Annabelle Hickson: A Day in the Country
HOW AN ART CLASS HELPED ANNABELLE HICKSON UNDERSTAND MINDFULNESS.
I NEVER SIT DOWN TO DRAW or paint and I suppose that is because I’m not very good at it. It’s so easy to sidestep something you are not very good at. Unless, of course, it’s cooking. Or parenting, where your inadequacies are only truly revealed after you’ve had children and it’s too late to opt out. Those things are harder to avoid. So it was with a sense of unease I found myself with paintbrush in hand, alongside my daughter, who I had let wag school so we could do a painting class together. And when I say “let”, I mean “forced”. Missing school is something she doesn’t like to do. Like Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous. I just hope it lasts. Warwick-based artist Nikki Malone was holding a still-life class at Mandy Reid’s White Cottage garden in Tenterfield. She was teaching how to paint an arrangement of hydrangeas and since all I seem to want to do these days is take photos of flower arrangements, I thought it would be a useful exercise in looking at the same scene through different eyes. Nikki was a fabulous teacher, breaking the act of painting down into something that felt more simple than I thought it could be; something more about the art of seeing as opposed to trying to capture the scene as a whole. Seeing shapes — rectangles, circles and squares — seeing light and shadow, black and white and the colours in between. To my surprise, both mini-saf and I produced some very believable hydrangeas, complete with shards of sunlight passing through glass vases. They were so much better than I thought we were capable of. It seems that the art of drawing is, at its core, the art of seeing. American social psychologist Ellen Langer defines mindfulness as the simple act of actively noticing things. Instead of meditation or hours of yoga, mindfulness can be attained by setting yourself a task to consciously notice things. For example, deciding to notice five new things about your partner over dinner. Or, I would suggest, looking at an arrangement of hydrangeas to see how many different shapes you can find within the composition. “What will happen is the person will start to come alive for you again. And that facilitates the relationship,” Dr Langer told Krista Tippett on the excellent podcast On Being. “When you actively notice new things, that puts you in the present... it’s engaging and, as it turns out, after a lot of research, we find that it is literally, not just figuratively, enlivening.” To the artists out there, like the ones celebrated in this issue, I salute you for making a life out of stopping and seeing. And to those of you who panic at the thought of painting something, fear not. After a bit more reading, it turns out that Ellen Langer is not only a psychologist — she’s also an artist. I guess it is not surprising that someone who sees mindfulness as the act of noticing should be an artist. She’s even written a book on it. “By engaging in a new activity — whether it is art, music, sports, gardening or cooking — on an ongoing basis, we can begin to experience what it is like to me more mindful,” Dr Langer writes in her book On Becoming an Artist. “The more we engage in mindful creativity, the closer we may get to living a mindful life. By living a life full of art, we may achieve an artful life.” So those self-described non-artists out there approaching artistic pursuits, you must persevere. Instead of asking yourself, “Am I good enough?”, a much more useful question would be, “How can I do it?”. It is in the ‘how’ that we put doubt, expectations and fear to the side and we just look and see. And there is a lot to be gained by simply looking, way beyond the creation of a semi-plausible hydrangea. Annabelle Hickson lives on a pecan farm in the Dumaresq Valley, NSW. Follow @annabellehickson on Instagram.