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The Adjacent Possible- From The Ends Of The Earth To The Depths Of The Psyche

The Adjacent Possible- From The Ends Of The Earth To The Depths Of The Psyche

The print book arrived! The Adjacent Possible: Evolve Your Art. From Blank Canvas to Prolific Artist.

If you want to experience a sample of the book, I gave a Book Reading of Chapter One. You can listen to it HERE. 

The Adjacent Possible book has a free companion video series you can access with the purchase of your book. The print book is now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  

100% of proceeds from the first 30 days of book sales will be contributed to Feeding America and Community Fridges. We’re committed to mediating food insecurity one book, one action at a time. Thank you for your support.

To further support the book and this project, please leave us a review on Amazon. This helps bring visibility to the book and the mission. Thank you again.



Hi, everyone. Great to see you, Nancy Hillis here. And we are back from Scotland where we took our daughter Kimy to the University of St. Andrews. It was an amazing place. It is an amazing place, A lovely stone medieval town. And I say, it’s almost like the University of Oxford had a baby with UC Santa Barbara.

There’s this amazing stone university at the edge of a beautiful ocean and beach. Yeah, it’s really amazing. And the North Sea, right? The North Sea, just right there at the doorstep, The Chariots of Fire beach, The Chariot’s of Fire, they call it West Sands, but it’s the Chariots of Fire beach. And of course we had to go walk on it And even run on it.

So anyway, we got back from Scotland and when we returned, there was a package on our front area, our front door basically. And I opened up the package and guess what was out there? The book, and this is the author’s copies of the book. I got three of them. And so the author’s copy is when you have a print version of a book,

this is through Amazon. And so they send it to you to check it out. And it says, if you see that, not for sale, not for resale. Yeah. Not for resale, but it basically gives you a chance as the author to look through the book and make sure everything looks right. It’s a proof copy. Is it laid out correctly?

That sort of thing. It looked fantastic. So I was very happy about that. And then literally the next day I got another package and this is what showed up. This is the book book. This is the real book. This is the book that comes to you if you get the book. And it’s really interesting because it’s thicker even than the,

The Artist’s Journey, Bold Strokes, but it’s got that same square format and this painting on the front and parts of the back is the painting back behind Bruce- this painting. And anyway, so that’s on there and then it’s the square format, which is really cool. And it’s all about this concept that Bruce and I have been talking about for years.

And that concept is the adjacent possible. We’ll get into that in just a minute. But what happened was I started to realize after painting for years and teaching artists abstract painting for years, that there are patterns that in the life cycle of artists, that recur and one of those patterns is ultimately getting to the adjacent possible. And, you know, can you tell us just a little bit about what the adjacent possible is in terms of,

for an artist? Well, the idea comes from biology, evolutionary biology, but it does have practical application to an artist because both of them deal with evolving systems. And that’s what, you know, artists are living people and they, they evolve and change. And so the adjacent possible is inspired by evolutionary biology, but it has applications far beyond that. You are continuously creating new things and these new things,

you have a multitude of them. They live together in your mind and out in whatever medium you’re working in and it’s in biology, you know, species come and go, new ones, show up, old ones, rise and decline. And the idea here, maybe what’s the subtlest thing to wrap your mind around is you don’t identify yourself with a particular species.

Well, I wanted to be the most successful species in the kingdom. You are the whole system. You are the whole ecology, the things that are both rising and falling, and this addresses the idea of a success disaster. Sometimes you can paint a painting and you discover Wow, you really like it. People buy it. Then you start painting a lot more like that.

And this is sort of like a species taking over. All of a sudden, everything is ragweed or everything is Aspen or everything is mosquitoes. And yes, there’s a whole lot of them, but ultimately it’s not a winning strategy. Things go down in time. So you want to, you want to be aware of that and realize that let’s say a species again,

the biological metaphor, were to takeover out-compete everything else, eat everything else. Then it would be left having eaten everything. The only thing left and it would die off because there’s nothing left to eat. You need to be able to contain different perhaps inconsistent ideas within yourself, a whole ecosystem. There’s a poem by Walt Whitman. Some of you might think it’s by Bob Dylan because he used it in a song.

But it predates Bob Dylan by at least a hundred years, it’s called The Song of Myself and some lines from it is: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” That’s the lesson for artists. Oh, that’s beautiful. I love that. Love that poem. And so this is really sort of this pattern that Bruce was talking about.

We started to see in artists. And so for a long time, we talked about the hero’s journey, the artist’s journey as a hero’s journey. And it is. So you’re in this spiral, in the cycle where you’re called to do something, you’re called to try something new. You’re called to paint or create. But at first you’re afraid. So you tend to refuse,

but ultimately, you know, you really want to do this thing. So at some point you say yes, and the moment you refuse the refusal and you say, yes, you are plunged into perils because creating brings up fear, self-doubt, inner criticism, second guessing, who do I think I am? All these kinds of things. And this is natural. You know,

there’s a, there’s a struggle in there and that’s a good thing. And then, you know, guides show up like Virgil with Dante, that help along the way, other artists, even yourself to, to go through this, these perils. And then, you know, you face the dark night of the soul in the old stories, right, where you really face yourself.

And that is, that’s where the transformation happens when you face your own fears and you go ahead anyway, and then you return back to your life a little bit different, a little bit transformed, and then something else calls you. And it’s this cycle, this spiral. We’re continually moving in the spiral as artists. And so then what I see in that pattern,

stepping back from it, is something I call ISEE. And it’s the “I” is the inner landscape. Your psychology, your mindset affects everything. So you’ve got to be able to say yes. And that has to do with your inner landscape of ultimately trusting yourself enough to say yes to whatever’s calling you, to say yes to this painting, to say yes to trying all of that.

So that’s the big overarching concept of the inner landscape affecting everything throughout your journey as an artist and creator. And then there is three key components in terms of actions, in terms of implementation and Start is that first one. You’ve got to start. If you don’t start, nothing happened. It’s true. Yes. If you are not comfortable with change and then probably creative life is not for you because it never stops. Right. There.

Isn’t an end, an end point, the same as an evolution. The theoretical biologist, Stephen Jay Gould at Harvard came up with the idea that by that evolution isn’t going anywhere, it isn’t going towards some definable optimal state. It just keeps, keeps churning because along with the creatures that are evolving, so are the yardsticks measuring their success. Right.

So you got to start Zero to One. We talk about that. I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about Zero to One, from nothing to something is everything. And Zero to One, that interval is larger than one to two, two to three, three to four. So nothing to something is bigger than something to something. So you’ve got to start. And we do that with Lots of Starts,

Miles of Canvas, 6 Maquette Exercise, all those things. Okay. So, and in our life cycle, as an artist, we continually come back to, I got to start. I don’t care where you are. If you’re the very beginning or you’ve been doing this for years, you always got to come back to starting. Okay. So then we’ve got experimentation.

So, so what happens in this pattern that I’ve seen over the years and I’ve experienced it as well, is in the beginning as an artist, we tend to emulate other artists, artists that we love, it might be Joan Mitchell. It might be Cy Twombly. It could be Brice Marden. It could be anyone, Picasso, And I’m not a painter, I’m a musician.

But for me, my love of music started by hearing somebody else, I’m particularly a fan of JS Bach, because I’m a concert organist, and nobody has touched that instrument in that way ever before or after. But as a painter, you might see something by Picasso or Rembrandt and say, wow, that’s amazing. I wish I could do that.

And that is natural. And it’s good because it can kind of help spur you on to creating and learning from the masters, from the lineage of the great artists before us. And then what happens is eventually though, that becomes a dead end, because at some point you really want to express what’s in you not just replicate what somebody else’s doing, because your art really is a mirror of you and your life.

Okay. And it’s what you came here to do. So the way, the thing that happens after starting is experimentation. So we move off of emulating others. We start experimenting wild experimentation, asking the question. What if? What if I try this? What if I try that? staying, Living the questions, as Rilke said, rather than trying to get to the answers.

So, and part of experimentation is allowing for ugly art though, that what I think of is the nascent embryonic forms of new work that’s trying to emerge. And it often shows up as unfamiliar and ugly. A scientist would say that negative results matter, too. If you’re doing blood tests, you want to know that it doesn’t work as well as that it does.

And under what circumstances, and if you were to look at again, the evolutionary metaphor, if you were to look at all of evolutionary history, the vast majority of species that have ever lived are gone. There’s a lot of “failed experiments”, but they’ve contributed to where we are now, even by not being here. Right. And so that maps onto the ugly paintings that oftentimes people want to throw out.

And yet I believe those ugly paintings may be the most important work of all because at the time it’s so unfamiliar, you may not be able to appreciate that painting, but only years later actually love it. So that’s your experimentation. So part of the work is allowing the ugly, the uncomfortable to come through because it can inform something new that’s trying to emerge.

So then what happens is you’re on a roll you’re on fire with experimentation and you’re loving your art. People are loving your art and maybe you’re selling out your show and all of that because you’re doing all this experimentation. And then the risk shows up again, the risk of emulation of repetition shows up again, but this time it’s not emulating other artists work.

It’s emulating yourself. This is what we call the success disaster, Right. Which I talked about at the at the beginning here about evolution can have success disasters. And the, some of you may remember comic strips. There are these things that occurred in these other things called newspapers and a guy named Walt Kelly wrote a comic strip called Pogo for a long time.

And it has that very famous quote of “We have met the enemy and they is us”. I love that “They is us.” Yeah. And so I’m sure if you’ve painted for any, any time, any amount of time you’ve hit this place where you have this painting, you love it. I’ll tell you a story. I used to go out and paint landscapes,

oil landscapes. And eventually I got to where I was starting to paint paintings I really loved. It took a while to get there, right? So, but eventually I was really starting to create these paintings I loved. And I would go out there once a week with a group of artists, but what happened was I started to get scared and the more I would create these paintings.

I loved, the more I’d be afraid. Oh, can I keep this up? Is the next one. When I go next week out at the Baylands of Palo Alto, going to be as good as last weeks? So the fear rose and rose, and there’s a risk as you move along and you get into becoming very professional in your art and really getting the successes of getting shut down

even because of that. So this is the risk here. And what we’ve found in thinking about this is that then there’s a next movement. And the movement past experimentation is evolving your art, and this is the adjacent possible. So this is where you’re experimenting. And you’re you, and you’re having all these successes and you, and you, you want to keep evolving though.

You want, you don’t want to just stay there and keep going around and around repeating these successes with barely much difference because that’s deadening and it’s boring and it can shut you down. And so what you want to do is, is take all that you’ve learned. You’ve got one foot in the known, and you want to put another foot in the unknown and realize that with the adjacent possible that you are moving into realms of the unknown and each brushstroke,

each move you make, each decision is, was not only invisible before you made that move, but it didn’t exist before. And so you are co-creating with that movement and unfolding, the unknown. The unknown is unfolding. It’s like the tracks in front of you. That story. Can you tell that story? Oh, Wallis and Gromit one of my, one of my favorite,

I guess it’s a, it’s an animated film. And so I think it was called The Wrong Pants. Anyway, there are these clay figures, Wallace, and Gromit, it’s, it’s British. And there’s this one scene, a chase scene in which Gromit, I think the dog, is riding a locomotive, a toy locomotive, and he has a box he’s holding a box and the box is full of sections of track.

And as the chase goes on, he is laying track right in front of the locomotive, well, that’s, that’s the adjacent possible. It doesn’t exist until you lay that piece of track down and determine where you’re going. And each step determines where the next piece of track is going to go. Then you couldn’t necessarily say in advance what’s going to happen.

So it’s a beautiful piece of video philosophy. It really is. And you know something about all of this reminds me of Jorn Utzon, the Danish architect, who designed the Sydney Opera House. And, you know, instead of just repeating what had worked before for centuries, variations on the theme of just amazing cathedrals and buildings, he took a concept, a foundational concept called the monocoque.

It’s a French word for all in one, one shell. It’s like, if you think about an egg, the perfect shape, seamless, one shell, all there, through-composed, the monocoque. And he took this concept of the monocoque, which you also see in single hulled boats and some aircraft. Okay. And he took it to architecture and no one had ever done this before.

And he designed the Sydney Opera House. And if you look at it, you’ll see those shell movements on that, on that structure. And it wasn’t even clear that it would be doable in terms of the engineering, because no one had ever designed that before, never made anything quite like that, could they even put that together, would it hold together? So talk about the adjacent possible,

going into that edge, really in that place of innovation, this is what we’re talking about as an artist, you want to be continually evolving your art and you don’t know where it’s going. And you have to realize that a lot of things will die out along the way. And that’s part of the process. They’re not failures. No. And that’s part of having stacks of ugly paintings,

stacks of paintings, where it’s like, Well, I don’t know where that was going, but you know what? That is part of this, that is, all those seemingly failed paintings are vital to your process in your cycle of creating and evolving your art. So think about it that way. I think it’s really interesting. So one of the things I wanted to let you know,

some exciting news another piece of exciting news is that we have coming the masterclass. The masterclass is going to start again this fall. Soon, you’re going to be hearing about it. And the masterclass really gets at what we described here, which is the inner landscape and then start, experiment, and evolve. It really gets at the adjacent possible. So we want to continually evolve our work as artists.

And that’s what we’re about in the masterclass. Getting at the foundations, the concepts like monocoque and combinatorics and constraint and all these fundamental underlying concepts that inform your art. Ok, this is not about technique. Okay. Technique is like the little leaves on the trees. We want to get at the foundation, the roots, the trunk of the tree. So we’ve got some,

some meat to work with that could, we could evolve. Okay. And not look like everybody else’s art. So this is what we’re about. So anyway, love for you to join us in there. We’ll be telling you more about it over the next few weeks and getting started soon. But what we want to ask you is this, because this could really help us.

We’re continually evolving the masterclass and I would love for you to be a part of that. So the question is, as an artist, what is your biggest challenge in creating your abstract art, in creating your art? What is your biggest challenge? What comes up for you? We would love to hear. It may be several things, but write about it, comment down below in the comment section and/or write to us at support@nancyhillis.com

and let us know, because we want to know what your struggles are so that we can address them and help you to create paintings that wow you and really to become the artist of your dreams, continually evolving your art, continually stepping into the adjacent possible. So thank you so much. As an outsider, I have an observation about the masterclass and that yes,

people learn a whole lot from Nancy, but it’s not really a class. It’s a community. People get as much from each other- it’s a remarkable group of artists, at least the first time, as they do from Nancy and lifelong friendships and relationships are created out of this. Oh yeah. This is an amazing group of artists. And one of the really fun things is not only do we have the 12 weeks of live,

you know, sessions with me and Bruce sometimes gets on there and everybody’s on there and can talk to one another. But also afterwards, we started Artist Spotlights, Artist Studio Visits, so to speak, you know, virtually. But this is, this has just been something that artists have absolutely loved because we get to hear about each artist’s process, about their journey,

about their work, about how they’re evolving their art, about what they’re experimenting with. And this has been such a core piece of the Journeyers in the masterclass. And so we’d love for you to be a part of that too. And so it’s going to be coming down the path. Oh, one last thing. Can you hand me that copy of the book?

Yes. We know that for several weeks, you’ve been able to get the electronic copy of this book and electronic books are great, but they don’t have that new book smell as is inimitable. At least until smartphones come with smell-o-vision you won’t get it. The only way to actually get it is a physical book. So we’re a fan of physical books. That’s why our house is packed to the ceiling with them. That’s right.

And the really fun thing about this. You may know this and you may not. Bruce and I are on a mission to mediate hunger and food insecurity. And for the first 30 days, 100% of proceeds from the book are going to Feeding America and Community Fridges. And we have a community fridge out in front of our house and it’s continually evolving. Food shows up, food disappears.

We put food in there, it goes away. Other people put it in. Other people, we even have this shelving beside it even have. Sometimes we’ll put clothing out there and it goes like that. We put a comforter out there. Boom. It didn’t last a day. And so this is part of our mission. And so we believe that artists make a difference. Creators make a difference in the world,

and we’re committed to being part of making a difference and inviting you to be part of this as well. So every penny goes to that, those great causes in the first 30 days. After that, we’re going to give a percentage. But right now it’s a hundred percent. So jump in there and get your copy of the book. Leave us a review,

let us know what you think that really helps the visibility on Amazon, when you leave a review and we really appreciate it. So be a part of this mission. And can’t wait to see what you think about it. You’ll be hearing from us about the masterclass soon. We hope you join us. And some of those trainings we’ll have some live trainings and we’ll go from there.

Hope you have a great day and we’ll see you soon. Bye.

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