The ‘other side’ of the story by Joseph Barker

Growing up I always got labelled as ’creative’ – someone who had talent with paint, pencils and paper. So when it came to choosing my life partner, perhaps it comes as no surprise I chose a woman who also likes to be ‘artistic’. Yet ironically we have spent much of our married life in bank and government jobs, with our expression of colour and flair mostly restricted to a choice of kitchen table flowers. 

A few months ago we decided to change all this and embark on a ‘co-painting’. We’d got married had children and travelled around the world together – so how hard could this venture possibly be? Answer: Very!

We purchased a wide expansive canvas and agreed (in a general way) to paint the universe as we felt it to be. Armed with paint brushes and paint tubes we set up in the garden, and set to work. As the colours came out and got splodged on, the process between us just flowed. We hardly looked at what the other had painted but had an incredible sense of oneness at the same time. But then tentativeness came. We began to stand back, squint and say out loud to ourselves ‘what’s next?’. 

We started to look at what the other had painted and say quietly to ourselves ‘hmm… Im not sure about that bit’. By the time we went back to our brushstrokes we seemed to have unconsciously divided up the canvas like a country after a war into ‘his and ‘hers’. Eyes began to narrow and glower at rogue brushes that entered our territory. Yet still ‘peace’ reigned, until my wife made the move across into ‘my side’ and started to paint over my latest addition. Taken aback I exclaimed “excuse me! What are you doing?”. She explained it appeared unfinished to her, and kept dawbing on top. 

Not to be left behind I started to survey the universe and felt our impression was coming up quite short and what needed definitely to be added to this cosmos was some dots of light. I started to add them in like a mischievous elf all over the painting – before my wife interrupted me with an indignant voice – “what’s that???” “I thought the universe was a bit flat” I replied.”Flat? – it’s LAYERED! A beautiful effect you have just RUINED!” It seemed our attempt to create the universe had reached a serious impasse. 

As the man in this situation I considered leaving home, and began to withdraw – deciding to ‘let her have her Milky Way and eat it’. I made snide comments from the gallery, and looked on askance as if to say ‘have you finished it yet?’. As she carried on regardless it eventually seemed pointless and I resumed painting as best as I could. As the sun set in the garden we came to conclusion that the painting (universe) was pretty much complete, although it may have just been the way the shadows were landing. 

As I washed up our paints and water and rags I let out a sigh of relief and laughed at our labour. Over the ensuing days as we went through ‘how was it for you’  we saw how old hurts had been triggered – Someone not valuing and appreciating how we express, our expression being literally covered up, comparison, others ploughing on ahead without considering how it was for us – lack of a shared vision’. But what was most powerful of all – was how attached at moments we had both been to ‘our artwork’. By letting go of this we had produced was not what we had in our head – but something completely fresh instead. 

And as we talked about this, it slowly became apparent that this is in fact the art of life – when we set aside our ideals and personal wants – something magnificent and universal comes through that far exceeds anything we could invent. So our first co-creative piece of art taught us a lot about our past ways of working with others but also what magic can come when we remove self and move for a higher purpose. This is the true master piece of life.

After talking it all through a few days later we went back to the canvas, together and added some finishing touches – after all the universe is all about harmony isn’t it?

Highly Recommended Further Reading

Relationship With the Universe

Being my Own Masterpiece

The Train Wreck we Call ‘Art’: Music and our Responsibility as a Global Family

The universe is complete – photo credit Joseph Barker

2 Replies to “Life’s Masterpiece”

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