May 10 2012
On a week bookended by a beginning guitar class at McCabe’s Guitar Shop and a painting retreat in Encino, I was buffeted by a key challenge of the reinventing Boomer. The guitar classes were held in a room that does triple duty as concert hall, classroom, and showroom. All manner of stringed instruments ranging from ukulele to classic Fender electric guitars to handmade mandolins fill the walls. The classes are also packed with instruction on technique and practice drills. In contrast, at Master Rassouli’s painting retreat in Encino, the opposite approach is taken, no technique–nada, his approach is to inspire free expression. The empty, cavernous, multi-purpose, room fits this method perfectly.
Each class was a stretch for me. The guitar class pushed me beyond my capacities to absorb the chord changes, fingering, and timing of the guitar. I ended up getting more and more frustrated by the minute. It came to a head when I just shut down and stared at the sheet music, unable to move my hands. At the painting retreat, prepared to paint another masterpiece with new canvas, new brushes, and ample acrylics, I spent the day bobbing around like a castaway’s bottle in the sea with no direction. Between these polar opposites is the sweet spot of growth/ learning in the creative arts.
Skill development in the arts can be highly satisfying. Whether playing a musical instrument, learning to draw or paint, writing a novel, learning to dance, later in life people are often called to the arts as a way of expressing themselves. They can be a vehicle for growth and achievement as well as simply enjoy of life. The big elephant in the room is that learning an artistic craft is often tedious, slow, and often difficult. When you have no natural talent for the field but always thought it would be cool to play piano (or draw or tango), it takes motivation and/ or passion to continue on past the unavoidable beginners’ stage.
Artistic pursuits are often seen to be outlets for self expression. Indeed, I have experienced great liberation from simple free painting. I have done abstract paintings for years and enjoyed it immensely. I had an exhibit of my work a couple years ago called, Expression as Liberation. It was great. The rush from expressing oneself is liberating and fun, but it is also fleeting. Like an intoxication that wears off the next day (if you don’t have a hangover). To sustain the high or the liberation, one must keep taking more of the intoxicant, but in artistic pursuits the high fades overtime without craft, without skill. What is missing is the satisfaction of achievement.
In art, the ‘high’ of flow or engagement in the moment is exciting. To keep that high one must slog through the rough terrain of building skills through drills. Spoken word artist, Adwin David Brown says it this way, “repetition, repetition, repetition, and then flow.”. The bliss of spontaneous creativity comes after many hours on the free throw line at the gym, drilling forehands with a practice partner, and swinging in the batting cage. Miles Davis, the master improviser, said he practiced the scales every day.
When we entered our first adulthood we were fresh canvases, open to learn new stuff and the long hours of repetition are not so daunting. Brain scientists have determined that the human brain is not fully formed until around 28. After we have filled in the spaces of our brain patterns (science reports that we do use most of our brain, contrary to pop psychology) learning is a bit more daunting. At a mature age we have to retrain part of our minds to learn new skills. That takes effort. Deep satisfaction from achievement is possible with patience and a carefully designed plan for sustaining the growth. Art done for the quick high, is as ephemeral as last night’s drunk. My personal mantra on climbing this mountain in the second adulthood is: Show up, be mindful and do it, (over and over and over again).
A lifelong L.A. resident, he is known for his relentless creative nature. Ran advocates seeking, finding, revealing, and sharing one’s uniqueness. After a long and notorious (often accused of being ‘innovative’) career in public education where he rose to become a high school principal, he leapt into a new life dedicated to creativity. So far, his career in the creative arts has produced, an exhibition of his paintings, Expression As Liberation, a book of poetry, Expression Is Liberation, and a book of essays, Creative, Collaborative, Cagebreakers. His regular blogs can be found at www.livingthedreamdeferred.blogspot.com. His handbook for Boomer ‘refirement’ Firebird: A Guide for Conscious and Free Retirement will be published in the Fall ‘2012. He asserts that the time has come for Boomers to live their youthful ideals for community, the environment, for freedom, for justice, and for fun. Ran has Masters degrees in School Administration & Mass Communications and an BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley.