Life, Paint & Passion: Art as Transformation an interview with Stewart Cubley
Stewart’s approach to the expressive arts is a radical departure from the traditional product oriented focus of painting instruction. Instead of perceiving art as something to learn or get better at, he views the act of creation to be the deepest point of contact with our essential self, an environment where the process of facing the unknown color, form and image becomes a vehicle for entering into the mystery of one’s own being, a tool for liberation and awakening. The following are excerpts taken from an interview with Stewart in October 1998 by Zara Heartwood for Shared Vision Magazine in Vancouver, BC. In it Stewart describes his unique approach to creative expression and spirituality.
ZGH: I remember what fun I had finger painting in kindergarten. Then something happened. By first grade I knew I wasn’t talented and wasn’t interested in art or painting.
Stewart Cubley: Yes, we come to believe we don’t have talent. We need to recognize that the way we shut down around our creativity at an early age affects us for the rest of our lives.
ZGH: Where does the urge to create come from?
Stewart Cubley: People have an incredible thirst for wildness. That is the source of the need to create, the desire to participate in that wild freedom that is our true nature.
ZGH: What kills the wildness?
Stewart Cubley: For one, expectation. When you expect something specific you won’t get it. If you listen, dealing with the disappointment around not getting what you thought you wanted can be the doorway to a new experience of transcendence. Something larger is happening at the very minute you let go into it.
ZGH: Let go into the void?
Stewart Cubley: The void is the location of our frustration, our fear, and our rage as well as our spirituality. It has a voice and a gift for us if we can learn to trust it through exploration. Just daring to paint an ugly, unacceptable painting can be the beginning.
ZGH: Daring is in short supply in this culture.
Stewart Cubley: Daring is discovering. There is something delightful in it. By dropping inhibitions you get to experience the places you fear but secretly want to go. For example, people panic when their painting looks too chaotic, too busy. They want to draw it together using a unifying theme or color. Or they want to simplify it. Instead I tell them to make it more chaotic. Doing that, they suddenly enter into a powerful stream of energy and are swept by a current which is no longer afraid of the content.
ZGH: Are there goals of this process?
Stewart Cubley: The process is the goal. It’s not about being good. It’s about Being.
ZGH: Usually when you go to a workshop, other people, students in the workshop, comment on what you do. Here it would be the paintings. Do you encourage that?
Stewart Cubley: No. Other’s comments on your creation aren’t valid in this setting.
ZGH: Is that because judgement will bring you back to the art world?
Stewart Cubley: The art world reflects the larger world. It’s all about product. It identifies us with the content. Self definition is not self discovery. The artifacts of the journey are not the journey. Here, the process is the goal.
ZGH: Do you analyze the paintings with the students?
Stewart Cubley: No. Interpretations are an escape from feeling. Everything that can be expressed creatively is reasonable and doesn’t need analysis. If you start analyzing you become blocked by your interpretation. You lose your freedom.
ZGH: How do we get our freedom back?
Stewart Cubley: By becoming aware of our tendency to know too much. We must rediscover our innocence and enter the mystery. How exciting it is not to know what things mean. We must go beyond, "If I don’t know, it means I’m a failure."
ZGH: Does forgiveness have a place in this?
Stewart Cubley: Forgiveness pervades. When we look around the room at the paintings, we sometimes feel that every body else is doing great except ourselves. To forgive means to accept our own voice, our own images, our own colors. Forgiveness is the force that allows us to transcend the rules, to go beyond what we thought we were, to allow our wildness to be born.
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