April 2016

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When Art Likes You Back

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I once asked an art collector: “What do you enjoy most about living with art?

Without hesitation, he offered this description: “When the house is quiet, and everyone else is sleeping I like to go out into the dining room, turn on the lights and talk to the paintings. The ones that I like the most always have something to say to me. It’s as if they like me back.”

At the time, I found the collector’s reply eccentric — even Zen — but from where I stand now it makes more and more sense. Liking and appreciating works of art involves a give and take, and the idea of a idea of a private conversation in which a work of art responds by deepening its meanings and offering more profound pleasures is apt and beautiful. It is precisely this kind of conversation that wakes up our taste for art, which involves a kind of deep affinity or even passion.

In my dual career as an art educator and art writer, I have come to realize that I am surrounded by people and institutions that want to tell me what I should like in art and what I shouldn’t like. Everything about taste in art seems to have been externalized, institutionalized and circumscribed. No wonder so many artists try so hard to dispel all the cultural authority and “disrupt” since challenging external standards and measures of taste is one path to authenticity.

Museums, galleries, books, magazines and blogs all represent some level of authority and/or opinionation that seems to conspire to warp my authentic taste, whatever it actually is. Even when you have spent years looking at art the matrix of official taste looms and casts shadows on your choices.

My students feel the same pressure to like the “right” things and they generally look to me as some kind of authority figure that can tell them what they should like. Since I don’t want them to become “excellent sheep” — I’m an educator, not an indoctrinator — I constantly remind them that I can’t do that. Taste in art is personal, and although it takes work to develop and bloom, it is innate: not learned. Deciding what you like in art is as personal as choosing friends or lovers, and letting others tell you what you should like in art strikes me as rather like having someone else to choose a spouse for you.

Art is a magnet that draws strong opinions from those who look at it, rank it, collect it, write about it, or sell it, especially art world types who have some kind of vested interest. What you like or dislike in art is often seen as political by others, even if you see your taste as being strictly personal. Given that context, the idea of being alone with works of art and having a dialogue with them sounds really inviting. The collector’s metaphor — that the paintings could talk back to him in privacy — screens taste from cultural politics.

In fact, the word connoisseur derives from the French verb connaître which means “to know intimately” (even sexually). Certainly, artists of past generations understood this, and they relied on the beauty of things — bodies, landscapes and objects — to delight viewers into staring unselfconsciously and lovingly. Fast-foward to now and you will find that postmodern art often deals with abstract ideas, concepts and socio-political concerns. As valid, and as intellectually stimulating as these things may be, the result is often over-thought art that intimidates or lectures.

Art that is overly insistent on its own intellectual and political virtues can’t generate the kind of back-and-forth conversation that my collector friend relished. The images and ideas broadcast by a truly great work of art have to the senses first: they have to seduce you and then the “conversation” really takes off from there. Art that appeals to the senses sends a message: “I like you and I want you to like me back.” Art that makes an effort to “like” its viewers invites responsiveness and offers deep intuitive connections and sensual resonances.

In his book about spiritual enlightenment, The Power of Now, writer Eckhart Tolle has devastating things to say about what he perceives as our overly conscious, “mind-dominated” culture.

Because we live in such a mind-dominated culture, most modern art, architecture, music and literature are devoid of beauty, of inner essence, with very few exceptions. The reason is that the people who create these things cannot — even for a moment — free themselves from their mind. So they are never in touch with that place within where true creativity and beauty arise.
That is a very harsh statement, but I think Tolle is on to something. Contemporary art has been overly thought about and overly theorized, to the point that too much art has forgotten to “like” its viewers. The “liking” has increasingly been seen as the sole responsibility of viewers as the art itself has become more challenging or banal.

I think that Andy Warhol was saying something along these lines when he stated that “Pop art is about liking things.” It was his way of saying that in a modern, consumer culture we all needed to ask less of the art object. In other words, it was time to accept the fact that art objects, like products, had been stripped of their subtlety and mystery for the sake of consumerist immediacy.

I see it differently. In a fast-moving, fast-looking media/consumerist society art can be an antidote that can wakes us up to slowness–to passion– and nudges our innate taste into wakefulness. Great art transcends the particularities of time, place and culture: it can break through limits and cultural assumptions if you let it.

The next time you are around a work of art, shut out everyone and everything else and open yourself up to it. Talk to the work of art and see if it talks back. If it likes you and you like it, nothing else matters. When a work of art likes you — by offering you images that entice and delight you — don’t worry about whether or not others will approve of your taste. Turn on the lights of your mind, let everyone else sleep, and see if the work of art likes you. If it does, there is every chance that you are going to like it back.

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The connection between the arts and health is nothing new. The ancient Greeks saw a clear link between art and healing. They believed that being in contact with painting, sculptures, and mosaics could heal the mind, body, and soul.

Professor Samir Zeki is a prominent professor at the Institute of Neuroesthetics at University College London. He recently demonstrated in this video that looking at art stimulates the brain in a way that makes people feel good.

Here is the latest article from the WallStreet Journal. More Hospitals Use the Healing Powers of Public Art: Hospitals Are Giving Artwork a Higher Priority. Read the whole story HERE. 

If we look further into history, the healing power of art and music has been known throughout history. In fact the first healing was music and dance in hunter gatherer cultures freeing what the Kalahari Bushman called healing “boiling energy” Each night people of the tribe would dance wildly and go into a trance or meditative state. The people believed that the dance itself freed the persons own healing energy. Eventually, music and dance were combined with costumes and storytelling and with objects and paintings in the creation of a ritual that we would now call theater or performance art. But in ancient times this ritual was sacred and it was part of the cultures medicine.

In a very real way the first artist and the first healer were one figure in society, one person, the shaman. This figure became a specialist in going inward to the place of creativity and healing. They became the person who embodied the original rituals that previously were spontaneous and made them intentional. All tribal peoples believed that there was a healing spirit that could be freed from within a person by going into the space of music or art and fully participating in the experience. If you would like to increase your ability to be an artist healer, one way is to increase your understanding of being a contemporary shaman. The path of the feather is our way of doing that. It is a way of seeing the earth as sacred and listening to the voices of ancient spirits and spirit animals.

Christian and Buddhist art also works on the principle that meditating on images or listening to certain sounds puts a person in a sacred state and heals. In Navaho sandpainting the patient was put on the ground and the sandpainting was made by a medicine man around them. The sandpaintings imagery told a traditional Navaho healing story and the healer told the story of the painting to the tribe as it was made. It is believed that the story, and the shapes and colors directly effect the spirits and heal the patient. Researchers find that Navahos using sandpainting are healed from some conditions that Western medicine cannot cure.

Furthermore in traditional cultures it was believed that art healed the world, not just the individual. It was believed that art and music changed the hunt, fertility, the crops, the weather, the life of the tribe, and the earth. Today many healing artists also believe that their art helps heal the earth. They are making environmental or eco-art to heal neighborhoods, rivers or to create world peace. From Artashealing.org


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Thirteen years ago, when I was in undergraduate school at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. We were required to take a Music Lecture 101 course as part of studies. The professor, Kabin Thomas was an amazing and inspiring guy, whose style embraced Carpe Diem. In his class he had us reflect on life, art, your purpose, and music. One his core assignments was to write your Eulogy. Writing your own eulogy is psychological exercise, that really makes you think about what legacy do you want to leave behind. When your dead what do you want to be remember for. 

By happenstance yesterday I found my Eulogy paper in my studio. Below was my vision in 2003. To date, 2016 ~ I have accomplished many of these things on smaller scale. See my Arts & Healing programs that I developed HERE. I have a lot of work to do and I need to refine my mission. But I will sit in Namaste Consciousness and BE so grateful, that some of dreams have come true.


Eulogy From Circa 2003

Lisa Rasmussen saw the sunset as one of the ultimate masterworks in the universe.  She was a bohemian goddess, an adventurer, a guide, an alchemist, and a journeywoman.  Her life took her to sacred sites around the globe.  She lived her philosophy of “art is life, as life is art”.  She understood and communicated that the salvation and empowerment of humanity is to love, to respect, to express and to create; and most importantly without judgment.  Lisa’s legacy is the art she created, her numerous paintings, ceramics and sculptures, which are infused with the spiritual message that we are all interconnected, from the flower, to the whales, to humanity — we are all part of the same web.

Lisa’s art can be absorbed globally in contemporary museums in New York, Spain, Italy, and Egypt. Her ceramics and paintings are also in many private collections, such as the Dali Lama, Jane Goodall and Brad Pitt.  Her longtime partner Don De Leon will take Lisa’s ashes to Nepal and Tibet, and search for the Green Tara.

At forty Lisa became a sage and conquered all her demons. She taught ceramics at California State-University at Santa Cruz and countless universities in Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa.  She inspired her students and herself to create some of the most original and sacred objects in contemporary art.  Her teaching style took her and her students to remote parts of the world, to learn sacred art.  Lisa is also responsible for the cultivation of the global and infamous, nonprofit organization called the Art of Life: Greenhouse Studios, which mission is to empower all individuals with the tools to create their own reality.

Lisa leaves behind a band of extended families around the world, that continue to grow, thrive and cultivate their own “art of life” at the Greenhouse Studios.  In 2010 she started the Art is Life Greenhouse Studios in San Francisco.  The studio is a nonprofit organization for like-minded artists, gurus and teachers, who want to make a difference in the world. The focus of the studio was the power of creativity. The studio reached out to the community and became an oasis for abused individuals, who were healed through the activation of their art. The Greenhouse also is the home to numerous abused animals. The studio incorporated creating with the presence and respect of animals. The studio attracted actors, gurus and artisans, who were questing to give back to the world. It continues to be sanctuary and shelter for the abused and oasis for their pets. Art and creating are the only mandatory qualifications to reside in the Greenhouse Studio. The art that sources from the Greenhouse is the finest in the art world; it is art from the soul. The mission of the Studio is to stop all abuses and to express and empower through the act of creation.  Within five years the Greenhouse studios began to bloom and spread to the world countries of Bolivia, Peru, Africa, Nepal, China, Tibet and Italy. The global Greenhouse studios with Lisa’s insistence became learning grounds for sacred arts. Local Shamans Gurus, and Artisans where invited as guests to teach. The studios have introduced the rebirth of sacred Art in the daily lives of these cultures. The Greenhouse studios have become centers for indigenous youth to learn artistic traditions, to relearn great respect for the culture, and to relearn respect for the natural world. Most of the creating takes place in sacred grounds of the country. The magnificent artists’ that the studios have cultivated have chosen to give back to their countries and their communities. They have erased the stigma of the third world. And have stopped trying Americanize their realities.  Empowerment and Pride have been infused into their ancient and rich cultures.

The global Greenhouses also are a sanctuary for the abused and a shelter for abused animals. One of the most powerful messages in the Studio is what animals can teach humans when they connect with them. Lisa has also set in place veterinarians from the U.S. to volunteer and spay and neuter the overpopulation of dogs and cats in these counties.

Also the Greenhouse in San Francisco provided study abroad programs to the other global studios. The studios have become healing centers for all who attended.  In her Greenhouse studios she provided art studios and learning, as well as spiritual lectures and Yoga. The Greenhouse Studios have become magnets for the great creative spirits — the genius of minds in all of the arts … healing and traditional.

Many European and Balinese master artists teach in this setting because it is done in the traditional way. The Art of Life Studios have also set up angel funding for emerging and struggling artists in the world. Hence the Eternal Guild — Lisa’s work and her band of spiritual bohemians, can be found in galleries around the world.  Called Eternal Guild Galleries, all of the proceeds go back to the foundation and to animal rights, human rights and preservation and protection of the earth.

Lisa is also responsible for the top five corporations’ new mind set to give back. They dominate corporations thorough Lisa persistence; Have created a New Renaissance-supporting the arts, nature and life. All companies are giving 10% of their profits to worldwide organizations- for art, preservation and to stop all abuses. They have also committed to budget tons of money to clean up mother earth.

The world has become a living art gallery.  Lisa has had here hands in saving many endangered species like the Giant Panda, the Whales, the Siberian Tigers, and the Mountain Gorillas.  With corporations giving back there is no need to exploit and rape the earth anymore.  

13762_512060578815698_484218569_nLastly one must mention Lisa’s children books — The Adventures of Kitty Bliss, which have planted the seeds in the young generation to have a powerful soul with faith, love and respect for all of life. Her books have surpassed Dr. Seuss and can be found in every language in the world.  Lisa’s spirit lives on in her grace, her creativity, and her art.  But also in the lives, she has touched through the Art of Life Greenhouse Studios, Eternal Guild Galleries and the Kitty Bliss series.

As the main character in Kitty Bliss discovered, if we all dream the same dream it will happen. For today all over the world people are dreaming the same dream … creating, expressing and .. . creating with love and respect for all life.  And the world has become a kinder, more beautiful and gentler place.

Write you own Eulogy? See one example of a writing exercise HERE. It is a powerful practice! Share if you care to!

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“My experience of creating with these extraordinary children, two of my core beliefs about art have been affirmed. Art is intrinsic to the nurturance of the human spirit and art’s true essence is transformative.”~ Lisa Rasmussen MFA

The Hands of Creation series manifested in 2006 to 2010 from my teaching and creating a transformative art program to vulnerable and emotionally troubled children at Lincoln Child Center, a mental health agency for severely emotionally traumatized youth in Oakland, CA.

Ideally, in my work and teaching, I seek to honor that state of the soul where the artist/child experiences the ultimate liberation, which is the personal act of creation itself.

“What does art mean to you? 

Join the conversation and add what does Art mean to you in the comment section below.

Ever since I began as a transformative art teacher at Lincoln Child Center, I have been asking this ongoing question to myself and to my students everyday that we meet in the “calm room’ –the art room. This is whattranspires.

Javier one of my students who is age 7, said “painting makes me feel happy. When I make art, I learn about the parts of myself that are a mystery.”

Art helps me find my own creativity. Darill, Age 11

When I grow up I want to create video games and I want to become a scientist who studies volcanoes.  When I created this painting I grew as an artist. Art is fun. My favorite thing to do in art is everything. I come from a long line of artists.  My family is Cambodian it reflects on me to shine and to become an Artist. In art I am always learning and making up new techniques. When I grow up, I want to be a mechanic. The most beautiful moment in my life was when I was brought into this world. Rayu, Age 12.

Art means I do not quit and I learn patience.  When I grow up I want to a football player/artist. Jericho, Age 12

Art is joyful. I learn about quality in myself when I doing art. Alexus, Age 12

Art is fun!!  It is an expression of my feelings. I love to paint. Through the colors that I use I am getting to know myself. From doing art I am learning to use better actions when I am angry. I put my anger and expression in my art. Ian, Age 12

Tell me about a beautiful moment in your life?  When I made my first painting at LCC.

Art brings hope to me, inspires me as an artist, encourages faith in myself and helps me dream into my future. I enjoy painting and lettering on canvas. In art I learn to express my feelings and calm myself down. I also learn that I can do what I want to do and be what I want to be when I do art. Isabel, Age 13

Tell me about a beautiful moment in your life?

When I was born was a beautiful moment because I came into the world and I am gonna be somebody.

When I was ten I discovered that I loved art. I find art very therapeutic. When I feel that life is tough I do art. To me art is freedom and power.Jasmine, Age 14

What do you want to be when you grow up?  When I am an older my wishes are live in India and to have an art studio and teach other children the power art.

Art it is cool. I like to paint, draw, and do anything that starts with an A. I just love art. Ruben, Age 8

What do you want to be when you grow up?I want to be an artiste.

Tell me about a beautiful moment in your life? My happy place called art

Art is a way of life.  My favorite thing to do in art is make the painting bright.  In art I learn more and more. Marquis, Age 12

Art is very  peaceful.  while doing art I am a calmer person. The most beautiful moment in my life was when I was painting roses on a wall in fourth grade art class. Julius, Age 11

Art is the expression of my feelings. My favorite thing to do in art is action painting.  I have learned that I am an artist. Anthony, Age 13

Art is power. When I do art I am at peace and I learn that I can make no mistakes. Shay, Age 11

Art means to me family, earth, and flowers. When I am painting I learn about relationships and that I am happy. Kacey, Age 10


“Hope” by Jose, Age 12

Rayu won an ART award at the Pro Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland

 Butterfly Man, by Austin, age 8

Mask making, Hadari, age 12 (RIP)

Jasmine, super ART star, age, 13

Austin, age 8

Jasmine, super ART star, age, 13

Tamoni, Perry, and Ms. Vinya

“Energy”  Aaron, age 14

Art means I can do anything I put my mind to. Art is a thing I love to do it is relaxing and calming. Austin, Age 11 turning 12

What do you want to be when you grow up? Billionaire

Tell me about a beautiful moment in your life?  When I did this painting it is the best one I have ever done.

Art is about  learning to have faith and to have fun. Sarah, Age 11

Art is about spirit’s and stuff. In art I like to paint and shake it around. And use my imagination. I learn about patience and it makes me feel good about myself. Hadari, Age 11

Art makes me feel good and no one can take that from me. I learned from art I am talented. Dion, Age 10

Art is about expressing myself. My favorite thing to do in art is abstract painting. In art I learned that I can get my feelings out. Javaya, Age 11

Art is everything to me and when I do art I learn about life. Michael, Age 11

Art means love.  It teaches me patience and that I m creative. Ashley. Age 10

Art means a lot. Art takes you into another dimension. It is better than anything in this world. With art I learn about life and that I am a good person. Alerria, Age 12 getting ready to be 13

Art is about feelings. I learn how to speak up for myself. Manisha, Age 11

Art is about love. Charles, Age 11

Lisa: I am truly amazed at what you have accomplished and the level to which you have taken our art program. I get a big smile every time I see an email, knowing that you are once again doing great things for our kids. It is truly  transformative in their lives, and in ours. Thank you,
Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of Lincoln Child Center in Oakland

And thank you for being the source of its creation!

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