Sculpture garden at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Sculpture garden at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

In 2001 I spent a weekend in Denmark with 3 friends. We spent Sunday morning in the sunshine visiting the Louisiana modern art museum 40 kms north of Copenhagen. The setting was beautiful, right on the coast with views over the water to Sweden. One of my friends said “this place is beautiful, its a pity most of the art is so crap.”

I understood her point.  We had walked through room after room of “art” that my 6 year old daughter could have produced.  There were a few pieces that were inspirational, but on the whole, the collection was childish scribbles.

The four of us ended up taking 2 different positions.  2 of my friends were of the opinion that art had to be “difficult to produce”.  One should see the piece and marvel at the talent and the hard work of the artist.  Works of Turner, Michelangelo, Caravagglio, Van Gogh are art.  Childish scribbles are not.  Advertising is not.

Myself and the third friend had a different view.  “Art makes you reflect”.  Anything can be art, but it must make you stop and think.

The Collection at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
The Collection at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Coomaraswamy says that “art is the making of things well”.  This is independent of category.  The factory worker is capable of art, the technology consultant can create art, the woodworker can create art, the painter can create art.  It is the intent to make things well that makes them art.

James Joyce divided art into two categories: “Proper art” and “Improper art”.  In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce says that “proper art” is static: it holds the observer in a moment of awe and wonder.  Improper art is kinetic: it induces an urge into the observer, either of desire for the object (a sexy body) or what the object represents (status, power), or of fear of the object (Satan) or what it represents (going to hell, losing my health, losing my money).

Proper and Improper Art

All advertising is improper art – it is specifically designed to induce an urge that will lead to the purchase of a product.

An object that I want to have because it is beautiful, because it is rare, because it is highly valued by society – is improper art.

An object that makes me feel ashamed because I do not have the talent of the original creator – is improper art.

An object that depicts a beautiful family and I want to have a family like that – is improper art.

This week my friend John described how, as a child, he would take a battery-powered torch and point it into the night sky.  He would switch it on, then off.  He would stop in awe and wonder as he contemplated the idea that the light he sent out would travel out into space, for ever and ever.  In this moment of contemplation, he would open up to awe of the universe and wonder at its vastness.

When I first listened to Pachelbel’s canon (here is a wonderful orchestral version conducted by Sir Neville Mariner on spotify) it has the effect on me that the torch had on John.  I remember putting my father’s massive headphones on when I was 9 years old and hearing this tune for the first time.  I was entranced by its utter perfection.  I could imagine no improvement or no change that could possibly make it more powerful.  It just held me still (yes, it held a 9 year-old still for 6 minutes) with a sense of gratitude that I had found it.

What is your Proper art?

What stops you in a moment of awe and wonder?  What object, what experience, what person gives you this opening up of perception?

References

 

Time after time I see promising young athletes reach the professional teams, and they don’t make it.  Time and time again I see someone do well in the good times, but then allow one small setback to avalanche into a total personal, business and financial collapse.

Other times someone struggles through the youth ranks, shows no extreme talent, but when they reach the professional team they excel.  Or, a friend uses a small personal crisis to multiply their productivity across all aspects of their life.

What differentiates those that cope with those that do not?

Resilience: Mental Toughness

How do you cope with setbacks?  How do you deal with the blows that life deals you?

Photo Credit: ecstaticist
Photo Credit: ecstaticist

The 5 levels of Resilience

The five levels of individual Resiliency are:

  1. Able to maintain emotional stability
  2. Able to focus outward: Good problem solving skills
  3. Able to focus inward: Strong inner “selfs”, self-belief
  4. Deliberately practiced procedural habits
  5. Be Water my Friend

Resilience Means Adapting to Adversity

Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain, but you’re able to keep functioning — both physically and mentally. Resilience isn’t about ignoring it, stoic acceptance or lonely heroics. In fact, being able to reach out to others for support is a key component of being resilient.

Resilience and Mental Health

Resilience offers protection from many mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Resilience can also help offset factors that increase the risk of mental health conditions, such as lack of social support, being bullied or previous trauma.

9 Tips to improve your Resilience

If you’d like to become more resilient, consider these tips:

  • Make every day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
  • Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with needed support and acceptance in both good times and bad.
  • Write it Down – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. You might write about past experiences in a journal to help you identify behavior patterns.
  • Maintain Hope – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
  • Take care of your Health – Include physical activity in your day. Find a night time pattern that allows for good sleep. Eat consciously.
  • Be Proactive. Eat the frog first.
  • Playfulness and Pause. Rest your mind and let it wander through imagined worlds. Mindful imagination can reduce stress (and it improves your immune system).  Play games and act like a kid.  YouTube videos about Goats Shouting Like Humans are stupid, but they do make me laugh insanely.
  • Embrace Creativity Regularly. Participation in music and dance, can have a significant effect in building resilience.
  • Use Procedural Skills –  take advantage of the “procedural learning” part of your brain. Keep practicing the skills you’ve mastered by repetition – like playing piano, ping-pong or drawing pictures. Rote-learned information is what school focussed on – but today it’s all Google-able.  Forget it.  Focus on your procedural skills. These should be exercised and enhanced every day.

Resources:

I hate the feeling of being overwhelmed.  It tends to hit me about 2 or 3 in the morning.  I wake and can’t fall back to sleep.  I go through the motions of little bits of meditation, of focusing on breathing…  but all for nothing.  I am not going back to sleep.  My inner battle is not going to give me peace.  I get increasingly frustrated with myself in a vicious self-reinforcing spiral of emotional turmoil.  Where is all the efforts I have put into finding myself, accepting myself here now at 3 in the morning when I really need it?  What is the point of practicing techniques of mental discipline, of searching for peace of mind if these tools fail me when I really need them?

At this point, I get up, go downstairs and get to work on something.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all the work that remains to be done?  Overwhelmed because too many things have become urgent all at once?

Overwhelm comes from over-thinking.

If I am in the moment, 100% focussed on the task in hand, I have no time to over-think – and I feel no overwhelm.  When I am churning and multi-tasking, then my wheels begin to spin out of control and I over-think.  I spend more time switching between tasks than I do focussing my attention at completing a task.

But sometimes the simple fact is that there is too much on my plate.  I am not just feeling overwhelmed, I have also allowed too many responsibilities to fill my time.  I need to say “No” to some of these tasks.