. The book is called "The Tao of Success: The Five Ancient Rings of Destiny" and it is written by Derek Lin.

"Everything is meaningless because that is exactly how it should be. It has to be that way because its void is what frees you to create your own meaning. The emptiness of a vessel is what gives it usefulness. Existence is a blank slate that invites your creative contribution."

What insight! I like what he said - You create your own meaning. It is also the same thing that Eric Maisel writes about frequently concerning the creative life -the philosophy of meaning, which he calls Noimetics.

We are creating our lives on a daily basis, mostly unconsciously. This is our dysfunction, the dysfunction of humanity trudging along without awareness. Before we can create our own meaning, we must first know who we are. That we are more than our forms, our sensations and perceptions.

Eckhart Tolle writes about the transcendence of thought. That in fact, there is a dimension within us that is independent of thought, infinitely vaster and wiser.

In art, we are taught about positive and negative space, the space around the object we are viewing. The Japanese call it ma - the interval, or pause, the experience of place. The vessel that holds the water, the sky that frames the tree. When we become the interval, when we become the space, we align ourselves to our essence. And from that place, we are able to contribute our creativity, the service that brings peace.


The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

The Simple Path by Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Zen Story

Great Waves
(A Zen Story)

In the early days of the Meiji era there lived a well-known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.

O-nami was immensely strong and knew the art of wrestling. In his private bouts he defeated even his teacher, but in public he was so bashful that even his own pupils threw him.

O-nami felt that he should go to a Zen master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping in a little temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his trouble.

“Great Waves is your name,” the teacher advised, “so stay in this temple tonight. Imagine that you are those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their path. Do this and you will be the greatest wrestler in the land.”

The teacher retired. O-nami sat in meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of many different things. Then gradually he turned more and more to the feelings of the waves. As the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They swept away the flowers in their vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but the ebb and flow of an immense sea.

In the morning the teacher found O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the wrestler’s shoulder. “Now nothing can disturb you,” he said. “You are those waves. You will sweep everything before you.”

The same day O-nami entered the wrestling contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was able to defeat him.

from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
Compiled by Paul Reps
Penguin Books

Monday, December 31, 2007

How Should Artists Present Themselves?

The following is an article written by Eric Maisel, Ph.D, writer, author and creativity coach. Eric writes a regular newsletter through his yahoogroup (click here for more info). He also has a website,, where he offers resources for the creative individual.

By Eric Maisel, Ph.D.

The question how should I present myself is really two questions in one. The first question is, “What works?” The second question is, “How do I want to represent myself in the world?” It may work to be difficult, arrogant, grandiose, paranoid, dramatic, and pretty nearly impossible—that is, to be a diva. But is that who you want to be in the world? This is a serious first question, as many ambitious artists might be inclined to answer, “Absolutely!” Picasso, Dali, Warhol—to turn a noun into a verb, artists with big egos and big talents are often inclined to diva the world.

This way of being can and does succeed—many people who make it to the top in every profession are expletives deleted. Side-by-side with them, however, and almost existing in a separate, parallel universe, are artists who pride themselves on being human, decent, professional, and above-board in their dealings with others. They understand that a percentage of their peers are sleazy; they choose not to be. And they are sanguine in this choice because they have learned in the crucible of experience that decency is not a bar to success.

This is a crucial point that needs underlining. If only divas succeeded, it would become something of a mandate that you, too, diva the world. But all sorts succeed, including the quiet and the ethical. It is absolutely possible to honor your commitments, not pull pranks, not gossip, not lead with the shadowy parts of your personality, not whine, not demand, and still succeed. To repeat, decency is not a bar to success.

What is required, however, is a practiced confidence. You may not feel very confident as you advocate for your work and as you present it to prospective buyers, but you should have confidence in mind as a goal and an aspiration. You should be aiming for confidence, just as you aim for excellence in the work itself. It is that aura of confidence that propels one person past the other in the marketplace. When someone is confident in his approach, you listen; when he hems and haws and shifts his feet, you look for the exit. The same is true for you. When you portray yourself as not really counting and not really mattering, you will be instinctively dismissed.

If it has become your habit to apologize for your work, to hide from potential buyers, to avoid marketplace interactions, to dismiss yourself as soon as you can (as if beating others to the punch), these are habits that you must alter. To alter a habit means to work on it for months and for years, not to work on it for just a few minutes. It is unlikely that you can change from not taking the opportunities offered to you to taking them just by snapping your fingers: you need to be on a
lifelong strengthening program, a self-coaching regimen where each day you remind yourself that you intend to manifest your strength and your confidence.

Remember: it is one thing to be quiet; it is another thing to be meek. It is one thing to be modest; it is another thing to be self-disparaging. It is one thing to be principled; it is another thing to live by the principle that everybody else comes first. You want to step out of the shadows and risk standing up for your work and for your future. Maybe you doubt your work: either stop doubting it or create work that you doubt less. Maybe you doubt yourself: stop doubting yourself and, over time, create a version of yourself that you have no reason to doubt.

Present yourself with strength. If this does not come naturally to you, practice. Practice in your mind, in the mirror, or with an art buddy. Practice saying, “I love my new work.” Practice saying, “If your gallery has an opening for one new artist, it should be me, and here’s why.” Practice saying, “I know that you collect contemporary surrealists and I’m pushing the surrealism envelope, so you must visit my studio!” Practice saying, “Let me describe the nine ways in which
I will be an asset to your gallery.” Practice saying, “I am doing excellent work and you should really take a look.”

It is not just what you say—it is how you survey the world, how you think, and what you do. You are either looking for opportunities or you aren’t. You are either mulling over new marketing ideas or you aren’t. You are either thinking about your next sales opportunity or you aren’t. You are either calculating what might work in the marketplace (without being a “calculating person”) or you aren’t. You are either a player in the game or a spectator in the stands. You are either fantasizing about what might transpire or you are taking action.

All of this translates into a way of presenting yourself that is professional, savvy, energetic, proactive, eager, and decisive. Your intentions are clear: you intend to succeed. Your handshake is firm: you have people to interest and customers to acquire. Your first thoughts aren’t “What should I say?” and “Where’s the exit?” You know what to say and you know where you mean to be: right here, right now, representing yourself in the strongest ways possible.

Have an excellent Sunday!



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Following your bliss

Don't ask so much what the world needs.

Go out and do what makes you come alive,

because what the world needs most

are people who have come alive.

-- Howard Thurman


If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.

-- Joseph Campbell

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When Push Comes To Shove

You are an artist on the brink. You’ve carefully nurtured and protected your ideas, keeping them secret, waiting for the right moment to release them into the world. Silently, you’ve prepared a significant body of work, one that you feel describes your identity, your values, your passions, your spirit.

Deep inside, you know it’s time.
You must make the leap into unknown territory.

There are a million concerns to consider, yes. But there is only one choice to make, out of those million concerns: the choice to matter.


What you create is an exchange. Your creations aren’t yours, ultimately speaking. They are a way for your audience to know themselves. In an exhibition, it may seem that the artist is speaking to the viewer. In reality, the viewer is communing with himself, creating meaning out of your work.



and these are the pleasures of your craft:
an old bottle with a brush;
a canvas on an easel, primed and stretched;
the search for secret colors, a night of silence;
and with daylight, the alchemy of a completed work.

© Jojo Ballo 2006

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On Art and Craft

In his essay "Art and Craft", RG Collingwood distinguishes between what is “craft” and that which is “art proper”. He shows this by enumerating some general features of craft, the central characteristic being its distinction between means and end. He then asks if this characteristic may be applied to art proper, if art may be divisible into means and an end. He then states that art cannot be so neatly divided, but proposes that there is something in the structure of art that makes it similar to craft, and it has to do with the nature of emotion.

Collingwood writes that the philosophy of craft concerns itself with the idea of arousing. In craft, the “end” is something preconceived and brought into existence through determinate means, one that arouses a desired emotion in the audience. For Collingwood, the artist has something to do with emotion, but he does not arouse it. Rather, he expresses it. Art is then defined by the expression of emotion, while craft is the arousal of it.

This expression of emotion, according to Collingwood, has its origin in the artist. He knows that he is having an emotion, he feels something, but he doesn’t know yet what it is. It is through the expression of this emotion that he becomes aware of it. This is in contrast to the craftsman, who already knows beforehand what emotion to arouse in the audience. Emotion then for the artist is unique, individual and specific to time and place. The craftsman by contrast, works with general, conceptual and classifiable ways of doing things. The true artist is the opposite of all this – “he does not want a thing of a certain kind, he wants a certain thing.” In craft, everything is repeated. In art, nothing is repeated.

Putting Collingwood’s ideas to the test, this author paid a visit to the National Museum and was intrigued by an exhibit at the Don Vicente Madrigal Gallery. The exhibition is entitled, “Kaban ng Lahi: Archaeological Treasures”, showing mostly burial jars from archaeological sites. One particular display caught this author’s attention. Called the Masuso pots, the display showed two pots -- the first pot having four breasts molded onto it, while the other one having seven breasts. What is unique about these two objects is that their origin is unknown. According to the write-up: “These lovely ceramic objects molded with human breasts have come to be known as the Masuso pots. However, researchers can only guess at their origins and cultural significance... Did they have ritual significance? To what culture and period do they belong? We will never know what these artifacts have to say about ancient Filipinos and their culture – we can only guess!” This statement by the exhibit organizers leads one to wonder how these two objects came to be acquired by the Museum, being apart and unique even from the rest of the exhibition pieces. However, they present an opportunity in discussing Collingwood’s ideas, in particular the issue of authorship, in determining when an object is “craft”, and when it is “art”. There is a problem with Collingwood’s essay, in that he did not limit his discussion to any particular culture or situation. The reader is then inclined to conclude that he was writing about craft and art in general terms.

But what happens when the author of an artwork (or a work of craft) is unknown, as is the case with the Masuso pots? Central to Collingwood’s argument is the intention of the artist. But we do not know if the pots were made in a tradition, with repeatable processes that could be taught from one generation to the next. Neither do we know the purpose of the objects, what their “end” function was in their community. Therefore we can’t merely say that it is craft, based on the qualities that Collingwood presented. Neither can we say immediately that it is art proper, simply because there is no artist around to explain his work.

In Collingwood’s argument, there is little room for the work’s interpreter – the audience merely understands the object or does not. But by simple observation we can derive certain artistic qualities in it, qualities that may have been present in the artist as well, such as refinement (the objects do not have any crude lines – indeed they are smoothly finished), attention to detail and balance (the breasts are of uniform size and evenly spaced) among other things. They are also evocative, relating to the idea of the mother/woman as container or receptacle and as such are very emotional pieces. Whether or not these emotions that the viewer feels through the artwork were the artist’s own, or whether they were meant to be aroused in the community that the artworks came from, no one knows for sure.

The preceding paper was submitted on October 19, 2007 as part of the requirements for Art Studies 190 (Aesthetics) under Prof. Patrick Flores, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

RG Collingwood was a British philosopher and practicing archaeologist best known for his work in aesthetics and the philosophy of history. The National Museum (Museum of the Filipino People) is in Manila, and may be accessed through Taft or P. Burgos St, which is in front of the Intramuros golf course. MFP is within Luneta, along Finance Road, beside the National Art Gallery (former Congress building).

© Jojo Ballo 2007
Please respect intellectual property laws