The Meaning of Life. Day 3

The Question is not “Why are we here?” but ” How should we live our lives?”  All of our technological advances have not changed that essentially difficult question. The Greeks of the fifth century B.C. are our contemporaries; we are no wiser than they were. Remember Harry Truman’s response when asked why he was reading Plutarch’s Lives? Said the President: To find out what’s going on in Washington.

~~philosopher Mortimer Adler.  (from Life Magazine, December 1988.  Article entitled “The Meaning of Life.”

I can’t imagine trying to figure out what’s going on in Washington, when it’s such a big job just trying to understand what’s going on in my own life.  I’ve been asking that question for as long as I can remember “How should I live my life?”

The answer seemed pretty clear early on.  Read the Bible, do what you’re told, and have faith.  I was told to tell the truth, be kind, and fair.  That’s what I learned in Sunday school and what my Mother taught me.  I spent at least half of my life thinking that everyone else was taught the same things and trying to understand why there was so much turmoil in the world when it was so simple and clear-cut how we were supposed to be – how we were supposed to live.  Then, after leaving the sheltered world of the small community where I lived until I was 8 years old,  I learned that some people are mean to each other and don’t tell the truth. Sticking to the teachings I grew up with, I reasoned: if you’re good, everyone will like you.  And if they like you they won’t be mean to you.  But still, no matter how good I was, there were some people who were mean to me and that meant they didn’t like me.   And I couldn’t be happy until they did.

So I read more books.  The first one I remember was “How to be Popular.”  The answers set forth in the book were pretty much the same that I’d been taught all along:  Be nice to people. Listen to them.  Talk to people. Be friendly. I did everything the book said and there were still some people who did not like me.

And so it went for most of my life – wanting to be liked – not just by some, but by everyone, reading more books, trying my best to please people.   And the big question kept getting bigger:  What is the purpose of Life?

It seemed that people liked me when I drew pictures for them. I copied their school pictures on notebook paper.  I drew fancy dresses for their paper dolls.  I drew flowers and pretty scenes.  And I got lots of attention.  And thus I learned that when I wanted attention, (which signified to me that people liked me) I drew pictures.  Was this my purpose in life?  Is this how I should live my life?  Making pretty pictures for people so they would like me?

This is a pencil drawing on notebook paper  of my brother Jim.  I copied it from his school picture in 1957.


The Meaning of Life. Day 2

“Our purpose is to consciously, deliberately evolve toward a wiser, more liberated and luminous state of being.; to return to Eden, make friends with the snake and set up our computers among the wild apple trees.

Deep down, all of us are probably aware that some kind of mystical evolution is our true task. Yet we suppress the notion with considerable force because to admit it is to admit that most of our political gyrations, religious dogmas, social ambitions and financial ploys are not merely counterproductive but trivial. Our mission is to jettison those pointless preoccupations and take on once again the primordial cargo of inexhaustible ecstasy. Or, barring that, to turn out a good, juicy cheeseburger and a strong glass of beer.” ~~ Tom Robbins, writer.  (from Life Magazine, December 1988. “The Meaning of Life”)

I never developed a taste for beer (try as I might as a college student so many years ago) and cheeseburgers don’t sound so good to me any more as I’ve learned to cater to my finicky digestive system.  But I’m having closer encounters with that “primordial cargo of inexhaustible ecstasy” through my chosen vehicle of artistic expression – painting on canvas with acrylic paints.  I’m painting portraits – of people, pets, water birds, trees, flowers, shapes, colors and forms.  Every brush stroke takes me closer to truth. Not the truth that people argue about, but the truth expressed simply and ever so elegantly in nature.

Through painting, I’m learning to look at everything with less judgment and with deeper curiosity.  I am no longer content to look at something and define it with a permanent, static definition.  For example, green is far more than a single crayon in the box.  I’m learning this from painting “en plein air”  where the light dances on the subject and changes the color of what I’m observing from one moment to the next.  Where once there were solid green leaves, now there are blue and violet shadows and yellow and orange highlights and diamond dust dancing on the leaves from drops of dew in the morning light. There are golds and browns and iridescent rainbows from where the snail left its trail and the caterpillar chewed a ruffled edge and an unknown assailant changed the form and color of the individual leaf and distinguished it from its neighbors.  And my heart skips a beat as I become aware that I am witness to the secrets of life itself, while knowing that the only constant to what I am witnessing is everlasting change.


“Blue Bamboo”  Acrylic on 20″ x 16″ Canvas

I become aware that there is no camera, no paint brush, no palette that can capture the true magic of the mystery before me, but I can let the paint flow onto the canvas and the energy of my emotion, evoked by the scene unfolding before me, will transport the viewer into a similar state of ecstasy – if she will only stay long enough to look deeply into the painting, beyond the shapes and forms and colors, into the pure creative energy that reflects some rays of the spectrum to our eyes and absorbs others. This is the same energy that connects the atoms that make up the molecules that make up the essence of everything we are and everything we see and that what we are and what we see are connected through what we don’t see:  Pure Creative Energy.



“Astral Spin”   Acrylic on 18″ x 24″ Canvas





The Meaning of Life. Day 1

Self Portrait by Judi Cain
I went upstairs to find the right size canvas to start a new painting.  A stack of old Life Magazines caught my attention.  I’ve tried to sell them a couple of times in yard sales, but I guess I’m meant to keep them for a while. I bought them many years ago because I like old things and I thought maybe inspiration for a work of art would come from them – maybe a collage?  I skimmed through an issue published in December, 1988.  The cover headlines “ELVIS’ DAUGHTER TALKS about dad, drugs, mom and marriage.”
I flipped to a two-page ad featuring the “new Panasonic Word Processor.  It’s too smart to be a typewriter. It’s too easy to be a computer.”   Another ad announces that “Panasonic introduces the camcorder than can hold the picture steady even when you can’t.”   Yet another says “Once phones like these were science fiction. Now they’re from Panasonic.”  Panasonic was busy that year!
So much has changed in 28 years, yet so much remains the same.   I wonder how could it be that 28 years have passed so quickly?  I have certainly grown older, but have I grown wiser?
Flipping a couple more pages, I came to an article entitled  “The Meaning of Life.” Life magazine reporters Karen Emmons, Linda Gomez, Peter Meyer and Bureaus “asked some wise men and women to ponder why we are here.  Scientists and theologians, authors and artists, celebrities and everyday sages on the street responded.”   The headline for the article was illustrated by a photo by Brian Lanker, entitled “Taijiquan: Dance of the False Tombs.”  The photo was haunting, and I wanted more.
I Googled Brian Lanker and found this report from Wikipedia:
 Brian Lanker (August 31, 1947 – March 13, 2011) was an American photographer. He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for a black-and-white photo essay on childbirth for The Topeka Capital-Journal, including the photograph “Moment of Life”.[1] Lanker died at his home in Eugene, Oregon on March 13, 2011 after a brief bout of pancreatic cancer. He was 63.
The year he won the Puliter Prize (1973) was the same year I ran away from my home and family and teaching career in Missouri, traveling to Florida where it was warm, living in a VW van, wanting to learn how to be a “real”  artist — searching for the meaning of life even then.
Looking at his website (  I found that his work resonates with me and moves me emotionally in the way I would like to connect with people through my own art.  I wonder if he found the Meaning of Life before he died?
So thanks to Life Magazine and Brian Lanker, today I begin a series of Blogs using the quotes from this article to explore what the thoughts of others mean to me as I continue my own personal quest for “The Meaning of Life.”

The artist – process and product.

The artist does not “think” about creating a product. Thinking about making a product is the ego mind at work, and gets in the way of true creation. The ego mind has rules, and doubts and a false sense of knowing and not knowing. The ego mind seeks approval and confirmation, wants to get it “right,” wants to BE “right,” wants to be “in control.” This is not to say that the ego mind is “wrong.” But approval and confirmation from others is a bonus that the artist’s ego mind receives after participating in the process and surrendering control. 

Art is a continuing process of learning from nature to use the senses to understand the dynamics of creation itself. The process is the important thing and belongs to the artist. The product is a symbol of what has been observed or sensed and belongs to the world, that others may share in the learning – to be moved emotionally in some way from what the artist has observed.

To learn about creation takes daily practice and focusing on messages from the senses.To see beyond what we think we see, what we’ve been told that we should see – to embrace the unique perspective that belongs to each of us. There has never been, nor will there ever be another just like you, standing where you stand, observing what you see. To be an artist, you must dare to learn what your unique perspective is, by constant practice, by constant observation, without fear of judgment, losing control, or being “wrong.”

This is true, whatever medium is chosen – whether painting or sculpting or poetry or music, or planting a garden or restoring an automobile – whatever means you will use to express your observations, using your senses, from your unique perspective, what you are learning from nature, from the Ultimate Creator.

The Source (a commentary on “Love”

3511_444191258990519_155414859_nLOVE DETAIL

I hesitate to explain my interpretation of my work, because I believe it limits what the observer feels free to contribute while viewing it. But this painting, “Love” has a very strong meaning for me and I want to share it.  The image on the left is the entire painting. The image on the right is a close-up of the center of the painting.

The medium is Atelier Interactive Acrylic Paint on a 22″ x 28″ Stretched Canvas.  This painting began as all of my “Creative Energy” paintings do, by squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas, picking up whatever color calls to me.  Next I completely cover the canvas with paint, including the sides, using a large brush, without regard to making it be anything in particular.  Next I follow lines and colors, observing the painting from various angles and distances, and add colors and forms and lines as the painting directs me.

I call them “Creative Energy” paintings because I have discovered that when I can get my ego mind to be quiet and let the energy flow through me the painting will pretty much create itself.  Whatever is going on in my life will definitely have an impact on what evolves in the painting but mostly on a subconscious level.

This explanation of the process came to me in much the same way the paintings do: “Submitting to Creative Energy to allow a work of art to create its own image means giving up control. For me this means allowing the materials to use my hands and my eyes to direct me in every movement, regardless of what I’ve been taught, or assumed from my own experiences. It requires quieting of the critical mind, resisting the urge to “make” it into something I recognize, not caring how others will perceive it, not worrying if it will be “marketable.” When I can let go of all control and enter into a meditative state, I get to watch the piece evolve into something I never could have thought of on my own. It tells me when it is finished and ready to share with those who will have their own experience while looking at it and who will see things that I never saw until they share their experience with me. And so it flows – Creative Energy – a gift given to all who allow it in whatever form it may appear.”

And in this way “Love” came into being and only when it was finished did I understand what it meant to me on a conscious level.

In the center of the painting is the Ultimate Source, Pure White Light, the Source of all energy, life and creativity. Everything radiates from the Source. Also is formed the symbol of Infinity. Above and below the Source are two more of an infinite number of points of light. They emanated from the source and become the source for an infinite number of other points of light.  It tells me that all beings and all matter and all energy are created by the Ultimate Creator, The Source, in the Image of the Ultimate Creator which is Pure Creative Energy.  Therefore it is not only our birthright but also an inescapable endowment that we are all creators.  We are constantly creating, whether we are conscious of it or not.  I believe it is not only possible, but the intention of the Ultimate Creator, that we consciously direct our creative energy while simultaneously submitting to the power of Ultimate Creativity.

I don’t know much about science, but I’ve heard that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Rather it is constantly moving from one form to another.  When I look at this painting, I see atoms in a constant exchange of energy, connecting all beings – all matter, as if I’m looking into a microscope.  I also see the cosmos as if looking through a powerful telescope. I breathe in atoms that were once a part of you. I breathe in energy that sustains me, that came from the Ultimate Creator, in whatever form to which I evolve.

This is Love.

Chill Factor


Acrylic on 10″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

I moved to Florida from Missouri in 1973 to escape the cold winters. We still have a little bit of winter in Gainesville but it doesn’t last long, so I hibernate on cold days and try to paint some sunshine but sometimes the cold creeps into my work. Last night when I started this painting my daughter Kathryn was at my apartment. “Pick a color.” I said to her. “Blue” was her answer.  So I filled the canvas with French Ultramarine Blue and Titanium White and snow began to flurry.

As I painted, I remembered walking in a fresh falling snow one winter night when I was still in high school. Huge fluffy snowflakes were dancing around the street lights in mad swirls, landing on my black gloves long enough to show me their delicate pattern before dissolving to dew drops. The energy of that moment is painted into and resides forever in this painting. It didn’t seem so cold that night. Just an absence of warm colors.

On the last day of school in 1972 I turned in my resignation to the principal of Coleman Elementary School where I was The Art Teacher for grades one through six.  My office was a utility closet I shared with the music teacher.   On my side of the closet were shelves for supplies and a cart with wheels  and on her side were shelves for music books and a piano on wheels.  When the cart and the piano were both in the closet there was no space for us. Each student got one hour of art each week and one hour of music each week in their classroom. Neither art nor music was important enough to have a room of its own.

I never intended to be a teacher. I just wanted to be an artist (whatever that was.) I didn’t know anyone who was an artist. I thought they all lived in New York or Paris. I read about them in the Avalon Career Books from the school library. The only artist I knew was Mr. Davis, my art teacher. I didn’t get to take art until eleventh grade. Art was only for Juniors and Seniors.  Just before graduation from high school, the counselor told me “Your parents can’t afford to send you to art school. Why not use your scholarship to State College. You can major in Art.” I didn’t know it was a Teacher’s College. Just before graduation the college guidance counselor told me “if you don’t sign up for Student Teaching, you won’t graduate.”

I wanted to be a good teacher. I wanted to give each student a chance to know the joy of making art. But the challenges of teaching were so encompassing that I didn’t get to make any art myself. I went to the State Teachers Meeting and wrote an art curriculum guide for Missouri Public Schools. The next year when the position of “Head of the Art Department” opened, the job was given to a first year teacher. I asked the Principal why I was not considered for the position since I had been teaching for seven years and had seniority over the other two teachers in the system.  This was the answer he gave me (and the reason I resigned forever from the teaching profession:) “We had to give the position to a man. You are young and will probably get pregnant soon and we need someone we can rely on for this job.”

II am so thankful that he said that!  If I had become head of the Art Department,  I would probably be a retired teacher today, living and freezing all through the long winter,  and may have never become a Real Artist!

My Painting Process

IMG_0239Floral Pink

Day 7 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge

Acrylic on 10″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

I belong to an artists’ cooperative gallery and Wednesday was my turn to work my shift. It takes about an hour to drive to Cedar Key from Gainesville, the gallery is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and with another hour to drive home I wondered  “How could I possibly get a painting done for the challenge?”

I packed an 8″ x 10″ canvas, a couple of brushes and a few tubes of paint so I could at least get a painting started. Once I got the gallery open, I set the little canvas on the counter and opened three tubes of paint. I choose the colors randomly with different reasons for each choice.  This time I wanted a dark and a light and a surprise color  I chose Light Red Ochre for the dark color. It could be described as brick red which makes a lovely dusty pink when mixed with white. For a light color I chose Toning Grey Pinkish  – a warm off-white.  And finally Yellow Ochre, an earthy organic yellow, for my Surprise.  The Surprise is often a color that at first doesn’t seem like it would work with the other colors and sometimes is added later in the painting process. But this time it called to me right away.

Just as I took the lids off the 3 tubes of paint, a group of browsers entered the gallery. At an earlier time in my life I would have put the paint away and felt frustrated that I couldn’t do what I had planned. Now I am learning to ask myself “What is the opportunity in this moment?” I asked them if they would like to see how I start a painting and they watched as I squeezed paint directly from the tubes onto the canvas; a few drops of red here and there, a puddle and some drips of white wherever they would fall and two little blobs of yellow. Next I took a brush about an inch in width and smeared the paint in random directions to cover the canvas, including the sides, watching the colors blend, swirl and interact with each other. The objective at this point is simply to cover the canvas with paint. If there is not enough paint to generously cover the canvas I grab a tube (without worrying about which one) and add a few more drops of paint.  This is the point when I start paying attention to feelings I have while moving the paint on the canvas. I was already getting the feeling of flowers. (The pinks that were forming were delicious!) But the feeling was not yet clearly defined.

The browsers were fascinated. They had never seen anyone paint without a palette before. I have found that most people who visit the gallery are either practicing artists who want to paint more, or confess that they “used to like to draw or paint but haven’t done it in years.” There are many people who say that they don’t have any talent and can’t make anything at all but these people don’t usually visit galleries unless they’re dragged in by someone in the other two groups. It turned out that one of the browsers, a gentleman in his sixties, was the one who used to paint. His wife tried to encourage him: “Look honey!  You can do that!”  Then she said to me “he’s too critical. Everything has to be just perfect or he won’t finish it.”

That was my cue!  How can anything be perfect if you don’t follow it to its finish?  And what defines perfection? And how does one know when something is finished?

I have my own answers which I am always eager to share. Perfection is a feeling I get when I use my senses to experience something. A perfect piece of music is one I experience through my sense of hearing, that stirs my heart and evokes such strong emotion that makes me feel that nothing more can be added – it is complete. The same would apply to looking at a painting, or a sculpture, reading a poem, watching a dance performance or eating a delicious casserole or touching the soft fur of a kitten. Perfection is always present, even when I am not conscious enough to experience it.  But I have also learned to sense that this man did not need to hear any more preaching. He needed to be reminded of the possibilities of his own creative experience. The process needed for each of us to overcome our blocked creativity can only be discovered on our own through practice. He only needed a catalyst. My advice to him, as to everyone, is Practice Every Day, no matter what. Making art every day is what is leading me to overcome my own unique obstacles and to discover my own unique style of expression.

With the entire canvas now completely covered in paint, I leaned the canvas against the wall and stood with the browsers to view it from a different perspective, turning it in all directions, listening to what it wanted to tell me. The painting invited me to discover images already forming, to explore movement and direction of the flow of the paint. I saw that the colors were so blended that it felt a little boring, not very inspiring, and called out for something daring. I responded by adding 3 more blobs of Light Red Ochre and used the big brush to change the shape of the blobs without too much blending.

“Flowers!” the browsers said in unison.  And my heart skipped a beat. There was still more to be done with this painting but the feeling of cooperation between me and the browsers was Perfection.  The man who used to paint looked different as he headed for the door. His eyes were sparking as he told me he was going to buy some canvasses and paints as soon as he got home and from now on, he was going to paint every day, no matter what.

When I got home that night, I finished the painting, adding some forest green for contrast, following the lines of the brush strokes to bring out the shapes of the flowers – they were already there – they just needed discovering!  I added a few spots of Cadmium Yellow Deep to what appeared to be stamens. I don’t know if such flowers exist anywhere in the world, but they do in this painting. It reached its own perfection at 10:35 p.m.

Promises, Promises


“Sunburst” Acrylics and Colored Pencil on 11″ x 14″ Stretched Canvas. Day 6 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days.

I’m really trying to keep the promises I make to myself. I’m learning to treat myself the way I try to treat others.  I talk to myself with more kindness now.  I’m not so critical and I don’t berate myself like I used to.  Sometimes when I make promises,  my expectations are too high and I can’t keep the promise. I try to understand and have compassion for myself.

I promised that I would blog every day, in addition to painting 30 paintings in 30 days.  It is now 10:00 p.m, and I just posted my sixth painting in six days. I’m working my shift at the Cedar Keyhole Co-op Gallery tomorrow and I’m too tired to write. So I’m going to be kind to myself, give myself a big round of applause for finishing my painting and for writing this much and put myself to bed.

Little Leaps


“Peace on the River”
Acrylics on 8″ x 10″ stretched, gallery-wrapped Canvas

I awoke this morning in a mild panic. This is Day 5 of the “30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge!” I started a painting yesterday but my ego didn’t believe in it. How could I possibly complete a painting, write my blog, post to my web site and Etsy and still get take care of business? important business! Like getting the trash and recycles to the street before pickup time.

This is where I used to veer off track. Sometimes there was just so much to do that I knew I could never do it all. So I did nothing. Maybe take a nap. Watch TV. Or do those “important” things like taking out the trash. I was the Queen of Procrastinators. I had not learned how to start something without knowing the outcome. If there were too many unknowns I was afraid to start.

But now it’s different. One day, about 6 years ago, I decided that if it was important to brush my teeth every day, it was equally important to create every day. And like brushing my teeth, it has to come first. I don’t give myself a choice of whether I will paint or not. I must do it whether I want to or not. Whether I’m inspired or not. Whether I “have time” or not.

And I realized that what was really holding me back was a lack of faith. And I say that with an all-encompassing meaning. I mean faith in myself, faith in the creative process, faith in the flow of life, faith in the creative energy that flows through me from the Source, faith in my right and responsibility as a creation of the Ultimate Creator to create.

And still I encounter fear every day. Sometimes It’s almost paralyzing. If I’m working on a painting and there’s an area I especially like, I’m afraid I might ruin it if I add another brush stroke. If I’m working on a painting and there’s nothing about it that I like, I fear that I will never be able to make another beautiful painting so I want to quit before I embarrass myself. And of course there’s the BIG fear of facing a totally blank canvas. Being raised by Depression affected parents, I was taught from an early age to be careful not to waste anything. I must have been at least 12 years old before I was ever allowed to draw on a blank piece of unlined paper. We used both sides of our lined paper for all school subjects except spelling and I was allowed to draw on the back of my spelling paper. My classmates soon learned to give their spelling papers to me instead of throwing them into the trash. My desk was stuffed with half-empty pages, stored away for that perfect piece of art work that I would complete some day. (And that’s how I started to become an art supply hoarder – but that’s a story for another time.)

So this morning I faced my little paint-smeared canvas with a judgmental eye. My ego mind began to chatter.

“Well this looks nothing like the painting you did yesterday. What about consistency? No one will take you seriously if you keep jumping around like that with your subject matter.”

“Where’s the excitement? This painting is boring.”

And on and on it went until I picked up the brush and allowed the painting to tell me what to do. I don’t know how to explain this without encouraging you, every one, to try it. Painting is easy. The hard part is having faith that I know what looks good and I can follow the paint and the brush until my eye is pleased with what it sees. Nothing else matters. It doesn’t matter what my ego-mind says. It doesn’t matter what other people say. It’s not even the finished product that matters, rather the process – what I experienced while going through the process of painting it and how it makes me feel to look at it when it is done. That’s what matters. And the bonus is if someone else likes it too. I believe that every painting is created especially for someone. It’s so exciting to be present when that person meets up with their painting.