Notes on Beginning a Painting

I love the way that creativity in the arts and imagination in spiritual practice inform each other. A very loving student of mine sent a list to me a few years ago after encountering it in an exhibit of Richard Diebenkorn's work at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. She told me a lovely story of how she was suddenly stopped as she read it inscribed on the wall at the entrance to the galleries displaying his work, and how she scrambled to find a piece of paper in which to copy what she had discovered. After receiving her generous gift of the list I filed it in a special place knowing I would use in Inquiry at some point. It was one of those treasures that I put away for safekeeping and ends up hidden as a result. I rediscovered it this week and am finally sharing it with you. I hope you find it as inspiring and challenging as I did. The list was found among Diebenkorn's papers following his death in 1993. The list could be a set of practice instructions for meditation or equally a challenging set of directions for an amateur photographer like me. Here is the list, including the spelling and capitalizations as they appeared in the original as it was found.
  1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

  2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.

  3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.

  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

  5. Don't "discover" a subject — of any kind.

  6. Somehow don't be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

  7. Mistakes can't be erased but they move you from your present position.

  8. Keep thinking of Pollyanna.

  9. Tolerate chaos.

  10. Be careful only in a perverse way.
This is the kind of list that is worth staying with and revisiting, like an old koan, a good poem, or a lovely painting. With intimacy it continues to open to you. Below is the Inquiry session we shared with the list.

Inquiry recording:

If you are interested in Diebenkorn's work, I would invite you to check out this Ocean Park Series. You can see some of the images and read an excellent review linked here. A review from the L.A. Times reflecting on these "large abstract paintings Diebenkorn made in his Santa Monica studio between 1967 and 1985" describes them as "translucent veils of vaporous color (which) seem suspended in shifting space from a tremulous linear scaffolding...". With humility and gratitude I offer this image in response to these grand paintings. This is the sky and ocean on the north shore of Molokai.