When working on my recent body of paintings, a common thread appeared in my thoughts and observations: closely noticing things in our lives makes me feel more grateful. Compositionally, I capture moments that seem mundane or ordinary but once more deeply observed or considered, these moments become complex and provoking and can feel like little gifts.
What I didn’t realize is how watching closely in order to find painting content would morph into something much bigger and, for me, profound. By slowing down and doing a better job of listening, looking, and acknowledging my surroundings, I not only developed imagery for artwork, but a gratefulness practice that impacts my every moment and the way I view my world. Life becomes art and art becomes life, indeed!
At risk of straying off topic, I’d like to write about a recent experience. As I list the following kind moments, they might seem unrelated to my career as an artist and to the process of painting. But here’s the thing about it: as an artist, EVERYTHING RELATES TO PROCESS. These examples are an ongoing part of developing work and ideas. I also see them as a consequence of my gratefulness practice heightened through painting.
For those who like the image of a dark, suffering and brooding artist, get ready for an annoyingly optimistic one instead. Without further adieu, here are some lovely moments I noticed on a 4 day trip to New York City.
A young man (in his 20s) on the subway who was headed to an interview downtown kindly helped me with directions and then asked all about my southern home state (my country bumpkin’ accent was an immediate giveaway).
A man at the Museum of Natural History walked up while I was in the ticket line and gave me his extra ticket.
I tried to help a woman with three suitcases get up the subway stairs but her load was too heavy for me to carry up. This brawny arm reached forward from behind me. A big dude asked if we needed help and proceeded to carry the heaviest suitcase all the way to the top.
Again on the subway, a man gave up his seat for my daughter and me during rush hour. He was then smothered in the crowd during the rest of his ride which included several more stops.
UBER UBER UBER: Friendly drivers, good prices, spotless cars, fast service.
At the Brooklyn restaurant, Talde, every staff member in the place was aware of my daughter’s seafood allergy and made extravagant efforts to provide her with plenty of safe dining options. (note – in addition to extraordinary service, the food was delicious)
We arrived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and the desk clerk found a room so we could check in three hours early which significantly improved our day.
Two cleaning crew guys at Grand Central Station showed us the way to the restroom and teased us about looking utterly lost there during rush hour.
A college friend whom I rarely see invited us to her swell apartment for a home cooked meal with her family.
The aforementioned friend offered to connect me with an art dealer who specializes in contemporary figure painting. Really? Yes, so very thoughtful.
The bellman at the Beacon Hotel who stored and later retrieved our luggage was friendly and helpful.
The man who showed us to our bikes at Central Park Bike Rental, pointed to my daughter and said, “Come here, shorty.” She thought it was hilarious. When we returned the bikes later, he gave us perfect directions to our next destination.
When my daughter put a dollar in a saxophonist’s tip jar in Central park, he responded, “Thank you, little lady.” I know, I know, some might say this should be expected. But he did not have to say thank you at all. And he did not have to say it with such meaning and kindness in his voice.
The doorman at a friend’s apartment enthusiastically showed us how he works the manual “lift.”
We took a break in the foyer of the New York Public Library. As we ordered cold drinks, the salesman asked my daughter a few questions and said her answers reminded him of this little girl.
When checking my daughter’s shopping bag, the security guard at The Met talked with her about her soft and fuzzy new slippers and pajamas. She could have just rushed us forward or stared coolly into the bag. I guess this exemplifies most of what is on this list: human interaction and taking the time to care and connect, even in massive crowds, even when busy, even when working hard.
Though I have known her forever, the generosity of an old dear friend and her husband never ceases to amaze and humble me. They welcomed us into their Brooklyn home and into their busy lives and made us feel like nothing was more important than our time together (even though they have plenty of pressing tasks each day).
Every police officer was kind and helpful. In fact, everyone we came in contact with was actually nice…I mean really nice. People gave us directions, held doors open, answered questions, and said things like “Have a wonderful day!” It was like manners and helping each other was en vogue.
Even our experiences at LaGuardia and throughout our flights was better than I could have imagined: there were no long lines, the security check was short and sweet, the American Airline employees were jovial (yes, I just used the word “jovial” when describing something about air travel), the woman at the magazine stand was friendly and smiled. Other travelers looked and acted relaxed and positive. I wonder, have I become so jaded that I am absolutely stunned by the persistent loveliness we experienced at each and every turn?
So the next time you assume something about a person or a place, try to show a little kindness and appreciation. You might just get it back ten-fold. Without considering people and ordinary moments for my paintings, I might not have noticed and appreciated all the little, yet valuable, human kindnesses we experienced in New York. Thankfully, kindness, as well as artistic inspiration, can find each of us just about anywhere.