How making art teaches us to pay attention

My life deserves my attention. Your life deserves your attention. I know this, you know this, we know this. But still, even with all our pop culture talk of mindfulness, how much of life’s beauty do we miss because our minds are caught up in frivolous comparisons, self inflicted anxieties or numbing passifiers?

William Meredith, a renowned American poet, observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that he did not pay attention.

That he did not pay attention to his wife, his children, his family. That he did not pay attention to his friends, his creativity or his health. That he did not pay attention to the gift of each ordinary day but rather his mind was fixed on what he worried may or may not be and what had or hadn’t happened.

I am not here to promote the latest fad in meditation or a self help book on mindfulness.

I am here to give you some free, life experience advice, if you want to learn how to pay attention to the life you have.

Make Art.

That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just make art.

The palette of a painting I did of Mary.

Have we ever considered that perhaps “time waits for no man” because no man waits to take his time?

Art stops time. When you take the time to draw or paint what you see around you, or even simply what you feel, you see and feel things as they really are. Instead of focusing on what may or may not be or what has or hasn’t happened, by taking the time to make art, you bring yourself back into the present moment. And as I have come to learn, in the words of Julia Cameron, “in the exact now, we are all, always, all right”.

A very quick sketch I did while visiting Oupa Hendrik.

Art provides a means through which you tell your story. Life is a series of moments, each a piece of the puzzle. The only way to complete that puzzle, is to have all the pieces. By making art, you record what you’re living and feeling now, so that you can learn from it later. As you take in each moment, you collect each puzzle piece so that that eventually you see and understand the bigger picture.

Beautiful leaves I sketched a few years ago on a beach holiday.

Making art centered around your life experience makes that experience all the more valuable. When you sketch, paint or doodle it is like you are framing that moment of life, celebrating it for the masterpiece it truly is. That moment of life, once recorded as art, will always stand out as a moment you lived. A moment of attention.

Art is born in attention and attention is born in the making of art.

A sketch of one of my favourite cacti.

All you need is a pen. And if you’re reading this on a screen you probably have a couple of those lying around, drying up.

In closing I have a favourite quote of mine by Henry Miller –

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.

Pay attention and make art.


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