Despite a piercing pain at my right temple, I decide to go to class. My friend Judie picks me up. It’s Sunday afternoon and traffic on Lake Shore Drive is light. Downtown we easily find a parking place near the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It's my very first art class. I find myself in a large room filled with leisure artists standing at tall easels, holding skinny sticks of vine charcoal.
Assignment #1: Our instructor tells us to draw a circle.
I touch the tip of the charcoal to a sheet of 18 x 24 newsprint. Moving in a loose clockwise direction, I quickly make a circle. Zip. A big bold circle. I step back and wipe my dusty fingers on my blue jeans just as the instructor stops at my easel.
“Ah, very primitive,” she declares.
Too stunned (and fearful) to ask her what she means, I just blink.
Primitive? Raw? Unskilled? Bad?
Fast Forward: I'm in Qigong class with my teacher Grand Master Nan Lu, meeting by Zoom twice weekly since the Pandemic. Master Lu is teaching us to move our bodies in circular motions and to connect our rotating ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows and shoulders to the consciousness of the circle. I connect to the memory of the primitive circle comment.
Even without asking him directly, I know what Master Lu would say about the art teacher's critique. Of every life event he says, “It depends on how you want to see it.” OK. So how do I want to see it?
Primitive? Like unskilled? Like why don't you forget learning to draw?
Primitive like the cave painters? Primitive? Like bold and curious?
Circling back to revisit that memory, that primitive circle, I'm seeing now with new eyes. That hastily formed circle, that connection between eager heart and hand and paper, was just perfect ~ my perfect first step on my path of making art.
Tulips translate what my Qigong teacher Grand Master Nan Lu means when he says One Shot ~ One Kill. He is guiding us to show up ~ whether it's treating a patient, practicing Wu Ming Qigong, stirring the wok ~ with 100% quality, the best expression of who we are. He explains how any moment, this moment, will never be the same. Take Spring. Who you are this Spring is not who you were last Spring, is not who you will be next Spring. Don't wait. Nature doesn't wait. Boom.
Take the Tulip. Tulips illustrate what my painting teacher Neil Carlin says: engage the moment. Get down the optical boundary. Paint in the light mass and the shadow mass. Don't hesitate. The petals will move. The shadows will move. Bloom.