2023 Reflection and a Note on Gratitude

2023 Reflection and a Note on Gratitude

Every year, like many people, I seem to fall into the same habit of expectation; I set too many resolutions, plan exorbitant goals and say “yes” to just about everything. Each year, the outcome seems to be the same; the resolutions taper off by March, I focus on the career related goals and neglect the ones that will nourish my soul, and I totally burn myself out after all the Yes’s. This has been the routine for the last few years, but in 2024 I’m doing things a bit differently.

2023 brought me many blessings, but perhaps most important was the lesson of rest and reflection. I had to learn it the hard way; now that COVID felt done, I hoped to hit the ground running in 2023, manifesting endless career and life wins with travel and adventures in between. But pretty early into the year I was already feeling burnt out. By the time I returned from a 2-week adventure in Vietnam in mid-March, I had already run two series of workshops, started a new program in high schools across WA, was grape-picking in my spare time (think 5am starts, going til midday in the sweltering heat) and entering prize after prize of new work, only to get consistently rejected. My body was feeling what my soul had been screaming out to me for months, “Slow the hell down and be grateful for what you’ve already achieved,” and when I didn’t, I became well and truly burnt out, and I was forced to stop. I took a week or so off (not enough), and retreated to my studio, making small paintings without much thought behind them other than a gut instinct.

A few weeks later I found out the wonderful news that I had been selected as a finalist in the Archibald Prize. A momentous win that hadn’t come from entering a major painting I had been slaving over in January and February, but a little study on paper that my heart kept calling me back to. This big win shouted another lesson at me, one that I still need to remind myself of (as recently as this week) - when it comes to a career in art, sometimes – often - our best work is the work that we don’t overthink, it’s simple, it’s genuine. I’m still coming to terms with this. Among the feelings of imposter syndrome and self-doubt that seem to plague many artists, it’s been constantly tricky to trust in my own vision. Getting into the Archie certainly helped, but for the record, getting into any prize, even the Archibald, shouldn’t be the validation you need to make work that speaks to you; I didn’t get into any prizes for the rest of 2023.

 

Suddenly, it was October. I had a solo exhibition; it came and went. I took 6 weeks off (finally, a break long enough to properly rest and reflect). Suddenly, it was Christmas.

I’m approaching 2024 differently. For starters, I’ve made resolutions, set goals and said yes to plenty of things. Firstly, my resolutions are fewer, and only related to my health and mindfulness, not my career. I’ll check in with these frequently, resolutions don’t just have to be a new year thing either. Secondly, I’ve put all my goals on a vision board, which will be hung in my new studio at PS Art Space when I move in on Monday. Along with displaying goals of what I want to achieve, I’ve included photos of what I already have to prompt gratitude whenever I look at it. Finally, I’ve said “yes” to some things, tweaking them to fit to my terms, while also “no” to plenty of others. I’m hoping that this mindful approach, if nothing else, will promote contentment, gratitude and presence throughout 2024. One more thing; I’ve begun 2024 almost halfway through The Artist Way by Julia Cameron and, let me tell you, all artists need to read this book at some point in their career. So, in addition to my other changes, I’ve adopted a habit of morning pages, those 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness style writing you do every morning when you wake up, and have been challenging myself to a weekly artist date to nourish my inner child (I’m actually on an artist date right now, writing at a lovely little café on Beaufort Street). I honestly believe I wouldn’t have arrived at my recent revelations without this practice of morning pages and artist dates – thank you Julia.

To conclude this entry, lately I’ve continually reflected on the transformative power of gratitude. I don’t just mean the ritual of saying “thank you,” or even declaring your gratitude whether publicly or privately, though both these things are very important, I mean the genuine and deep reflection on the miracle of life and the consistent consideration of what we get to have and experience. If I’m honest, I’ve always felt resistant to the practice of gratitude, noticing instead the negative whether in my life or the world as a whole. It’s made me spiritually sick in the process, and unable to create freely. Practicing gratitude is not to undermine the corruption and evil that is gripping the world at the moment, and it’s certainly not meant to be an antidote to it. I don’t believe we can fix the world by saying “thank you” for how lucky we are, and this misinterpretation of the practice is what also made me sceptical. What I do hope, and have noticed, is that a daily practice of gratitude has made me want less and appreciate what I have much more. It's also made me feel more present, charitable and resilient to the negatives of our world, and therefore able to do what I can to combat it. Being grateful for what I do have, has made me more mindful in the resolutions I choose (I’m grateful for a body that allows me to be active), for the goals I set (I’m grateful for the ability to experience exciting things) and for what I say “yes” to (I’m grateful to have been asked). Wishing you all a peaceful, healthy and abundant 2024.

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