A look into the inspiration behind the work.

Selfie - Sleeping

While we sleep we are the most vulnerable we can be during the day. It is something everyone must do or we will die. It is also that mysterious time when our brain offers up strange visions that can leave you wondering why you dreamed that.  There are many theories to how the brain works and why we dream from the metaphysical to the psychological.

What I know from personal experience is that it is a resource for creativity, as my brain is let loose for the night, it gets busy putting things together that I would dismiss during the day. The best time to gather that kind of information is in those moments between awake and asleep. They call that place on the threshold of consciousness, lucid dreaming.

I experience this on a regular basis and I pay attention to those moments, often hurrying to write down the idea to keep from losing the vision. Some of them are crazy and others are entertaining but useless. In one of those moments I came up with the idea of my Stroke of Genius game that has proven to be fun artistic game that I have been able to sell and share with friends.

This very short wonderful moment is a wellspring of original content taken directly from our lives. Artists throughout history have used this resource to entertain us with these visions. Edgar Allen Poe attributed the "fancies" he experienced "only when I am on the brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so," in his writing.

Even Tinker Bell in Steven Spielberg’s film Hook, “You know that place between sleep and awake, that place where you still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Peter Pan. That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

It is comforting to think that maybe a fairy is our tour guide for our most vulnerable moments rather than the Poe’s version of the raven.

The next time you stop and see a piece of art and wonder where the artist came up with that vision. It may have come from that moment between awake an asleep where unusual connections can be made and it was powerful enough that the artist believed they had to share it with the world.

What is the most remarkable dreams have you had lately?

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Selfie - Critique

An artist who tentatively shows another person the work that they do opens themselves to hear the critique of that audience. This can be a very difficult thing to do for the new artist, but for the experienced artist it is a way to monitor response.

Art is a form of communication. What an artist wants is a reaction. A good reaction can be just as rewarding as a bad reaction. The worst is when there is no reaction at all.

The artist spends their time and energy to create an image that usually says something deeply meaningful. It may be something bright and beautiful or it may be something dark and ugly. Either way the artist is trying to tell the viewer something not only about the artist but also about the viewer.

An artist friend of mine was creating pieces that were pretty dark and I would suppose most people would find them showing a general state of misery. While at an opening a woman walked into the exhibit and was visibly shocked by the images and announced, “These are demonic; they need to be taken down!”

Most people would have been offended by such a negative statement but my friend was elated! It was an honest emotional response to the pieces, exactly what was desired.

I think in today’s world we are bombarded with images through the media, news is only news when it is something out of the ordinary and it is usually presented with an emotive blanket that is meant to prompt a response as well. Is the effect of traditional visual arts getting lost?

What I wonder is, in our current agenda skewed environment, are we becoming numb to responding authentically to something created by a fellow human being? Does it have to pack a strong emotional punch that mimics the trending media?

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Selfie - Mischief

Being mischievous is one of my biggest pleasures. Joking with sarcasm, accusing my husband of crazy motivations for his otherwise thoughtful actions or forgetfulness, each playful comment usually responded to with equal or better mocking remark.  It is a little bit of spice that peppers our relationship.

After 23 years, we know each other pretty well and we no longer tip toe around each other. It is like an unspoken understanding that can only come from trust and understanding even when it appears we are being mean.

This easiness only comes from knowing each other well. We would not think of interacting with other people in such a manner. No one else in the world would understand the history behind the comment, why it came up at that moment or to divine the real meaning without a long explanation.

Along with this mischief is the knowledge that we have built trust and understanding over the years along with accepting our own strengths and weaknesses without expectation of change.  Even so, change is inevitable and we rejoice in each other’s personal growth and support each other in our failures. It is something you can’t build without years of work.

Considering the divorce rate and the number of couples we know who have more than 20 years under their belt at our age, we are an anomaly rather than the norm. Each of those years are worthy of celebration, gratitude and yes, a bit of mischief every so often.

This is what I see in this playful expression but art is about bringing yourself to the piece, which means you probably see something completely different. What does this expression say to you? Make it into a meme at http://meme-a-leivan.com

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Selfie - Moderation

They say that everything is good in moderation. But there are times when we just can’t seem to help ourselves, especially when it comes to the holidays. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a huge holiday like Christmas or a smaller holiday like St. Patrick’s Day the temptation to treat ourselves seems to get the better of us.  Do we get caught up in the jubilation of getting our friends and family together or do we just see it as an excuse to over indulge?

This can bring on feelings of undeserved guilt and anxiety. The way I see it, maybe we are too hard on ourselves, and we probably deserve a bit of a break from the daily grind, as long as we don’t make every day as a holiday. Going a little overboard is part of enjoying life. It can be opportunities to joyously unite with our loved ones and celebrate!

So go ahead and cut loose today – the day everyone has a little Irish in them. Have a cup o’ gold for me but don’t drink so much that you actually see leprechauns! But, do stay safe and make a smart plan for your activities.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

P.S. I redesigned my Meme-a-Leivan this weekend. It now has its own website Meme-a-Leivan.com and it is less complicated than the former one. This most recent piece along with most of the past pieces are available for you to use to accompany your pithy thoughts! I also added several sharing opportunities and not just Facebook! Go and check it out and have a bit of social media fun!

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Selfie - Expectations

We’ve all heard “You can please everybody!” No matter how true this is, somehow we run around trying to do exactly what is impossible to do. Doesn’t that just seem crazy?

How do we deal with this obvious a path to failure?

First of all we must ask ourselves, why is it up to us to make other people happy?

It would seem to me more often than not that when people have unreasonable expectations of us it is due to a limitation in them. Usually that would mean their inability to say “No” and to make their life easier, they shift the responsibly on you with the hopes that you have the strength to say it. How selfish is that on their part?  

This would include everything from the extreme of a husband that drinks and then blames his wife for him beating her as a result of an argument that happened at the bar.  To going out to dinner with your friend and that annoying companion, where you are expected to put up with the repulsive jokes the buddy always tells.

In either case it is the inability to say “NO” that keeps us and them in undesirable situations and it is our decision not to say it and we must bear the responsibility to ourselves when we do not have the strength to say “NO”.

Personal resolve comes easier if we can see the deflection for what it truly is. Then we can decide if pleasing that person is going to make ourselves happy.

There are always those situations that you must pick your fights and it can be easier to make someone pleased rather than making a stand. The important part is whether or not winning the battle or choosing not to let it slide is actually going to make our lives better.

Letting go and pleasing another can be rewarding as long as your recognize that it was your decision and push aside resentment for choosing to please another.

However, the path to happiness does not lie in defining yourself by how big of a doormat you are. Making a stand can be even more exhilarating and life affirming when you live for yourself rather than living in the shadow of other people’s expectations.

When it comes right down to it, as hard as it can be, when we live to make ourselves happy we have so much more to offer other people than the artificial duty of solving their selfish problems.

I think we all struggle with the balance of service to others and pleasing ourselves.

Where do you think this habit self-denial intention of trying to please everyone else comes from? 

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Selfie - Doorway Effect

You’re on a mission, things to do and little time to do it. You walk into a room only to experience: Oh man, what was I looking for?

Yeah, the Doorway Effect has struck again! Dang it!  

I’ve been a repeat victim of this little brain trick for the last few days and it is driving me crazy!

It is almost like we really live in the Matrix or in a Holodeck and as you pass through the door there are subtle shifts in the programing as we move from one room to the other. Somehow that little piece of programing defining your intention from the last environment has been lost in the recode even though it was important enough to move you to go get it.  Frustrating!

This is a phenomena is real according to Notre Dame Psychology professor Gabriel Radvansky.  It all hinges on the way the brain catalogs information and doorways are “event boundaries in the mind.”

Knowing that it is a natural way for your brain to respond really does nothing for you when you discover that you have completely lost your mission the moment you pass through a door, except maybe reassure you that you aren’t in the matrix and that you aren’t getting Alzheimer’s.

How do you deal with the Doorway Effect? 

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Selfie - Jinx

Have you ever had that moment when to look at the work that you have done and had a feeling that maybe you may have finally found yourself caught up on your “to do” list? Relish that moment as long as you can!

There is a jinx on getting things done. Not a life threatening black curse but a simple gremlin and you must be warned to avoid this frustrating little critter.

As you stop in that flash of elation and consider that you might just be able to add another item on the list. You might want to wait a day or two before expanding personal expectations.

When you approach your work with passion and drive the universe responds in kind by blessing you repeatedly, giving you more to do to fulfill your purpose.

I have to remind myself to stop and enjoy these moments of achievement because there is always more fun things coming through the door to keep me busy. I also have to remember that I have already plenty to do and there is no need in that moment of accomplishment to add to my “to do” list and possibly making it impossible to keep up.

The next thing I know I find myself in an overwhelm mode that no amount of planning will rescue, suddenly facing the horrifying abyss of failure to deliver the new plan. This is a state of affairs that is the most uncomfortable and will avoid if at all possible.

My days go so much smoother and my life is so much sweeter when I can remember those couple of things enjoying the down time. Then quickly realize why I do what I do and want to continue doing it and life can be fulfilling even when I don’t have a huge pile of things that have to get done. It also seems during that quiet time; the more creative I become and even discover ways to be more productive in less time.

Have you experienced the jinx on checking things off your “to do” list? If so tell me about it.

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Selfie - Silence

It would seem that no one is silent when it comes to social media, everyone has an opinion and these ideas are passionate and often aggressive. More often than not arguments begin with a simple misunderstanding of the intent of the person who typed the message. We have relationships that have been nurtured entirely online. We are presented with chosen carefully crafted personas of our “friends” and make quick assumptions from the text as presented. 

What we often miss is that we are bringing ourselves to the words. What may seem like a snarky remark can actually be a thoughtful remark, all depending on how we read the message and our personal passion for the issue.

How would you interpret this message? “You know when someone does that thing we all hate? Well, it happened to me AGAIN today! And I really need to complain because it just keeps happening and I really can’t give any details because that person may be reading this.”

It is impossible to know what the person experienced and to fill in the blanks we bring our own experience to the statement… Do you suppose that they had someone show up to an appointment late? Do you think that their coworker just sneezed all over their desk? Oh, man could they be talking about me, what did I do? How are we supposed to know?

In the world of social media, this kind of message is considered “vaguebooking” and deserves our silence. This kind of post is the scourge of the social media and the person who posts these kind of ambiguous posts is taking pleasure in getting attention while saying as little as possible. Essentially they are begging you to post a response for clarification. They do not care who responds to their post – all they want is it to be someone who is willing to join their pity party.

Occasionally we all can be caught doing a little vaguebooking. I would recommend that when you have real personal issues in your life that are important enough to voice them. Bring the problem up in person, face to face with another human being rather than seeking the impersonal sympathy of the faceless masses who are your “friends” in a virtual world.

What is your opinion (because I know you have one) on vague posts?

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Selfie - Signposts

Selfie - Signposts

There are many reasons an artist will turn to themselves as model. One of the most revealing is the exploration of the inner self.  Among the most well-known for using painting to reveal the human struggles within are artists Rembrandt, van Gogh and Kahlo. Using facial expressions, distinct brush strokes and lighting they expose their soul to the world.

Vincent van Gogh is as famous for his self-portraits he painted the majority, twenty-two of them, within two tumultuous years, 1886-88.  Overall he created 30 self-portraits in the latter part of his life. His pieces reveal a man probing for answers through his painted image during the most troubled part of his life.

In the portraits he captures a variety of emotions from astonishment, troubled, stillness and misunderstanding that seem to point to his tragic end. “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Head,” was created in 1889 featuring the self-mutilation in which we see his isolation and desperate desire to be understood, accepted and loved.

Today marks my own 31st self-portrait which is surprising to me because it seems like just yesterday that I committed to create this Selfie series. I have learned a lot about myself in the last 30 days and have found the process enlightening. I am discovering the infinite options for communication through the face. At this point I have no idea if I’m going to hit an end of the possibilities.

But somehow I know it is about so much more. It is becoming a search for self-identity and a study of the human condition in the digital age.

I have been asked how long I intend to continue the series and the answer is really unclear to me. The way the creative process works and sometimes you start and as you journey through the progression you discover what it is all about. I am still on the path and do not see an end.

Today I’m celebrating this mile marker of more than 30 paintings. The next mile marker is Rembrandt’s 90 pieces then following that would be Frida Kahlo’s production of 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. I’m not seeing it as a competition but as signposts of revelations. What would I truly learn about myself with more than 200 self-portraits? We will see.

Have you been following the last 30 days? Will you tell me what I’m revealing to you in this series?

You can see the all of them on my website at http://michelleleivan.com/collections/65720

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Selfie - Time Tangled

Selfie - Time Tangled

One question I get asked frequently is “How long did it take you to create that?” This is a very difficult question to answer because it is tangled into my entire life.

Like many artists, I have practiced the skills to create a piece for years and when I place brush to canvas, the development of the image has become second nature.

Today’s Selfie piece as example from the first brushstroke to the finished product it technically took me right around 1 hour.

This could be a solid and impressive answer if it was the very first time I sat in front of an easel to create this piece.

But the 1 hour answer disregards every moment in my life that lead me up to the point of being able to create it.  

Before I started this series and committed myself to spend 1 hour a day to paint this year, I regularly spent 2 hours twice a month for 20 years creating work from live models in life drawing sessions. This would mean I have spent over 500 hours producing work in two hour spurts.

Then we must consider all of the other time and work I create outside of those life drawing sessions that I used to hone my skills throughout my painting career because every moment spent creating builds on itself just like any other skills. I spend probably 500 hours a year creating work outside the life drawing sessions.

This would make the last 20 years of actual time painting at the easel at 10,500 hours which would mean I have passed the critical 10,000 hour mark that would make me an expert in my field.

However, I can argue that an artist is creating all the time even when they are not sitting at the easel.

So let's add all the time I have lived up to this point.

Using a bit of quick math I’d have to estimate that I have spent more than 250,000 hours to have the ability to create this one hour Selfie piece!

Just like every other career, the work of creating a piece of artwork involves the whole individual, the entire life experience, determination and practice and not just the time it took to put the vision on the canvas.

This might sound philosophical, but consider that the piece didn’t exist until the particular point in the artist’s life and couldn’t have been created until that moment.

I certainly could not have made this one hour selfie piece at any moment before it was done.

Then consider, does the time it takes to create a piece make the work better or worse if it truly speaks to you?

I invite you to ask any other questions about the artistic process or my Selfie series. You might just influence one of my future pieces! 

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