When I took an abstract painting workshop with Jane Davies last August, she encouraged us to make a mess with our paints and papers. Let it get “ugly,” she said. If your first response to this suggestion is surprise mixed with disbelief and a touch of resistance, join the club. But Jane persevered: do it with a sense of curiosity, exploration, a “I wonder what can come out of this” attitude. And she had a big grin on her face. She knew what she was talking about. Just look at her work and you’ll see what I mean (www.janedaviesstudio.com).
For most of us, the last thing we want to do is make a mess. We (and I’m including myself in this), usually want things to go smoothly, look good, and require minimal effort. Can you relate? Let’s just stay safe here….
You’d be amazed at how many experienced artists, when they’re first learning a new technique or process, have an initial reaction that their own work is crap and everyone else’s work is fantastic. Jane, in her inimitable style, showed us how to look at what we were doing in a nonjudgmental and open way.
It became really fun to throw caution to the wind by doing a mental “reframe”. In case you’re not familiar with the term, a reframe is a way of changing how you think about what you’re doing by changing the meaning of it. That might sound a bit confusing but that’s what you do. Using a reframe is common in NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), where the value of anything you do depends on your point of view. So as you approach a dicey situation, you can turn it into a creative project: take a situation that evokes discomfort or resistance, and put a new spin on it so you can get entirely different (better) results. And this is where inspiration can get in and transform everything.
I loved what Jane was showing us, not only because it enabled us to have a much better time in creating work that surprised and delighted us, but because her advice was relevant both to the artistic process and as an excellent way to live our lives on a daily basis.
When we’re willing to make a mess, either deliberately or by accident, and we manage not to freak out or try to hide it, we discover something new. Every single time. And what exactly is a “mess,” anyway? It’s our personal opinion - not an absolute truth - and that “mess” is associated with other yucky states of being, including dirty, untidy, shambles, chaos, confusion - and who among us wants to let the world see us in that situation? Everyone would see that we were really incompetent failures and no one would want anything to do with us.
Maybe that’s a bit on the extreme side, but I’m guessing you can relate to what I’m talking about. Degrees of resistance to making a mess run from mild discomfort to out and out panic. Years ago when I was taking art classes using techniques I’d never used before, I’d actually start to feel nauseous and would go into a panic. I didn’t want to look like a non-artist. And looking back on my life, I could see a lot of situations where not wanting to look foolish or incompetent prevented me from learning and growing. What we can see in hindsight, if we’re lucky, can inspire us to new behaviors going forward.
When we’re willing to make a “mess” - we’re willing to see what we’re doing as an experiment: it’s not the final outcome, it’s simply a stage in the process that we’re engaged in. So it’s in that “mess” that new possibilities exist. There’s a saying that goes like this: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end”. If you’re brave enough to not let that “mess” be the end, if you’re willing to make it even messier, you’ll be able to see new possibilities - and take action on them - that will make you feel alive and inspired.
So, it all comes down to a matter of interpretation. And we can change how we interpret what we do or what we’re faced with. If you’re feeling that your reaction to making a mess (or even being a mess) is a bit stale, that it’s keeping you small and well, boring, then you’re one step closer to having fun in ways you can’t yet imagine.
What areas in your life are you willing to make a mess of? If you want help doing that, contact me here.