For a few summers in college I travelled to The Cascade Mountains to immerse myself in spirituality and art. The small faith-based artists’ community nestled on a paradise-like piece of a mountain was a place to get centered while simultaneously stretching myself to become a better artist. For those few years I came to rely upon it as a part of my developing identity. There was so much to learn about community, art, and life in general. I painted, sketched, and assembled stained-glass windows. Every action seemed so intentional and provoked a meditative state of awareness.
I credit my painting instructor with most of the growth I achieved over those subsequent summers. It is specifically a moment with him that I have to share with you. I wanted so much to impress him and catch his painter’s eye. You could use words such as tedious and obsessive to describe my brush strokes while under his knowing instruction. We, at one point, had a lengthy discussion about a magical moment of paint happening in what probably amounted to a 3-inch by 4-inch patch of one of my unfinished works.
Let me tell you, my efforts doubled. My dedication to that one painting led to the neglect of the outside world. I wouldn’t rest until the whole of the painting did justice to that single solitary magnificent patch! I employed every method. Every trick that I knew I threw at this soon-to-be masterpiece. By the time my teacher came back around I was a ball of frustration. I was confused, anxious and to be honest a tad bit angry. “Nothing is working,” I cried. He watched while I fussed and fiddled with my palate knife. Then he replied, “If you want a painting to work, sometimes you have to paint over the very best part.”
Normally, I would scoff at such a suggestion but I trusted this man and his tutelage. So, I did it. I painted over the spot that was initially inspiring but ultimately just stopped working. As my mentor implied, my painting eventually evolved. Looking back, that decision was not easy. For a brief time, that incomplete work of art depicted my talent, my skill, and the potential I had to be an artist. I didn’t want to let go of those beliefs that were held in such a small space.
I can overwork all of the aspects of my life trying to make them fit with the one piece I cannot let go of. I keep that sliver because it is familiar, nostalgic, or simply beautiful. So I hold on for dear life to that person, place or belief because saying goodbye seems too sad or unsafe. I won’t admit that hanging on to it prevents my growth. Then I cry, “Nothing is working!” I reach out to my teacher. I trust his guidance and let go of that one piece. Painting over the patch might still be sad. The growth that follows will most likely be painful. But, beneath it all is the comfort of knowing there will be many more magical moments to paint.