How does art create connection?
Transcript for Take an Art Break Podcast Episode
Hello. Okay, we’re here.
Hello. Hello. We are so excited. Today we have Diane Williams and Ju Diane’s a an alumni of jfk, which we are also. And Diane was actually my mentor, so I have a, a pretty cool connection with her. So, Diane, just tell the, the world a little bit about yourself, your art, and your process.
Well I’m a full-time artist, but it wasn’t always that way. I just retired a couple of years ago and now I’m dedicating mind, body, and spirit to making art and talking about art and doing workshops with other artists. I I call myself an abstract painter, although I think that’s kind of stretching it a little bit. There are always recognizable images, or not always, but often recognizable images in my work. And I believe that Mar taught us many, many years ago, this is not a pipe that everything we paint is actually abstract. So I’m very loose with that term abstraction. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Mm-Hmm.
<Affirmative>. I love that. I love that. One of my faves. So definitely relate to that. So whether you’re familiar with this or not, Lisa and I ask everyone sort of a question to, just as a jumping off point for our podcast, and we thought a great question to ask you just because of the work you’ve done in the past and you’re doing currently, is how does art create connection? So that seems like a ginormous question, but let’s try to tackle little pieces of it to today. So what’s your sort of gut reaction when you’re asked that question?
Well, I’ll tell you, during the pandemic and the isolation that people were feeling, art was a great way for people to communicate with each other. And particularly on Zoom. It’s so funny, I I never, before the pandemic would have believed I’d be saying something like that. Like, well, art
On the computer. Yeah. But it, it really did. And so that’s one way that it has kept people sane during the pandemic, is that we could get together in small community groups like this and talk about our art. And a lot of times what I’ll do is I’ll present a little slideshow. What, what I find is a lot of older, not, I’m not gonna say older women, more mature women who have raised families and the families have flown the nest. Maybe the husband or the partner has flown the nest. They’re alone for the first time in their life, and they aren’t flourishing as artists and they just can’t wait to express themselves and get it out. So the connection comes from making the work. Personally, it’s a very it’s a personal connection, but as artists, we’re dealing with forces that are much larger than we are, or that we can understand. So what happens is you are engaged in a dance, basically with an entity, an unknown spirit. If you would that pushes back. It’s not a one way street, and if it is, you’re doing it wrong.
Hmm. <Laugh>. Yeah. That’s interesting. So when you, so you did host Little Zoom connections. Oh, okay. Oh yeah. And were these people, were these women that never created before and they started, or they were artists?
I liked to mix experienced artists with people that have never done art before.
And I give them a jumping off place a theme mm-hmm. <Affirmative> right now we’re working with the art of editing your paintings and get the very loose topic, but we’ll discuss editing your paintings and, you know, work on the process of editing what it means. And then people will co, I usually have ’em present the work on Padlet, and then I share the pictures, the, the paintings with the whole group and we all discuss, we all comment that way. People learn to see art better because they’re hearing the voices of other people and what other people see. Cause we are very critical of ourselves as artists. And we’ll say, oh, this one’s no good. But when, you know, 10 people are looking at it saying, my gosh, it makes my heart sore. Maybe, maybe it’s work life, maybe I’m doing something good. Right. Valuable cause let, and honestly, let’s face it, most women have been told their whole lives that their work isn’t valuable. So we’re trying to rise above that, validate each other.
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So do you think it’s, you know, cuz you were talking about women at a mature time of their life being alone maybe for the first time in a very long time. Yeah.
Yeah. Flourishing, you know, through the art making process. Do you think they’re connecting to something they’ve never had an opportunity to connect with before in their life?
Well, you know, it’s really funny because I find that they all do recognize the connection. Although it may not have been through painting, it may have been through gardening, raising their children, making a pie. But they are rich with experience and they, when they pick up the paintbrush, they recognize it and, and they believe it. Some have found it through churches or, you know, other spiritual outlets that they’ve had. But I find that most women do, do recognize it. It’s not foreign.
It’s interesting. I love that. And I love how you said that creating is like dancing with some entity or some force larger than yourself. Right. How do how do you, how do you lead people? And you said if they’re not dancing with the Muse or whoever it is that they’re doing it wrong, how would you, because you know, we’re all about taking art breaks and art as a daily process. So how would you, how would you guide somebody to doing the dance Right, <laugh>?
Well, there’s no right or wrong way to do it, but if I feel that they’re controlling the work too much, as my teacher Oliver Jackson would say, it’s too anecdotal, I’ll point out to them, you know, these marks that you started out with were so free and I feel they were so authentic to you and your body movement and relationship with the substrate you’ve chosen. And then you got to the point that you had something in your mind you wanted to illustrate mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. But if you just respond to the marks, that message that you want to communicate will come of its own accord. The key is to learn to see and recognize what to keep and what to edit out. So it’s not completely that this muse is dictating the situation. We don’t want that either, but we want to be able to see, it’s like, I have something in mind.
I’m going to paint a flower and it’s going to be loose, and drips are gonna come down, it’s gonna be beautiful. And then I put the initial marks on and it’s like, wow, that doesn’t look like I thought it would look, but maybe if I put a little red in this area and spray it with a little water, wow, look at that. Before I know it, I’ve let go of my idea of the rose dripping down. But what I’m painting isn’t the essence of the thing. I’m not painting the rose, I’m painting the essence of the rose, and it’s fantastic. Now, whether or not the viewer sees it as arose isn’t really my concern. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, what is my concern is that what they see moves them in their own way. And we do have quite a lot of control over what the, how the viewer will respond.
For example, if we have a painting that’s very frenetic and has a lot of energy in it, we know we’re gonna get an energetic response. For me, it may be the storm outside my window. For them, it may be the storm that’s brewing internally, but they’re gonna feel the freneticness of it and they’re gonna recognize it if it’s calm with a lot of open space, whether it’s bringing to mind the place in the meadow that I had in my mind when I was banging, or whether they have in their mind the time that they were, you know, at peace with the loss of a loved one or any other thing. It’s moving them and we’re guiding that movement in a particular direction without dictating what the outcome needs to be. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Yeah.
Yeah, that’s, yeah, I find that really interesting. So I, what I hear is that a lot of it is, is about using the process to connect with something deep within you or that surrounds you mm-hmm. <Affirmative> not to try to communicate it necessarily in representational way or
Like a Yeah, like a sentence to someone that they’re gonna be kind of reading through your, through your work, but also they’re connecting with the work on an emotional level. Right. It’s almost, it, it feels like the process for you is almost a separation and a recombination of your emotions and your mind and your spirit, because it’s usually the mind telling the emotions to tell the hand. But you’re saying let let it flow and then have an actual conversation with the work while you’re making it. Yes. And if you go through that process, your viewer will also go through that process and then you’re all connected.
Now, I had an interesting experience this weekend. There was a, a woman who came to my workshop in Santa Fe and she drove three days to get there. And she was a mature woman and drove with her sister. I thought, God, some people are adventurous as heck. Yeah. So she’s painting squares, squares, squares, very interesting. These squares. And they get very dimensional and they’re moving in space, bloating in space. And, and eventually it’s a triptic on the third one. They’re, they’re eventually kind of elevating and dissipating. I thought they were very moving and there was a lot of depth. It it put me in a, in a state of floating and drifting that felt really uplifting, felt really spiritual. During the critique on the third day, she revealed that to her, the square’s worst spirits. And I thought, how interesting. I didn’t have to know she was gaining spirits, but I felt a spiritual connection just the way that they moved and I could move with them. So she did have some control on my emotion with the way she did it, but she didn’t tell me that I had to see these as spirits. Now if she titles it something about spirits, I’m gonna approach it with a preconceived idea that that’s what I’m seeing. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But I didn’t need to know that to feel it and experience it deeply.
That’s beautiful. Really beautiful. Hmm. Wow. It’s so interesting. It’s I, I like this conversation cuz you’re talking about coming from art with the heart. Like come from your heart first and then like Lauren said, then come from the mind and that’s when the editing comes in. Right?
Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I call that the science.
So the science of the work, it’s like we play with, you know, our, our our body and language and, and the movement that we’re putting out. Some people have a big body language and they work well, large, some smaller, but what, you know, whatever size we’re working, we’re, we’re, we’re moving the way we move our bodies, and then we’re editing and we’re responding. And we come to a point that how do I make this more convincing? You know? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> all paintings should have foreground, middle ground and background, or I’ll say most paintings should. And so I’ll say, you know, I don’t think that you’ve really established your far background in this. You’ve got two colors competing white and blue. Is the blue the far background or the white, the far background? Why didn’t you make that decision? That’s the science. It’s like all of a sudden, well, if background is here, then if I have an image here and I wanna open it up, I’ll have to put a little dot of background here and a little dot of background there.
And then it opens. Then your light source abstraction has light sources. If the light comes from here, then the shadow is gonna be cast here. That’s science. We can think with our rational minds, that’s how it works. Some simple scientific principles have to be applied to really make it work. So there are times when we’ve got this really fun dance going on, and then there’s times that we put on our scientist hat and we turn into a scientist. So I think that a painting goes through cycles. You know, where at times you’re, you’re, you’re dancing with the unknown, and then there are times when you are thinking in Arational way, if this wants to happen, what would happen here? So
I I, I I’m of this idea lately that a lot of people hang out in their heads a little bit too long. I’m definitely one of those kind of people. So I can, I can relate to that, to that idea. What would you suggest to someone who is right now hearing our conversation and, and either doesn’t recognize in themselves that they may be sort of stifling their own creativity by being a little bit too rational about it and not letting go enough? Or maybe they’re like, people are, in our experience, a lot of people are afraid of letting go <laugh>. And so like, what can someone do? What’s it like a small step that someone can take to sort of let, let go a little bit and help that news shine through?
I think that being together with a group is very helpful because other people can give you permission. People need permission for some reason. So it’s always great to hook up with a group a lot of times to be in a classroom where maybe there’s the guidance of a teacher saying, I know Carl Hayward will have his students take the brush and paint, find their kid, you know, <laugh>. So there are tricks that, that people can do. Do you need a teacher or guidance to give yourself permission for that? Well, it, it’s helpful, you know, it’s helpful to have that. I don’t know if you’re hearing, I there’s some strange grinding sound going on. I’m, I’m in a, a new studio space and I decided to bring my laptop here because I thought this is gonna be a really quiet space. And I lit the incense and I put on our Carlos music in the background. And I, cause I have three dogs that bark when I’m trying to, you know, <laugh>.
Of sudden there’s a grinding noise,
<Laugh>, we can’t hear it. It’s ok. The world can’t hear it, so you’re good. So in your in your statement you talk about art and intuition. Can you and also art, how art connects us to our collective intuition and also the lineage of the elders. Can you kind of explain that a lit little bit to our
Audience? It was the strangest thing a few years ago when I was painting, and all of a sudden I, I just started getting messages from we weavers women who were weaving. It’s like, I’m painting, but all of a sudden I’m weaving and I’m being guided to like, weave the paint. I don’t know where it’s coming from. And I became acutely aware that there is an ancestral lineage that is really guiding us, whether guardian, angel, you know, your great-grandmother, or I don’t know what it is. It was so beyond my understanding, but I’ve just loved it so much. And then I started hearing other people talk about this. Hmm. And I just started researching a, a bit. And I do believe that we’re so much more than just who we are. We’re our mother, our grandmother, our great-grandmother. And, and it goes back and back and back in time.
And there’s a communication if you’re open to it, that will kind of guide you. In this way. I wish that I was a clearer channel for communication because I think I’m probably blocking off knowledge that’s available to me that I don’t know how to access yet. But, you know, teachers present themselves and, you know, I know someone will come along and help me in that process too, but I, I really do believe that there is a collective consciousness that whether we consciously tap into it or whether it taps us on the shoulder and says, here I am, you know, deal with me. It’s there. And I recognize it. I took Lorna Crane as an Australian artist and she had a brush making workshop online. And just the, the feel of taking fibers, feathers, hair and binding them, binding them on sticks to create paintbrushes, you know, I just felt connected to an ancient way of doing things that I hadn’t done in the past. But, you know, the act of doing it Sure. Became familiar to me.
Do you, do you think that that’s why so I feel like art, visual art even music and theater and can make a person, make an individual, a viewer tap into something that they’re not necessarily aware is, is in their own body or mind or heart at the time. Do you think that, that an artist is, is is assisting someone to tap into that creative consciousness that you’re talking about?
I think so. Both in that we’re allowing these energies, these ancestors to come through us because we’re opening ourselves. And also, you know, because we’re open, we’re able to reach in and, and seek these things out. So it’s, it’s a two-way street. We’re seeking a way into them. They’re seeking a way to us. It, it’s another interesting situation I had the other day. There’s a huge fire in California right now called the Dixie Fire, and it’s over 750,000 acres, still burning for the past month and a half. My cabin and I have an art studio up in the mountains, is right there in the fire. And it’s funny because the fire’s weaving all around and the cabin still stands very strange, but I’m glued to news feeds about fire. So one night, late at night, I was listening to a firefighter point out every individual home and whether or not it was still standing, and I’m saying, this is on my street, I know where it is.
That whole town at Greenville that burned down, that’s the city at my town. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So then he, he goes through all of the fire news and then he says, and we had a ceremony the other night, and I don’t know if you believe in, in this or not, and if not, you just can turn me off right now. <Laugh> there, there’s a lot of myu native American mau there, and I guess they had a ceremony the other night where they were creating portals for the spirits to be able to pass through so they wouldn’t be trapped. I thought, this is fantastic. Now, this gentleman wasn’t a, my, he was a, a Caucasian gentleman, but he so understood what was happening with the spirits. And in 2007 we had a fire. The same thing happened up in the mountains. It wove all around us and our, our place stood.
And when I went back and everything around me was burnt down, I was horrified at the spirits from the trees and the animals that were flying around and so confused and so displaced freaked me out. And the fact that there are people that will consciously, you know, guide the spirits in ways that they can pass through Hmm. Into a another dimension that’s more comfortable for them or give them a landing or a place. So I think that’s just a great illustration of sort of what happens we’re these vessels that, you know, we become the portals for the spirits to, you know, pass back and forth between us. And, and they give us this gift of this, this wisdom that, where did that come from? How could I have known? Anyway, if you don’t believe in all of this, you can just turn me off right now. Cause <laugh> I believe it. I believe
That’s awesome. I, I
F Kennedy believes that I know <laugh> company.
Yeah. I, I think it’s really interesting because I definitely believe that we are all connected and we, you know, we live on this web together. And I think that what’s so wonderful to me about art is that it’s this, it is this true tool for connection. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> with yourself. Right. With the past, with the present, with the future, and with each other. But you have to be open to it.
People are very, very, very afraid of it because they’re afraid of being uncomfortable. And so you have to get past that part when you’re uncomfortable with art and what it does to you. And then it’s so powerful. It’s so
Powerful. Yeah. There are many times that students will start to cry, the emotion becomes really strong and they’re not sure why they’re crying. Sometimes when they’re making the art, sometimes when they’re talking about their art and sometimes when they’re looking at someone else’s art, it happens quite often. But I see art as a spiritual practice because we’re really pushing ourselves to our limits and, you know, it, it’s always a test. And we really don’t know the outcome. When you take a painting that you love and, and, and for those people who paint, they realize when you paint, it’s almost like you’re putting yourself out there. This is me, you know, put myself out and, and, and I’m right there and I like every part of it, but it may be a good painting, but not a great painting. And if you wanna push yourself into greatness, you’ve got to take a chance of destroying what you love and resurrecting it. And it’s a, a really tough practice and a really exciting practice. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed. But I think the more you practice it, the more comfortable you get and the more success you’ll have.
Yeah. That’s horrible. Great. Aren’t as alchemy, right?
Yeah. my question is like cuz there’s a lot of, like the fires happening, afghanistan’s happening, you know, there’s all this chaos and trouble in the collective consciousness right now. How do, how can people use art to heal from that or to, to face it or to alchemize it, you know what I mean? To process it?
Yeah. How to transform it into something positive. Yes. there’s a couple of things. Sometimes it’s very simple. It’s just getting your mind off of it. Turn off the news, go to the studio, get involved in your artistic process, and it disappears for a few hours. Other times your intention can be, I want to transform this, I wanna heal this. I wanna paint about the beauty. I wanna paint about the power of nature, not only for destruction, but for good, for the beauty, for the simplicity, for the harmony. And, you know, honestly, I think in my own work that’s a big motivator for me to paint about the harmony in nature and the simplicity in nature. So those are a couple of ways. And then I went, went to a gallery this morning. They were installing a show, it was called Poses, A Pocket Full, it said the Gearbox Gallery in Oakland.
And it’s curated by an artist named Ruth Santi, who’s also an educator. It was the most uplifting show I walked in. Everything is flowers, and they’re kind of anthropomorphic. A lot of ’em are sort of human and they have personalities, they’re kind of goofy and fun. And I just walked in, I was like, wow, I love this. It’s such a break from the news. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, it’s alive. And it’s showing me the, a gentler side of nature. Whereas the Dixie fire is a very fierce side of nature. And it’s funny, I don’t really think that we’re imposing this on nature. I, I, I know that the fire itself to me feels like nature rising up and saying, I’m really off. And I don’t know if anyone has kids or grandkids that watched Moana. My grandson watched it 10,000 times and it’s a Disney movie, but it’s in, in Hawaii.
And there’s this mother nature and, and she’s, her heart’s been taken from her by Maui. And the whole goal is to get the heart back to her because she’s destroying everything. Everything’s dying, nothing will thrive. They’ve gotta give her heart back. And a brave little girl, of course, you know, goes and puts the heart back and then things are green again. But she’s so fierce, this mother nature, she’s so fierce when they confront her and she reminds me of the fire. So I see the fire having this persona of mother nature and she’s destroying herself too. It’s a strange destruction, but she’s rising up with this message like, I am really, really mad and you are mistreating me and, and I’m way more powerful than you are, so don’t even fool with me. And so, in a way, and this may sound so strange in, I don’t wanna offend anybody who’s been so adversely affected by this fire, but in a way it’s kind of a privilege to experience Mother nature in this horrifying fury because it makes me respect nature all the more.
And I know there will be regeneration, maybe not in my lifetime, but it will happen. Hopefully she’s angry enough that people are going to pay attention and maybe do things a little differently if we all just do something a little differently. I found out about product this weekend that just fascinated me as painters. There’s a amount of guilt that we have because we’re, we’re use, I use acrylic paint, it’s plastic, it’s, it’s a nasty stuff. And then you’re washing your brushes in the sink. What’s gonna happen to the water? Well, I was at a retreat of doing a workshop in Santa Fe and she was on the septic tank. So she said, we can’t wash our brushes in the sink. I have a system. So she did have us wash our brushes in a, a bucket with water. Then you take the water and you put it in another bucket.
Then she had a product called Crash. Have you guys heard of that? No. Crash. Crash <laugh>, you know, I hate to endorse it because there may be bad things about it that I’m not aware, but I was fascinated. It takes the paint particles and drops ’em to the bottom of the bucket. Oh, then you pour the clear water off and you’ve got this sludge in the bottom. And she said she’s gonna reconstitute the sludge with like a, a, a polymer medium and turn it into a particular gray color. Wow. I thought, oh, maybe this is a step in the right direction for us acrylic painters who deal with the guilt of we’re messing things up.
Right. Yeah. I liked, I like that. And this idea of, you know take a, take a take a break if you need to just stay healthy, but use art to sort of have a conversation with reality in a way because the fire’s not going anywhere. Afghanistan’s a huge mess. I mean, there’s a long list of things. Covid is still, you know.
So use the time in your daily art practice to either heal from it or create something that might move someone else in a positive direction. You know,
Yeah. The, also the power of the collective consciousness changing things. I have become acutely aware of how powerful my daily ritual of focusing on the fire, honoring the fire, respecting the fire, is in changing the outcome of the fire. It’s like I feel at times, like I’m, I’m talking to it and, and soothing it and calming it. And I think we can do that with Afghanistan. I think we can do covid too, as we collectively have the power to, you know, soothe these forces that are way bigger than we are. But if we’re all together, you know, working to make the world better, it is going to be, it is gonna have effect. And certainly art is a way that we pray.
Hmm. Oh, I like that
We pray. Thank you very much. That was an awesome conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today.
Any final thoughts, Diane, that you wanna share?
Oh, I’ve got a lot of ’em. You know, <laugh>,
We can go on for days and we always do. Another thing about connection, just very simple thing, is that artists are the coolest people. And all of a sudden, you know, I I I’ve felt my life around art. I, I have. And all of a sudden I look around me and I realize that all the people that I, I love and hold dear are artists. And I’ve created such a, a beautiful world for myself by surrounding myself with art and artists. So.
Beautiful. How can people get, I’m sorry, how pe how can people get in contact with you if they wanna take a workshop online, if they’re interested in learning some, some of your processes?
I have, I have a website that lists all my workshops. It’s i a n i workshops.com. So I n i is the name of my studio. I a n I n I lived in Jamaica for well over a decade. And it’s a Rastafari term. It’s, we talk about ourselves as I, and they talk about itself as I n I because we’re always with the higher power, which for them is Jah Ross. For me, it’s the higher power, but I’m not alone. I mean, it’s just what we’ve been talking about all day. I’m not working by myself. I’m working with the ancestors with the Muses and, and that’s, they are always with me. So it’s not just me, it’s this whole collective I n i i n i workshops.com.
All right. And I’ll link, we’ll link to it too, so people can just click on it. Thank you so much. Thanks everybody. And we’ll see you next time.