10/50 : "Mindless browsing" is an oxymoron

I realized something after four weeks spent recently with a smartphone that became useful only as a camera or a map. At first I thought I gained time from not browsing mindlessly on Facebook or instagram, or looking up random facts on the internet. But it wasn't time-- it was focus. I had time during breaks from grad school to paint. On weekends even during the semester, I could take a day off. So why couldn't I focus enough to paint the Japanese history that I wanted to? I'm certain I was distracted by constant input.

In Tokyo, I only had wifi access a handful of times with a painfully slow connection at a convenience store. My email loaded at a friend's home while my phone was deep in my bag in another room so I read it on the train on my way home. But I couldn't reply.  It was awfully inconvenient to solidify plans and make phone calls, hunting down the few remaining pay phones somewhere in a department store or train station. But what I gained from being semi-disconnected was worth it: focus.

Focus- that's why I sketched in Japan. Especially when out of consistent practice, it takes a surprising amount of concentration to look at something and repeat the shapes on paper. Below are some sketches from Japan:

Museum 1: Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art // Exhibition: Villains in Ukiyo-e

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Museum 2: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum // Exhibition: Kyosai - Master Painter and his Student Josiah Conder

Museum 3: Yamatane Museum of Art // Exhibition: Maeda Seison and the Japanese Art Institute

I was both shocked and thrilled to see a painting from a series about the hidden Japanese Christians (the subject of my master's thesis) so I sketched the painting. I'll look up more about this artist!

Last sketch, not at a museum, just waiting for a friend and saw some bamboo in a hotel. Also a famous author's name whose historical narrative books I bought to read.

The day I left I went to see the underground Japanese Christian artifacts in the Tokyo National Museum, but read carefully instead of sketching the images.

I wasn't mentally distracted by 20 ways to redecorate, 50 recipes I must make now, or 10 miraculous exercises (that I'll probably never do). Possibly more significantly, I wasn't distracted by what everyone else was doing.  My life didn't suffer a bit in the few weeks of not being up-to-date in other people's business. Actually, I think it improved.

I like to be in touch with friends and the convenience of a cell phone, but I also like the mental space available when it's not glued to my hand. Now I have to consciously keep it in a separate room (with the ringer on loud), to use it for contact but not for "mindless" browsing. At least for me, I finally see that "mindless browsing" is an oxymoron. Perhaps it has to do with being a visual person, or maybe it's universal and I'm just slow to realize it. But for the first time in 4 years, I'm sketching, researching, and planning out my next painting continuing my Japanese martyrs' series.

So far I have my Japanese martyr subject (a family of 3 from an island north of Nagasaki) and the western painting parallel to work from (most likely, the Flight to Egypt).

It's humbling to realize how limited my mental capacity is! God's infinite abilities are more awe-inspiring when I see how limited I am.

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.   Psalm 147:5

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."   Matthew 19:26

I can't take in much at once, and it takes me weeks to even realize that! But God has no limit.

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?

It is higher than heaven- what can you do? Deeper than Sheol - what can you know?

Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.   Job 11:7-9

8/50 : Art, vocation, and a terrible painting

First, a brief update since I've been MIA for a month:

  • graduated with a Master's in Art History (Japanese Art History emphasis)
  • travelled to Thailand and Cambodia

Now I'm applying to jobs related to Japanese, writing, history, cultural exchange, and art... decisive as usual.

The point of writing about my painting is for exposure- to fight perfectionism. Sometimes, oftentimes, my paintings suck. After writing my thesis for grad school, I see how painting and writing are the same. As author E.B. White says, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." So forget the migraine, the not-helpful single AC unit two rooms away (how dare I complain about having more than 1 room??), and anxiety about an interview on Friday. I'm not a creative genius. No one is, we have to work at it.  It feels like I've never held a brush or used this ink before but it'll get better. My hands will remember how to control the brush and ink.

Working with your hands, or working in general, must be  done with diligence and excellence: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). In Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer expands on this and also writes on how to think about contemporary art:

“What is the place of art in the Christian life? Is art- especially the fine arts- simply a way to bring worldliness in through the back door? What about sculpture or drama, music or painting? Do these have any place in the Christian life? Shouldn't a Christian focus his gaze steadily on "religious things" alone and forget about art and culture? As evangelical Christians, we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the lordship of Christ over the whole man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture. The lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy between the body and the soul. God made the body as well as the soul, and redemption is for the whole man.”

While I say I no longer believe in the myth of the spontaneous creative genius, my actions suggest otherwise. So it was time to begin painting #2 of my series of 10 Nagasaki paintings. Since it has been over a month since painting and I'm down to my last precious piece of Arches watercolor paper, a practice sketch was necessary. When I practice freehand sketches, I always work from the top left to bottom right. Maybe it's because I'm a lefty. One look at the left and right side of this painting make it very clear what difference a few practice strokes can make:

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Started at the top left with this sloppy cross:

Ended on the right, much different than the starting point:

Moral of the story: KEEP PAINTING.

The drafting table is now raised as a standing table (maybe hard to tell since my height doesn't change significantly from sitting to standing) which makes it much easier to paint!