Annabelle Hick­son: A Day in the Coun­try

HOW AN ART CLASS HELPED ANNABELLE HICK­SON UN­DER­STAND MIND­FUL­NESS.

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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.

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