Complaint Free Art

A Complaint Free World Book

Several weeks ago Linda brought home a slim little book from the library, Metodist minister Will Bowen's A Complaint Free World. The object is to accrue 21 sequential days without gossiping, complaining or criticizing (aloud).  As defined by Bowen, I understand gossip as being anything you wouldn't say to the person to his or her face. Complaints are any statements that have at their heart a wish that things were different then they actually are, expressed with negativity and mean-spiritedness. Criticism, well, that's got that negative energy floating around it, too.

As stated by Eckhart Tolle, and quoted on the organization's website:

“Complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or deficiency so that it can be put right. And to refrain from complaining doesn’t necessarily mean putting up with bad quality or behavior. There is no ego in telling the waiter your soup is cold and needs to be heated up—if you stick to the facts, which are always neutral. ‘How dare you serve me cold soup…?’ That’s complaining
—Eckhart Tolle, “A New Earth”

You can get a purple rubber bracelet from the now-mega organization (more than 5 million bracelets are floating around out there), or like me, just use one you already have. Believe me, after about more than a month I haven't made it 24 hours yet, but I certainly am more aware of the insidious habits of complaining, gossiping and criticizing. There is an astounding amount of time, effort and energy that goes into these three verbal (not to mention mental) modes. I am making progress and I think I may just make it a whole day pretty soon.

So what does this have to do with art-making? That same time, energy and effort is better spent doing and making, and keeping on track. If I don't get wrapped up in some drama about someone else, what they are or aren't doing right, how I'd like to do it better, why they should have done it my way, well, I appear to find my work flowing a bit better, a bit cleaner, a lot less driven by envy, jealousy, regrets and anxiety.

The scariest realization I've had is how often I bad mouth-- not others -- but myself: My work habits, my productivity, my body shape, my business sense. My whatever. And out loud, sometimes even when no one else is in the room. I'm not nearly as mean to and about others as I am to myself. And, frankly, I've always considered myself a pretty positive person.

Is this Pollyanna-esque in the extreme (remember Pollyanna, anyone?) Probably, and I think that art has a critical function in a society -- but in our case as visual artists, it's not a verbal run of the mouth kind of criticism. Keep it on the page.