Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Seeking Knowledge and Discovering Self: My week at CoSM with Alex and Allyson Grey

With Alex and Allyson Grey
Alex Grey is one of the most important visionary artists and spiritual leaders of our time - his art is a complex integration of body, mind, and spirit and can be described as a blend of sacred, visionary art and postmodern art. The author of 7 books and 2 DVD's, Alex has also recently recorded a Ted Talk on "How Art Evolves Consciousness". Alex and his wife Allyson Grey are the co-founders of The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, CoSM, a non-profit church supporting Visionary Culture in Wappinger, New York.

So how did I come to meet Alex? I sought him out when I'd reached an impasse in my artistic evolution. As a self taught artist, I often battle personal demons that tell me that my work has no value. That the content is irrelevant. That I'm fooling myself. Sometimes, being different can feel like an awful lonely place and many times I'd come close to giving up.

CoSM was originally located in New York City and I'd visited many years ago. I don't remember what prompted me to make the special trip to see his work, and all I can remember is that what I saw pretty much made my head want to explode (I wasn't ready to see it) and I'd promptly forgotten all about the experience until I happened across his book, "The Mission of Art." I almost bought this book at least a dozen times but kept putting it off because all I kept thinking was, "That was the guy whose work I didn't understand." I finally bought the book last December but it still sat unopened on my shelf for at least another 4-5 months.

Once opened, my mind was blown again - but this time, in a very good way. In the Mission of Art, Alex promotes the possibility of the mystical potential of art: arguing that the process of artistic creation can (and should) play a role in the enlightenment of the artist. Ultimately, Alex Grey gave me permission to be myself.

Not long after reading The Mission of Art, I'd received the latest catalog from the Omega Institute, (a popular retreat center in New York) and saw that Alex and his wife Allyson taught a week-long Visionary Art Intensive there. My first thought was something along the lines of, "Now is the time!" and then I found myself trying to decide which accommodations to book at Omega. Struggling with the idea of sharing a room, (Omega's private rooms are costly) I somehow found myself on the CoSM website and discoverd that the Grey's offered their own retreats with accommodations at CoSM. What lead me to choose the Visionary Painting Intensive at CoSM (over the Visionary Art Intensive at Omega) was for two main reasons: the first was that the participant group would be much smaller. 12-15 at CoSM versus 40-50 at Omega. The second was because we'd actually be working in the Grey's personal studio - and how cool is that?!?

I ended up booking the intensive three months in advance and the summer just couldn't go fast enough because I was going to a place where the kind of work I create was celebrated. I was going to be surrounded with people JUST LIKE ME. I was more excited to do this than I have words to express.

Each day of the intensive looked like this: Wake up around 9, have breakfast, short lecture, work in studio until lunch. Back to studio shortly after lunch, work until dinner. Shortly after dinner, return to studio then work until about midnight. Sleep, wake up, repeat. The first two days I'd wonder if I'd made a wise investment. Was I really the artist I thought I was? Am I capable of working this hard? Day three, I didn't want to leave. I didn't want to do anything, or think about anything other than JUST MAKING ART. I was somewhat surprised by this revelation since I'm so used to working both halves of my brain - and never really allowing the time for my creative side to fully take the reigns.

Aside from the work we'd create there, what was probably most important to me was simply being around the Grey's for this extended period of time. To call them hospitable would be a gross understatement. Alex Grey is one of the most humble, gentle, funny, inspiring, and intelligent people I've ever met. (call Alex Grey a master and he's likely to dodge the comment with either humor or humility because he knows, as all real masters do, that to perfect one's craft requires a lifetime of effort.) His wife Allyson is powerful, inspiring, direct, compassionate, and understanding - AND a talented visionary artist to boot. It is my impression that they are two halves of the same whole and likely the most complete manifestation of pure love that I've yet to encounter. What I saw within the Grey's are all the things I aspire to be.

Early on in the week, I had the opportunity to give a 15 minute presentation (with visuals) to the group about my art. I think this allowed the Grey's to see my work as a whole and allowed them to offer me specific guidance towards my goals. I watched and listened to each of them closely - and I especially paid attention to the compassionate way they gave individual instruction to each participant. I listened to the encouragement and technical advice, the feedback, the praise.

While having my art praised by Alex Grey felt truly amazing, what I came to appreciate even more was the feeling of being treated like a peer- something I will remember (and internalize) forever.

I could just go on and on about this experience- as it was most definitely life changing and offered a much needed shift in my perspective. I learned that I AM an artist and my work has value. 

Closing thoughts? When you question who you are and what you do, look to people like you who have already paved the path and relentlessly seek out their knowledge. These are the people whose opinions and feedback will truly make a difference in your evolution.

"Birth of Eye" The painting I created at CoSM during the Visionary Painting Intensive with Alex and Allyson Grey
"Birth of Eye"  - the piece I created during my stay at CoSM. 16x20" acrylic on board.

Please feel free to look at all my photos from the intensive on Flickr.

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