Throughout my childhood I found myself observing or participating in art classes on a regular basis. For over twenty years my father taught drawing, painting, and color theory at the local art college and in private classes. Many of these classes were held in the evenings and as a young high school student that gave me the opportunity to spend time in town with friends or skateboard before driving 20 miles back to our rural home. Sometimes, though, at the end of one of these evenings, I would hangout in my dad’s classroom and, out of interest, participate in some of the class exercises. From these many experiences one particular exercise that my dad taught still stands out in my mind due its mix of challenge, fun, and fright. The exercise is simple. My dad would “loosen up the class and get the creative juices flowing” by asking people to draw or paint a complete picture, with all necessary details, color, and shading, in one minute. Further, students would repeat this exercise ten times in ten minutes and then basically have a small art show at the end to show for their effort.
My dad discovered that when students work in this way they go through most of the same emotions that he goes through to complete any piece of art, just that all of these emotions that come up in the creative process are condensed into one minute. First, students are overwhelmed and a little excited to begin a new project, second, they are scared and frustrated that they have to create a whole piece of art in a short amount of time, third, they are either determined to push through and make it happen or feel stuck from fear of failure and have a very hard time starting the work at all. Fourth, there is the experience of being cut off in the middle of working once the minute is over, which seemed to bring up mixed emotions depending on the individual student.
This intense focus for short periods of time is both potentially emotionally exhausting and eventually, with lots of practice, energizing due to the various emotional walls that come up and are pushed through while making decisions in such quick succession due to the one minute time limit. After the first picture is completed, many students would begin to slow down and take a breath when they suddenly remember that they have to continue with the same process nine more times before the exercise is over. After a few seconds of frantic preparation, students once again go through the whole process of creating a complete picture until the exercise is over. Around the third minute mark I would often notice a kind of meditative hum of focused action throughout the art class.
Once the ten minutes and ten drawings or paintings are complete, there is a collective pause and moment of calm reflection on what just happened. After the paintings are displayed and people start milling about the room there is a mix of pride and embarrassment as people see what they and others created. The sense of pride, however small, gained from decisive action in the midst of time pressure is briefly discussed in class, and students are acknowledged for completing the exercise in whatever form they could.
I could always tell the students that had done the one minute exercise in previous classes because those students were quick to get to work without first going through obvious emotional pause and preparation. Also, students familiar with the exercise tended to have more completed works by the end and more consistently powerful strokes in the images they created. One thing that struck me in these exercises was that some very accomplished artists who completed the exercise had a hard time with it, which I had not anticipated. I suppose it potentially showed that working quickly is not a good fit for all people, or that those unaccustomed to a quick pace would struggle more at first and eventually prevail.
Creating one minute drawings or paintings is similar to providing community acupuncture (CA) treatments in five or ten minute increments because in each discipline the practitioner gets to the creative essence or flow state of an activity by making critical decisions under time pressure. In my experience, this time pressure encourages a clear goal oriented focus coupled with a personalized approach that becomes increasingly more effective and efficient through practice. As you participate in the art class exercise you get more comfortable with developing the structure of your drawing or painting quickly and effectively. It is always a challenging exercise due to the time constraint, yet the results tends to get increasingly bold, clear, goal oriented and powerful in proportion to the students’ familiarity with the exercise.
A similar process of refinement through practice happens in practicing CA. Over time a community acupuncture practitioner (CAP) develops efficiency of diagnostic skill and eventually an intake with a new patient becomes shorter due to this refined skill level. CA practitioners assess which questions and orientation information are most relevant to a new patient from how the patient holds themselves, their tone of voice, the level of animation in their bodies, and how they interact with their environment. This refinement of assessment skills is of course true for all types of acupuncturists, yet CA provides a unique venue for quick development of these types of practitioner skills. Treating a high volume of patients each day translates into encountering and pushing through unfamiliar practitioner/ patient experiences often, which in turn forces the CA practitioner to develop his or her communication skills rapidly.
My dad was fond of relating that art was something you had to do in a state of mind where you set your expectations and personal boundaries for expression aside for the moment and just create. When in a purely creative state of mind, one performs in ways one might never believe possible by allowing the experience to happen without getting carried away by judgment or by fear of failure. When you allow yourself to do something without projecting judgment about your ability to achieve that goal, you step into a place of power and efficiently guide your hopes and intentions through your actions as you create.
Your first ever one minute drawing may look anywhere from unrecognizable to ok to great, yet, as you practice over and over again your lines on the canvas or paper become more steady and you develop a confidence and power in your efficiency. As genuine confidence builds the result in your experience is a power and life that begins to show in the images. Eventually, a one minute drawing becomes a relatively smooth and stable endeavor, with natural pacing amid careful efficiency. With practice, you find that you don’t need a whole minute to get the basic scene drawn, and that you start filling in more and more details in that same period of time.
In the same way that the impressionist painting style creates a sense of aliveness in the images portrayed, without relying heavily on realist detail, the CA practitioner creates simple yet powerful acupuncture treatments in a short period of time. Impressionism struck a cord with my father. He draws and paints quickly, with determined strokes and when I watch him work I see a blur of lines and movement and then suddenly the energy or impression of the scene or subject emerges. My dad feels comfortable using only enough lines to get the job done and occasionally comments to his students that you can “over-paint” a painting and ruin the effectiveness of portraying the energy of the environment you are looking at through adding excess detail.
Just as my father’s art students learned to create impressive works of art in one minute, CA practitioners can learn to treat patients powerfully and efficiently in 5 to 15 minute interactions.Treating patients with this style of acupuncture is a skill that can be developed.It is simply a matter of having a passion for this type of business model and the perseverance to practice, practice, practice…
P.S. Anyone interested in seeing my dad’s paintings can visit his website at www.toadrock.com