In his work as an abstract artist, CJ Miller has learned to listen. He has learned that setting an intention to do his best will enable him to do precisely that. He has learned to suspend negative judgment. He has learned to allow himself to be led, to recognize that the energy flowing from his hands to the canvas doesn’t belong solely to him.
“Part of the process of creativity is to allow yourself to be present,” says Miller, author of “The Spiritual Artist” and host of a podcast of the same name. “A higher power leads you. You always set an intention: Ask to do your best. That’s all you have to do, and it will come to you.”
He calls this co-creating, and it is not unique to him.
“Every single artist will tell you,” Miller says, “that when they’re creating, something is flowing through them.”
Yet we as humans are often reluctant to name that “something” or to acknowledge that our talents — whether to paint a canvas, write a book, or design a beautiful garden — come from a guide deeper than ourselves, he says.
He has no hesitation in defining this guide as a power that is greater than any one name.
“Some say God. Some say Buddha,” Miller says. “Some say Mother Nature and some say science. Rather than getting caught up in that, I leave a blank line in my book for readers to insert their own words, but we get this inspiration from somewhere. I ask, ‘What is mine to do? What uniqueness of you within me do you want me to express?’
“Then I just listen.”
Recently, he has heard the call to paint emotions, which he thinks about quite a bit.
“I teach that we are not our emotions, though we tend to claim them as our own,” Miller says. “You are not angry; you’re feeling angry. You are not anxious; you’re feeling anxious. Emotions fly through you, and you can feel them, but you don’t have to act on them. You can be angry at the guy who cut you off on the highway, but it doesn’t mean you have to act on your anger and run into him.”
Miller has channeled his musings into “Emotional RollerCoaster,” the name of his exhibit on display through Sept. 24 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas.
Each of his 10 paintings was inspired by a song that has a strong emotional trigger: frustration, sadness, anger, and love.
“I went back through my life and listened to so many songs that have made up my life,” Miller says. “We can all name a song that comes to mind when we think about, for instance, falling in love. I played all those favorite songs. I listened to which one wants to be painted, and then I listened to it over and over again.”
He let lyrics and melodies intermingle, not knowing how they’d direct the colors he’d choose, not worrying about how they’d eventually play out on canvas. Instead, he took a risk he didn’t see as one, relying on his faith in the process to guide him.
“I scribbled while I painted,” Miller says, “layering and layering and the paintings just took form. It’s funny because I’m an abstract painter, not a literal artist. But I started seeing shapes appear on the canvas. There’s a heart in one of them, and I didn’t plan it. I’m embarrassed, quite honestly, because I’m not a heart kind of guy.”
Miller’s Art Exhibit
While Miller might not be comfortable painting literal shapes like a heart, he does lead with his heart. You listen to him talk about the creative process and begin thinking, “Hmm. What am I being called to do? If I listened, what would I hear?”
“That’s the thing about the creative process,” Miller says. “When you watch your emotions and turn off critical judgment, spirit, and intuition speak to you. We all have that. We’re here to create.”
It doesn’t have to be painting, sculpting, playing music, or writing a book — activities traditionally associated with art. Instead, he says, creation takes all forms.
“You could be planning a wonderful meal for a friend. You could be raising a child. We all have a unique creative identity, which (dancer) Twyla Tharp calls ‘creative DNA.’ This individualized spirit is in each one of us. It’s our destiny, and it should be a pleasure to find out what is unique to each of us and to act on it.”
An Artist’s Calling Toward Spiritual Expressionism
Miller has long felt called to art, but only in the past two decades has its serenity and guidance manifested itself into his life.
“It’s nice to reach that place,” he says. “I read a wonderful quote this morning which talks about surrendering, about the point where we surrender to a higher power. That doesn’t mean we’re helpless; it means that the higher power is guiding us.”
Working at his own advertising agency for 25 years, Miller was the force driving himself. Then, perhaps serendipitously, his back began hurting from sitting in front of a computer all day. So, he decided to go back to his original creative love: painting. He stands while he paints by necessity because his canvases are so large. Each of his “Emotional Rollercoaster” series measures 4 feet by 6 feet.
“I love to move while I paint,” says Miller, who defines his art as “spiritual expressionism.”
“I really interact with the canvas; that’s my creative DNA. I paint with large, expressive strokes. I feel constrained on a small canvas as if I’m painting on an egg. Some people do paint on eggs, which is fine; that’s their DNA.”
“We’re all creators,” Miller says. “I’m trying to get people to bring it out. It’s a matter of suspending judgment, of letting yourself be a child.”
And in so doing, granting yourself grace when life — a painting, a plant, or a meal — doesn’t look, grow, or taste as you might like.
“You only act desperate when you believe this is all you have,” he says. “Instead, there’s always something new to create around the corner. Reground yourself; remember your connection to a higher power.”
That’s what Miller focuses on when the tremor he has in his hands keeps him from painting how he wants to paint. He shared this vulnerability with a group when an older woman spoke up. She used to do watercolors, she told him. But when her hands began shaking, she turned her talents to constructing collages.
“See?” Miller says. “You can’t take that creative DNA out of you. You’re an artist. Just change the way you do your art.”
One day when he was frustrated because of his tremor, he went online and found an artist with no hands who paints with his feet.
“You learn to paint with what you’ve got,” he says.
Which, of course, isn’t limited to a brush and canvas. We aren’t all painters, but we all are human beings whose gifts intermingle on this planet we share.
“The world is small, but we are connected,” Miller says. “What we do matters. Once you accept that, life is so much easier. It’s easier to love than to hate. Hate takes you away from connections and ideas, and creativity. Love is the portal of creativity. We desperately need this and each other. In the last 10 years, the world seems to be moving toward ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We’re all ‘us.'”
Turning off our critical minds, not criticizing each other, and letting emotions such as fear or jealousy flow through us and disappear allows us to be creative, to be who we are meant to be, he says.
“When I feel love and sit there in the moment, I open space for ideas to come in, and they do come in. It’s almost like you’re a radio tower receiving a signal. If you set the dial right, you’ll hear it. And if you’re in the space of loving presence, you’ll listen.”
For more information about the show or see samples of Miller’s art, visit www.spiritualartisttoday.com.
CJ Miller Solo Exhibition
C J Miller’s immersive collection features 10 large paintings, each paired with a specific song to create an environment that will take you through various emotions.
As you view each painting and listen to the music, experience the expanse of human emotion from happy to sad, melancholy to hopeful, and frustrated to reverent.
We encourage you to download the Spotify App on your phone before arriving. A QR code is available on-site to access the specific playlist accompanying the exhibition. *Air pods and listening devices are not provided.
Where: Charles W. Eisemann Center, Virginia Green Mezzanine Gallery | 2351 Performance Dr., Richardson
When: Through Saturday, September 23 | Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.