Finding Our "Effortless Power"
What does art have to do with golf? . . .
For the best results you have to relax and swing. I took my one and only, my first, golf lesson early in 2018. I have been visiting this lovely golf course community in southern California, and I thought “If not now, when? & “If not here, where?”
So, I signed up for a lesson one Friday. The following Monday was the day! The weather turned out to be glorious, though cooler than last week’s 80-degree temperatures. But still, when you consider that I was here in Cathedral City, California, from Severn, Maryland, even the 60- and 70-degree temperatures are a blessing.
As it happens, the Clubhouse in the development where I stayed has a certified PGA Class ‘A’ Golf Professional instructor. His name is Steve Creps. Steve’s golf philosophy is one of “Effortless Power.”
Golf Lesson Number 1
Steve began our 2-hour lesson by leading our class of four with a warm-up. He explained that it would loosen us up and help in relaxing our muscles. Contrary to what you would think, our warm-up session did not take place out on the Green, but rather in the clubhouse. On the floor. We spent about 10 minutes doing a few Yoga and Pilates moves and stretches. It was just what was needed, I realized, as I took my first practice swings after learning about grip, posture, and stance. Golfing is a very physical game/sport! Even our core is involved. In fact, our core has to be involved, along with arms and legs, in our golf swing. Having only watched a few minutes' worth of golf on television, I had no idea how physical the game really was. We'll see if I can move tomorrow!
Back to the Lesson Itself
Describing his style and the focus of his 30-plus years teaching golf, Steve said “I teach Effortless Power, a relaxed Arm Swing with the Support of the Body.” He further explained that while he teaches his Effortless Power method, “Most people that play golf, play with Powerless Effort (a very Tight Body Motion).” They are polar opposites. During the lesson, Steve cited golf's top names, experts like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan, and highlighted their best practices and professional ethics. What Steve and all of them have in common is "Effortless Power."
It was a fun lesson, where we learned much about stance, grip, and the swing. The other three students had played golf or taken lessons before, but Steve gave us all our due. All of our questions and past experience - even with other sports - was relevant. Me, I had a very short stint playing softball in middle school...a "career" cut short when the pitcher released the ball too soon, knocking me out. After that, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters would not let me play... not that I wanted to, probably. I took it as "a sign" that playing sports was probably not my thing...smile. What blew me away, however, was the "muscle memory" from swinging the bat! Not surprisingly, my first practice swings looked like I was going for a pitch . . . Fortunately, that old habit (pun intended) was not so ingrained that it could not be unlearned. I was having fun.
As we all practiced our swing, and Steve came around checking our grip and correcting our rhythm, I realized that golf was a bit like dancing - the entire body is involved. It all has to work together to make one's own swing smoother, better. I have much to learn, but I know that I stumbled upon the perfect teacher at the right time. It's never too late to try something new, right?
My Art Swing
So . . . on the walk back to my house for more coffee, I thought about Steve's philosophy of "Effortless Power." A few minutes later, as I entered my pop-up art studio – my creative ‘home away from home – I began contemplating the paintings I had created in the last couple weeks in California. I looked at each painting that I had done and spent time analyzing which ones "worked" and which fell short of the mark in my opinion. Essentially, it comes back to which ones make me happy – even if I cannot find words to explain it. And then, I thought about my first and only golf lesson earlier that morning . . . When I looked over each of them again, I knew which ones did not work. They were the ones that either bored or bothered me. The ones that worked made me smile. In completing those pieces, I realized that those were the ones in which I had lost myself, intuitively letting my swing and the rhythm of painting carry me through. Intuition took to brush, blocking out most conscious thought. Everything worked in sync, was connected, and I was on a roll. For me, each successful painting begins with much thought, but the content alone cannot make a painting a winner. In painting or sculpting, for me, the magic ingredient is intuition carried on a current of joy. Regardless of whether the painting is somber or light, it only works when I finish from and within my grove, giving intuition and muscle memory free reign.
I chuckled to myself, realizing that I had just applied the golf lesson to my Art and creative technique! I realized that without fail, I do my best work when I am relaxed and focused solely on my swing and my “game” – my Art. In those moments, I am not over-thinking things and I am not painting to “score.” I am painting for the joy of it and am thoroughly enjoying myself. I lose myself in my work, and just do it. I swing! In those swings, my mind, heart, body, and intuition are all connected, all moving together as one. I am swinging . . . dipping into the right paints, making deliberate and effortless strokes, and the paintings pull together in those moments.
Surprisingly, I was struck by another parallel with playing golf. Steve had told us that when hundreds or thousands of golfers were asked to describe the best shots or best games they ever had, they all replied that they had no memory of actually hitting the ball . . . they did not feel the ball. It was all one motion and everything connected. I realized that when I am at my best painting, I, too, do not remember what I did in what order. I felt the painting. I became one with it, in the rhythm and in harmony with the activity. I was living in the moments and enjoying the swing . . . Lesson learned: That is what I must continue to do. Work with experts, sure, but primarily, I need to stay in the groove and keep working on my art swing. In finding our groove, our swing, we find our own unique voice.
Case in point . . .
I realized late last week that one painting, in particular, was really bothering me. It was frustrating and it just wasn’t working. To try to make it come together, to work, I had to be willing to risk it all. Squaring off with it one morning, I figured that it was either going to work or become a complete do-over when I was finished with it. Its time had come. My standards simply will not allow me to hold onto a mediocre (or worse) painting - despite how many other people might like it. It is my work and it is not complete until I like it. Correction: I need to love it. If I don't, it eventually gets painted over.
Although I could not put my finger on why it was not working, I laid it on the floor, and felt the smile take over as I dove in. After risking it all, beginning with losing the beloved chair I had worked so hard to retain for days, I found my groove – and got my “Swing” back.
Now, the painting works. It is cohesive. Better yet, it excites me. I realized that I was happy while I was pushing it to the limit, knowing I was either going to give it a total make-over or cover it with gesso and start a new painting. There was no middle ground, for I had seen the middle ground and it was unacceptable. I had previously been over-thinking things, resulting in my being too cautious and hesitant in my actual painting approach. My lack of confidence and guts was ruining the painting. And when it comes down to it, I am the one who ultimately has to be happy with my work. That way, each painting is up to my standards and no one else’s. I know I can live with that. Applying my new-found golf analogy, while I keep pushing myself and raising my own bar in my Art, I must never lose the joy of the swing. Art is my avocation, my happy place.
I keep smiling as I realize how surprised I am to be able to relate my one and only golf lesson to my Art. I was surprised at how physical golf was, for the best swing (or sweep) involves our entire body – arms, core, and legs. Perhaps I am here at this time and I took that golf lesson for a reason, right? And let’s not forget the gorgeous view from the golf course!!!
How fortunate am I that from this one lesson, I came away with a twofer! First, I learned my first little bit about playing golf. Second, and more importantly for me, thanks to Steve, I re-learned the "Effortless Power" philosophy that I intuitively knew and experienced countless times in my Art life. When I am "in my groove," I am "in the swing" of things. If you have been in a workshop or Residency with me, you know that I am an action painter. I move when I paint. My painting is a type of improvisational “dance” unique to each painting. I am either on the floor with the painting and/or moving back and forth and around a painting if it temporarily sits on an easel. My take-away: Swing with all you have - for the joy of it.
As for me, I will keep working on my Art Swing. And who knows? I might even go back for a second lesson tomorrow and learn the fundamentals of “Pre-Swing” and “In Swing” and how to handle a driver. (I think Steve just might have winced under his smile when I asked him if the driver was that fat-ended club.)
Until next time, keep swinging!
For more information on Steve Creps, visit: http://www.cathedral-canyon.com.
I personally believe that God and the Universe give us the right people and the right stuff when we are ready for it. It is my hope that my thoughts and experiences will help others, like yourself. Spreading creativity and good energy and vibes is important to me. Keeping the positive creativity wave moving and sharing it with others would add to my joy. In that spirit, please feel free to share and pass along my words if you think they can help others!