(First published in the Times Colonist Newspaper- print edition- January 11, 2014 then on the Spiritually Speaking Blog.)
“There are no rules.” Was not something I had expected to hear from octogenarian artist and writer, Annora Brown. We were having tea. I was a young mother struggling to find time for my art and she was a proud ‘Miss’. When the first pot of tea was finished and she left to get more water, I rose to look at a painting she had received awards for. It was a beautiful little watercolour of a jack pine with hoar frost. I exclaimed, “You’ve used white!” and was immediately embarrassed. She calmly replied with a smile, ‘Yes, there are no rules’. The conversation that followed has been pivotal to my career as an artist. Miss Brown advised me throw away as many rules as I could and keep only those rules useful to me in my search for knowing and expressing. It is valuable advice and can be applied in many areas of life, not just art making.
I have adopted the habit of evaluating whether or not something hinders my artistic practice. Yet in relationships with people I find myself mired in rules I acquired as a child and rarely evaluate as an adult. Christian values provide the points on my moral compass, however, most have slipped into the realm of beliefs and I follow them unthinkingly. In art, making the rules I follow are more apparent. One rule is to use a good brush. This allows me to do my best work. When a brush looses its point, I move it from the ‘good jar’ to the ‘can possibly be salvaged jar’, and finally to the ‘stop kidding yourself’ container. Given that the brush cannot insult me, spread rumours about me, or attack me as a person, it is a surprisingly slow process. I suppose it should not surprise me that letting go of a person requires considerably more effort.
Last year I decided to review my rules about loyalty and “let go of someone who continually caused me pain”. What intrigues me now is that it took me so long to do this, to recognize that friends are not always what they appear to be. I was surprised that someone would expend the effort to masquerading as a friend in order to undermine me. George Bernard Shaw stated; ‘The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.’ If we are to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves then I suppose it is fine to refuse to be treated by others in ways we would not treat them. My belief in loyalty was used as a weapon against me and I had misplaced that loyalty. This realization was humbling and a reminder that, as a human, I too can be blind to what I don’t want to know. The News channels give us plenty of examples of the damage that occurs when people are blindly loyal or follow rules that need changing. Societal norms and ‘rules’ are necessary as we live together on this earth, however our free will demands that we be vigilant in our assessment of their usefulness.
I have still not relegated the person to the ‘stop kidding yourself’ container because I am no longer kidding myself. They are in the ‘can possibly be salvaged jar’ and may stay there forever as our lives often intersect. However, I have removed my loyalty and they can no longer hurt me. There is great peace and power in that and it allows me to do my best work.
Joanne Thomson is a watercolorist who works on paper and canvas. She is best known for her images of the BC forest and coast. These strong images are created with a gentle spiritual approach to art making. Thomson writes about the connections between Art and Spirituality as a regular contributor to the Times Colonist’s Spiritually Speaking Blog. Joanne has earned a Masters of Adult Education and as an instructor she brings enthusiasm and wisdom to her workshops encouraging students to explore the creative process through research and experimentation. www.joannethomson.com.