How can art help you move through fear?
How can art help you move through fear?
Transcript from the Take an Art Break Podcast Episode
Okay. Got it.
Okay. We are here. Yay!We made it.
Good for us!
Yay. So this is Lauren and Lisa from Art Moving and this is our first podcast of 2023. We’re really excited because we have John Brandon here from the East Coast. And John, tell us a little bit about yourself and what is this John Brandon, the story behind that name.
Well, my name’s John Brandon Sills. I’m a professional artist living in Baltimore. Born and raised here. Been a professional artist over 30 years, maybe coming on 35 now. Just crazy in and of itself. The story about the John Brandon was, when I first started my career, I was going by John Sills and then my brother got married and my Mom’s maiden name is Brandon. And all my aunts and cousins who were probably in their eighties by this time, all of about, you know, five feet tall, got in a circle around me and they’re all my grandfather’s nieces and stuff. And, and we’re doing that. You get your talent from the Brandon side of the family, <laugh>. You have to use Brandon in your name. And Oh wow. They were terrifying. So ever since then I’ve been John Brandon Sills.
Oh, that’s good. Way to respect your family and your elders. That’s good.
That’s good. It felt like survival at the time.
<Laugh>, we can call it respect now. <Laugh>. Solike we always do, we always have a question that we start withasking, and today we wanted to ask you how can art help you get through fear? And so just roll with it and see how that goes.
I mean, I find art, I mean, it brings me back to my concept of art, which is that it’s an experience mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and it’s an expression, and the experience originates and generates from myself. Okay. And that if I want to enlarge and expand and be, be genuine with my art, then I have to look within myself. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> for that inspiration, for that source, for that truth. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And during that process, or the beat, the, the fundamental aspect of that process was, the first thing I had to do was recognize how afraid I was. Mm. And it goes back long before I was an artist. It was a learned response, you know, a Pavlovian response. There’s things you’re taught when you’re a kid that you don’t even know you’re being taught. Yeah. Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And there were things like, I’m not good enough.
I don’t deserve, I’m not one of those people. Not me. Any type of, any form of self negation. AndI’ve had a meditative practice for 25 years now. And that process of quieting the mind, going within, going within to recognize that much of my life was based on fear. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, it was based on the fear of loss or the fear of not getting, but fear was the fundamental energy of whatever it was I was doing. Thinking, feeling, believing. I read in a book one time, fear is false evidence appearing real. Yes. And so for me to say, if that’s false, then well then what’s true? To first allow my fear to not dictate my experience, fear is that which negates controls our limit. It says, I won’t, it can’t, not me.
Mm-Hmm. You know, which speaks which is false. It’s just false. Yeah. And the ultimate, I can’t say the ultimate, that’s a little dramatic but one of the primary experiences I had was, this would’ve been maybe about 2010 in 2009, my fiance passed away from cancer. And so in that period afterward, I was doing a lot of meditating, dealing with grief, dealing with health, dealing with fear. You know, a lot of, you know, what do I do now? Yeah. You know, all the plans just went. Yeah. Right. And in one of my meditations I was using as the fundamental inquiry, the statement from the Judeo Christian text, let it be done unto you as you believe. Hmm. And looking at that as if that is a statement of truth, if that is a statement of the nature of creation, you know, my creative essence, well then what do I believe about me?
Really? Now, what do I tell myself? I believe about me. I’m great. And doesn’t everybody wish they were me <laugh>? You know, rather, what do I really believe truly? And so I sat with that and one of the first things I believed was I was going have to teach to make a living because I wasn’t good enough to make it from the sales. And that was an accurate representation of what my life was at that time. That was exactly my life. I had to teach to make it. And for me it’s always, the inquiry is like, well, why do I believe that? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, and in, in going deeper and deeper. And you know, I believe revelation is like digging a well and you remove everything between you and the water. It’s a process of removal, not of doing, doing, doing. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Right. Andbut why do I believe that? And I knew I was talented. I could draw, I could paintbut I didn’t believe I was creative. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, that was the underlying issue. I knew I had talent, but I didn’t believe I was creative. So at that time, I painted like Monet or Georges or John Singer, Sergeant, I painted like them mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Cause if they were good then, or they were good, if I could paint like them, then I’m good.
But underneath that was the realization that they were good because they were being themselves.
They were being genuine, they were being authentic. And when I looked at that, I got down to what I said just a moment ago that I knew I was talented, but I didn’t believe I was creative.
That if I painted a John Brandon Sills, nobody would like it.
Yeah. I didn’t that.
Yeah. I didn’t have a voice that would inspire others, would motivate others, was uniquely my own.
That was the fundamental belief I had about me. I could draw, I could paint, but I wasn’t creative.
I want to interject. What is, what, in your inquiry, what did creativity mean to you? Like, if you could define it for our audience, what is creativity or what is it to be creative.
For me in my current belief system mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, creativity is the expression of my essence, my truth, my reality, my being a capital M you know, not the mental gyrations of society culture or what have you mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but rather the essence of my truth. My nature, if you will. True nature. Again, not all the nature of things that I was told by whoever that made up all the ideas about, you know, that comes after the phrase. I’m the kind of person that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, anything that came after that to me was false. It was a construct. It wasn’t, I like to say that I, I lived from all these old ideas and when I looked at it, I realized none of ’em were my ideas.
Other people’s ideas that I just chose to believe because, okay, if you say so, that’s the way it is.
Yeah. And to move out of that, that there is a way that it is, there’s no way in particular so and so ask myself what is it I desire now?
If, if this realm, this duality is about manifesting desires and experiences, which there’s a realm beyond that, but at this level what is it I desire? And I was looking at art, art, the general, and I felt like a lot of it was about “drama de jour.” People were painting problems, people were painting their angst. And I felt like anybody can paint a problem and anyone can paint their personal angst, but it takes an artist to paint a solution.
I I, I have to argue with that. I actually don’t think a lot of people can paint their angst and their stuff like that. I mean, because what I find interesting about this conversation is most of the people that we run into and the work that we do are the opposite. They are worried about the talent aspect of it. And I’m finding this conversation really interesting because it was almost like you’re like, I can do all that. I just can’t almost touch that source of my myself. Right. It feels like you had to go through this journey of self-awareness in order to reach that spot where you, it’s almost, you know, in art school, they would probably talk about finding your style. Right. That was sort of what I always struggled with in art school, is that I, I had no idea what my style was. I still really kind of don’tI think I’m the type of person that’s always on a sort of this mission of self-discovery. And so maybe I’ll never, I’ll never get there. But I don’t think actually a lot of people can I think a lot of people are afraid, like you were saying, I think they’re afraid of their own fear and their own angst, and so they’re not, you know, willing to almost touch that. Does that make sense?
Yeah. I, well, I mean, again, that’s the part about where fear is constricting and fear limits. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, the courage to move through the fear. And sometimes, you know, and at this point, you, I, again, my fiancé passed away before I met my current beautiful, amazing, wonderful kind girlfriend. And so it was a very dark time. And it was a time of deep self reflection. And so to get to those, you know, the essence of how do you move through fears, first off, what am I afraid of? Why? And am I willing to at least try to move through? And what occurred, it’s funny you should say that, that what occurred with the rest of this experience was sitting in that meditation, recognizing that I was afraid I wasn’t creative. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> meaning that I could inspire and touch others.
The mantra that came through is the answer is yes. You know, that “No” is in the universe of vocabulary we invented. No. That if I believe it, the answer is yes. And so that has been my mantra ever since. But having a mantra is meaningless unless I put it into action. Yeah. So what I did the very next day was go down to my studio, get the largest canvas I had, and just paint. I, I did this, I brushed my teachers off my shoulders, <laugh>, and I was as authentic as I could. And my style changed radically.
You know, but not by, by intellectualizing and figuring out my style just became, it was, it was authentic beingness. I just let my hand move on the canvas mm-hmm. <Affirmative> mm-hmm. <Affirmative> without any particular reason why. It just felt genuine, you know? And I didn’t worry about why I should do this first, and then I show this compositional arrangement is blah, blah, blah. I just was sort of that emptiness you hear about in, in, in many meditations and spiritual practice and then just allowed it to happen. You know? Which is a nice word, because by allowing it to happen, I’m saying I’m not, the fear would be what I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna do this. Cause this is proven, it’s sort of stepping into the unknown. It’s, for me, it was a profound act of faith in whatever you choose to call it. I have no, you know, the, the dao that can be named is not the eternal Now
I’ve been through loss and grief too, and it’s an abyss, it’s something you don’t know until you, you touch it. Do you feel like it cracked you open to, to be, to have courage? Do you think you could have gotten there without that loss?
I think it provided the opportunity.
But there’s no, I mean, it really comes down to personal choice, I believe. Yeah. Do I choose to use this to enlarge and go deeper, or do I use this to do something like wrong? You know, maybe grab another relationship to try and feel better. So I think that time of quiet reflection, you know a form of a rigorous self honesty
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Right. Yeah.
What do I really believe?
I think it’s interesting that you say that you’re like that most people kind of at the time or most artists are painting their, or portraying, their angst almost their fear mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and, and you’re attempting to jump to move beyond that mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and get to the solution. So it seems to me that you’re trying to represent what it looks like to move beyond fear. Is that correct?
That’s what it is for me in my personal experience. And one thing to add to that is that in this meditation, my fiancé came through nd she made the statement, “We are one, we can never be separate.” So that became what I choose to paint the solution oneness. That’s how my style changed, because before it was all these very standard impressionists looking plein air paintings. And then the problem became was how, how does one get?How does one paint oneness? This is the artistic challenge of the creativity. How do you do that? And the, the experience that came out of this, and the, the decision I made came to me after I just started painting, was, well you remove everything that separates, it’s not by adding something, but it’s by the removal of it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And so what did I do? I started removing edges. Okay. Because edges separate. And so the sky blended into the trees. The trees blended into the land, and it became an expression of oneness. And as I observe the world in my own personal belief system, that’s the solution. All the problems we have arise from believing that separation.
Right. Or believing we need to separate things in the categories and
Which not function of the mind. The mind does that on itself. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, the mind needs to be able to tell the difference between the grass and the lion’s face.
Right, right, right. Right. <laugh>, yes, please. Yeah. Right.
So in that sense, it’s, it has, it has a purpose. Yeah. It’s just being, shall we say, used for aspects for which it was not intended.
Yeah. So I find this interesting because a lot of it is, would you say that, it seems to me that it’s like you are going through this process of meditation, but also of like ponderance. It’s almost like you, you meditate, you make art, and then you ponder about it, and then you meditate. You make more art because you’re still very, the process still feels very thought based to me. Because you’re saying, you looked at it and you’re like, Nope, it’s still separate. So I need to, I need to do, I need to take the work further. I need to take my work, my personal work further, and then take the physical reflection of that further in terms of the painting.
That certainly happened as I chose to pursue this style. Ok. You know, but again, this style simply emerged. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, I had a concept, I had a vision of something I had seen in like 1997 or something, but I’d never painted it. Cause I classified myself and limited myself as I’m a plein air artist. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So that means I have to be on location, blah, blah, blah. All the, all the, you know, constrictions that come from that. So in this experience, I went down to the studio and I just painted that scene. You know, I had, I could visualize it in my head. So I just started painting. Didn’t turn out exactly like visualization, but it was the moving through the fear of I need a reference mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I can’t just make things up out of my head. I’m not that good. If I’m genuine and authentic, it won’t inspire people. And again, the funny thing about it was the paint. The painting was so large. I had to, my art school, my studio was in an art school, you know, adult art classes mainly. And the painting was so big that I had to do it in the main classroom. And everyone kept coming up going, “That’s different for you.”
And of course you’re like, eh, different, good. Different, you know. So every day it was, am I gonna commit to this? Am I gonna commit to this? And and then after that, there was the contempt aspect. Thewhat now aspect that I always think that, I’ll say that creativity is always answering the question. “Now What?”
Oh yeah. I’ve done this Now what uhhuh <affirmative>. And my old ideas were, well, you go from here to there. Yeah. And that there are no parameters there are no specific answers or better answers to that question. I then the other thing that is interesting is that having seen the piece emerging from me, if you will, it’s then the process of assigning meaning. What does it mean? Meaning. And that in my past I about, I had been told what things mean. Yeah. This occurs, it means that you do this, it means the other thing. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> and coming into the space of infinite creation is that meaning is something I make up. Meaning is not intrinsic, but rather is a creation that I impose past ideas, upbringing, religious concepts, whatever. I oppose that on the experience rather than allowing the meaning to evolve for myself. And that brought me back to “left to my own devices, I’m bad.”
Oh boy. Yeah.
You know, that if I come up with it, it’s gotta be bad. It has to be evil or whatever negative connotation that I can’t find a written beautiful light in myself. I am not the light, I am anything but the light. And to allow myself to be the light.
So is is that like a constant thing that you have to constantly focus on? Or do you feel like you’re there now? Right. Is it something that creeps?
I would say my manifestation, shall we say is inconsistent
I don’t do it perfectly, but I think imperfection is part of perfection.
The fact that, you know, we want to judge even the idea of perfection itself is a judgment. Cause the idea
Oh, for sure. Yeah, yeah,
Yeah. Because it includes this, but not that.
You know, the oneness contains all of it, the light and the mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and to again, to remove judgment.
Foundation. And the idea of I know, I know, I know, I know. See omnipotent of playing. God,
I, it’s, it’s a beautiful conversation. I’m curious aboutyou said creativity is inspiration. So the people that now do your work and collect your work, do they get that? Or is it kind of like a, a subtle revelation for them? Or do they know that Wow, this is, I’m, I’m, I’m witnessing unity consciousness on some level
They do. Because I don’t have a problem talking about it. Generally the way I hear it, and I’m sure many other artists, and hopefully there are many other artists, listen, listening mm-hmm. <Affirmative> generally have it referred to as “There’s just something about it.” There’s just something there. And I heard a friend of mine say, when the divine shows up, since we, I have no word for it. We call it something.
I like that
Something happened. And and so I hear that a lot. And I have people, you know, friends of mine and collectors whowe have these discussionsbut they felt it right away. It’s when we seek to, to label it with a word that they began to default. I provided the word. And again, the word doesn’t define it’s, you know, again, the now that can be named is not the eternal now. We get hung up on the word. Right. The word is just an attempt to describe it doesn’t actually define it.
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. Right. And you’re, you’re more interested in the experience that someone has at that moment they see something.
Yeah. I’m more interested that they can go within themselves, feel it, recognize it, to recognize, to know, again, as themself, and then carry that experience when they go outside. And live in the world. That they no longer experience or perceive themselves as separate from anything else. Hmm.
Okay. So, yeah, go ahead.
No, no. I’ll just say it would change the nature of my experiences with you. Right. Because if I see you as me, why would I want to do anything negative or harmful?
Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. That’s right. That’s the, that’s the oneness. So the one, what would you, yeah, what would you say to someone who has recognized the fact that there’s sort of operating in a world of fear with their work or lack thereofwork. What would be maybe an initial step they could take?
I would, that’s why I like the mantra. The answer is yes. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, because it, it provided me a certain degree of comfort. Uagain, this is all sort of a faith-based experience. So,that if I take the action, because that’s generally the final,building block to moving through fear, is then putting that faith, that belief, whatever you wanna call it. Inaction. I had to go down and paint my, my very first firefly paint. I had to go do that. You know, because then that, what I’ll call the spirit spiritual experience is made manifest, meaning it appears in a physical form, you know, and I can see it and others can interact with it. But the, the experience of painting it is the self realization that the fear is false. But I can’t experience the falseness of a fear until I put something else into action.
Okay. So it requires like, because I think that it’s, we encounter a lot of people who won’t even like, kind of pick up that pencil, pick up that marker. Sowe’ve made up, we’ve created art breaks that don’t even involve pen or marker or paper or drawing. It’s more of like looking for shapes in natureand listening. Right. Turning the world around you into an orchestra. What if someone is not even <laugh> willing to do that action? We’re always, I’m always asking this question because I’m always curious and it’s like you can think of it in an art way. You can also think of it in a personal way. And I guess I’m answering my own question when it’s like, if you’re not ready to do it, it’s probably not gonna happen. I mean, is there a solution? Is it education?
Well, I mean, you say I, if you say you can’t, you can’t. Right. Words are creative. You’re a creative entity, you know, you are. That which is manifest is what we call physical. If your word is creative if you’re not willing, then I guess the question is, and this is where the self-inquiry, well why? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, why am I not willing? You know, and then it’s usually what it was usually for me was a fundamental fear about what others would think. Judgment and, okay. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. The other thing was, if I give it my everything and what if it’s bad, what if it confirms all those negative concepts I have about myself, you know? Right. What if it doesn’t inspire people? You know? And so be willing to move into that. And it, it’s a tremendously courageous act. It’s but you can do it in the choir of your own room. Nobody ever has to see it. <Laugh>.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
For me, what you’re facing is your own self-judgment. And we are our own, like, we’re, we’re really cruel to ourselves.
You have to confront that. I think that’s what you’re talking about, that judger, which resides, or that inner critic we call it. Right.
Right. The obstacles I place over it, you know, when I say digging a well, you know, when I’m digging a well to get the water, the water’s already there. Yes. You know, the taking the action doesn’t create the water. What I did was the removal of “I’m not good enough. It won’t work. They won’t like it, I won’t make money.” And even every one of those was a shovelful of fear, doubt, insecurity, inferiority. I am not, it won’t, you know, and it can be terrifying.
Yet my experience of it is that having made that effort and continuing to do the results are beyond script. Mm-Hmm. Hmm. <Affirmative>. And to experience the truth of my being, to sit in meditation and see that white light and recognize it as self is there, there aren’t words for it. But it changed my relationship to this entire realm of doing that love is not something I’m seeking. Love is what I am.
Ooh. I like that.
<Laugh>. And so that when I dug to the depth of myself through these fears, what I found was love. What we call love again, there’s no word for it. There is Buddha consciousness, whatever you choose to mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, no word described. There’s the saying is no thought is reached at no tongue’s tongue. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But it is what I am. And that, that is the oneness that we are all that. And so the benefit for me and others have done for me is maybe I’m seeking and, but I don’t have to seek alone. And I can sit with someone and they can say, I see you. And since I don’t doubt their love for me, I can use that to enlarge my courage and put myself in action. Because I believe in what you told me, not what I told myself.
That’s beautiful. I’m gonna answer your question a little bit, Lauren. Cause what you’re hinting at John is that if you can just taste that, that nectar of love, which doesn’t have a word. I mean, your life will transform. So if I’m fear-based and I know that’s out there, you know what I mean, that I can just, I can just even touch it for a moment in time. I mean, that would be the solution or the reward to just take action, take an art break, create. Right. Yeah.
I like, yeah. I like the aspect of if you can’t even get yourself to take an art break, because there is so much fear surrounding art for a lot of people then to ask yourself, why, why are you afraid of a marker and a piece of paper? Why are you afraid of a pen? It’s the why ladder. Right. You just constantly ask yourself, why. Well, why.
And even while, even while you’re alone, why are you afraid?
Ability to burn it.
Yeah, yeah. Rip it apart man, and then put it back together.
And now I have to acknowledge that in an earlier phase of my life, I loved my drama. I love the Oh, oh, I’m the tortured artist. Oh, I loved it.
Well, how are you today, John? Well, let me tell you. <Laugh>, you know, it was delicious. Yeah. It’s just when I got tired of it. It became stale and I just, it that inner just, I, I was done. You know? And so I had a friend of mine talking about spiritual seeking. He used to saymy friendStan would always say, it’s easy to surrender when there’s nothing left to defend.
<Laugh>. That’s interesting. Yeah.
Just that idea of, I don’t, it was such a fight. It was, it took so much energy and I just didn’t wanna do it anymore. Yeah. But the interesting part was that when I, I changed my mind, I am this, I am not that. That’s where the mind can play a role in this mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. I saw it, a path was already there. It’s just the mind that says that’s not the path.
Mind that says, if you go down that path, you could be hurt, you could be harmed, something horrible could occur. You know, it’s all a play of the mind. Yeah. And so it’s the mind that prevents the hand from moving across the path, you know? Yeah. But art doesn’t come from the mind. Art originates and won’t be. I, I call the heart and moves up and it’s shepherded by the intellect. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Now, is this line long enough? Is that value dark enough? But it doesn’t determine. Right. So we speak of, you talked about an artist. Inspiration. Well it comes from a Latin inspiration comes from a Latin in spirit. Cause it means in the spirit, <affirmative>. So an artist inspiration is what I call a spiritual experience. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. It’s not a thing. We think art is painting. Drawing poetry, music, film. We call ’em the arts. You know, art is an experience that is manifested, express, pushed out as painting poetry. But the art is within oneself. It is. We could call it our nature, our beingness. We are art.
Oh, for sure. That’s, yeah. Right up your alley, Lisa. And I, I think that what I, what I, my favorite, one of my favorite things about art, it just popped into my head, is that it’s a, because I’m interested in art as an experience, I’m all about that. But it’s something that is something that can happen over and over and over and over again. Right. Because you have this experience, you put it out on a canvas, someone walks in, they look at that canvas, they have an experience, they carry that with them the rest of their lives. And then there’s this just web of art and experience is just going over and over and over again. And that I think is the true power of art, right? Mm-hmm. Is the fact that it’s just this, it’s neverending experiences. Right. Because of someone willing to not be afraid and share their true self.
Right. You know, I mean, because one of my favoritegreatest influences his cave art. So before they were businessmen. Before they were politicians, before there were countries, before there were religions, there were artists. Yep. Right. You know, this, this innate aspect of the human being to express, to express itself, to communicate. Cause art is a means to communication. Yeah. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So I, I, when I was teaching, I would ask my students, what are you trying to say,
<Laugh>? Yeah. Yeah.
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> and and, and see clarity on that. So it has a, I would call it an infinite nature because here we have art from 45,000 years ago, still inspiring and creating awe today. Right. But today I would define it as timeless because it’s always experienced in the eternal moment of now there is no time to now.
It simply is. And so it fundamentally, it came down to me answering the question, what am I? Who am I? And I got to that question by removing and releasing all that I am not.
I like that. Ok. Wow.
When I think of the cave paintings, I think of, you know, when they put their hands on the walls, they said, I’m here. And that’s for me, what I’m circling this conversation is art is really the revelation that I am here in my true, authentic self. And to have the courage to stand in that is really brave. You know.
Very brave and we all have it. And what we do act to the oneness. Say you feel, you lack that courage. I stand next to you and say, I seek courage. I’ll stand here with you while you find your courage.
Wow. I love that.
And the love grows and the love grows and the love grows because the oneness. It’s not me helping you. There is no you to help. But I see myself in you. You see yourself in me. And I’ve moved through these fears. I will stand with you while you move through you because it is just a construction of the mind. It is false.
I think that’s what we at Art is Moving are really doing. That’s why we exist.
<Laugh>. <laugh>. I love it. Yeah. Wow. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
It’s a pleasure
I feel like I could talk to you for the rest of the day, but…
Thank you so much for being willing to have me on and overcoming any doubts or fears or whatever you might have had about having this unknown guy on here.
It’s been great.