Ian Factor, 48, in his home studio

Ian Factor, 48, in his home studio

Ian came to me as a referral from a referral, which makes for a great example of the thread of community. I tell everybody that this process takes about an hour, give or take, but chatting with Ian was to become the exception, as we talked for two hours in his studio before I even started recording. He mentioned Boston in his first few sentences and that led talking about Portland, Maine - where I come from - and that led to stories and stories and stories and many different layers of connecting. And that connection is what I'm advocating. It's what I think most of us are capable of experiencing on a regular basis. In it is the joy of being alive here and now with all these other folks. If you normally read these stories, I'd encourage you to listen to the audio of this interview as Ian and I talk about much more than I've transcribed below. 

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

Well, you need my name? (Laughs) Ian Factor - that's my real name. Factor is... it's interesting 'cause my dad was in the military. He retired a colonel, but he was a major in the army, so he was Major Factor. And then my mom's name is Binnie, but then people rush it and it sounds like Bene, so Bene-Factor. But yeah, it's a real name. I think the origin is Eastern European. I had never known and when I was living in Portland, Maine, I met a guy who was from Poland and he said it was a very common name in parts of Russian Poland. Way back when I guess some lineage goes back to that part of the world. So that's who I am. Born and raised on the East Coast. I talked about Boston... Maine, New York - Mom's from Long Island, Dad's from Boston. Totally weird opposites in a way. And my folks are complete opposites. They're like the perfect yin and yang scenario. Which either leads me to believe that I'm perfectly balanced or completely schizophrenic. There's a balance. My mom is completely external, emotional - more the yang side. Then my dad's internal, very sort of cerebral, quiet - the yin side. So I get aspects of both of them. I grew up - it sounds like cliché - but before I could even remember, painting and drawing. I hear stories from my mom about conversations with my nursery school teacher. The earliest story I hear is when I was supposed to be doing finger painting or whatever and I had done an entire family portrait of everybody in my family, the dog included. And we're all naked, I guess, except my mom 'cause I didn't know what nude women looked like at that time. But my nursery school teacher was pretty aware of, I guess, what I was doing was somewhat unique and not normal level of depiction of the human form at that age. She talked to my mom and my dad said, You might want to keep an eye on that because there's something unique going on. 

Interestingly, they did. They kept an eye on it. They were aware of my tendencies towards visual expression and sort of early obsession with drawing and painting and things like that. So I was able to pursue that through their encouragement and orchestrating things like studying at the deCordova museum in Lincoln. As a child, I mean as a young, young kid - I must have been seven or eight - going to study sculpture and drawing at the deCordova - a sculpture museum and school in Lincoln, Mass. It's a beautiful place, really great - instrumental in my early training. And then also studying at Mass Art as a kid. I remember the first time I ever drew the nude I was about 10, I think, or 12. I signed up at Mass Art for life drawing. I didn't know, nor did my mom know,  what life drawing was. It was drawing from life, right? So I show up with my art supplies, I remember vividly like it was yesterday, I was the only kid, there were all these adults. And there was a model stand and I had my easel out - I was setting up all my stuff - and then these two people came out in robes and the director of this class was like, Okay, models posing. And the models got up on the stand and dropped their robes and I was like, Holy crap! (Laughs) You know? And it shocked me for about 40 seconds. And then I looked around and took very serious note of what everybody was doing. 'Cause at that age, maybe even now, we base a lot of our reactions on how people around us are reacting. I noticed that everybody was doing their thing, you know they were getting their supplies out, they were very focused, very serious, very professional. It was at that moment, at that young age, it was that quick, it was that abrupt and profound of a shift in my consciousness and my awareness of the importance and the beauty and the seriousness of the human figure - the human body. And it was at that point that I started pursuing figurative art. Then I studied at the museum school as a kid in high school - had a great art department in high school, even in middle school. And my mom and dad always allowed me and encouraged me to pursue that. So it was really fortunate. I have all these students now and know so many people now who were so, so discouraged as a kid in arts and it really shapes and forms who you are as a human being for the rest of your life. So I was fortunate. 

What does community mean to you?

Well, I have my ideal, you know, the dream of what the ultimate community would be like, I guess, on some level. On a base level, community is just people living together. Living amongst each other. But how those communities function and how they're formed and whether they're sort of healthy or destructive - that's a different kind of angle or a different type of nature or a different type of manifestation of the communal mind. One of the things that's sort of frightening to me right now about our state of the world - I mean it's probably never different, it's always like the world is crazy... it's been happening for thousands of years. It's not any different. You would hope that after millennia that we rise above that level, that base level that we were talking about, but I mean, that's community. Certain communities are just founded and based on violence. Some communities are based on the opposite. So, to me, community is nothing more than just a bunch of people living around each other, living amongst each other, and how that energy - the energy of the community... You look at it as a microcosmic and a macrocosmic vision in terms of well, it's no different than the cells in our body - one thing affects everything else and everything is affecting that one thing. It's back and forth. It's a very delicate, fragile ecosystem - the community - like our bodies. We have one thing that's off, like one little, weird thing or germ or whatever, and our whole body, our whole system goes haywire. It's a very, very, very delicate balance. And I think community's the same. They have the same dynamic as the function of our bodies - of our cells and our energetic systems and things like that. It's all the same. As a human being, as an individual, as an artist - whatever, however you want to label myself - my role as a member of this community is to do the best that I can. First and foremost, you've got to take care of yourself. That's why I think politicians are so strange because they all take about how it's for the people, for the community, but they themselves are sick. They're full of disease and mental and emotional and psychological things that I personally don't think are healthy in the individual and they're in the positions to lead and influence and control other people. It's cliché again, but community starts with the self. And you have to work on yourself. You have to build a strong and healthy mind and body and balanced communication and understanding of compassion, understanding of the differences of people and that those differences should generally be embraced. Unless somebody comes in and they just want to kill you. I don't necessarily think you want to embrace that. That's sort of a different level of the Buddhist or the Taoist thought. Yeah, you gotta take care of yourself and you should be responsible for your own shit. And responsible for own state of health, mentally and physically. And then you can start thinking about the community. But work on yourself first. And then family and community. Community is affected by only the individual. And that's why it's such a weird thing. When the communities are sick, then that just means that the individuals in that community are sick and one feeds the other. 

How can you help this community as an artist? Work on your art (laughs)! Work on your own stuff. Work on your mind. Work on your physical body. Get yourself healthy - mentally, physically, as much as you can. Develop a healthy studio practice. Feel strong in your practice, whether it's photography or writing, painting, real estate, I don't care what it is - what your medium is - but do it for the reasons that are healthy for you and that are building a strong and healthy balance between the mind and the body and your practice. And when you have that built up, then I think you can be the most beneficial to the community. Some people think it's selfish, but I learned from one of my kung fu masters a long time ago, truly selfish is not paying attention and taking care of yourself. Because then what you have is not healthy to give towards others. 

What motivates you? 

I think the thing that motivates me the most is... well, there are a number of things. Actually, as I get older and I experience more, I think my motivations shift and change a little bit. Or maybe I just get more clarification on what they are and other motivations drop away and the core motivations stay and then they become more apparent. The things that motivate me to get up out of bed are this sense that I'm not finished (laughs), you know? Like, there's still more stuff that I need to do. On the internal part, there's just a lot more that I want to personally experience. I get up and there's so much that I want to do. There's so much I want to experience. Why did I moved to Bend? Well, because it's absolutely beautiful, surrounded by incredible nature, etcetera, etcetera, and so I want to experience that nature and I want to hike and I want to snowboard in these beautiful areas that are peaceful and beautiful. And I want to experience the massive beauty of nature around here. That's a personal thing. I want to experience more interactions like this. Meet more people and have that kind of fulfillment of that connection. I think ultimately it's about learning and experiencing learning about myself. And I'm not done yet. There's still more that I need to learn about. So, there's that part. 

And then the other part, which is sort of again - that's the yin and the yang. There's the internal part, which goes back to why I make art - the need to express something. Why was language developed? Well, our visual art is a language - it's a visual language. It's to communicate. You know, you have a certain feeling about something. One has a certain impression or a certain emotion about something and you just have to - you want to - express yourself. Part of it is just the individual need to express oneself - to just get it out. And then the flip side - that's the internal part - the external part, the expressive aspect of that, is in a way, in essence, the communication part. Which is the connection part. I'm communicating with another human being whether it's through words or through my art, my images. And by communicating, then there's that connection. And that connection, to me, goes back to the full circle. That's the thing that gives me meaning. That's the purpose of being here - that connecting. Connecting to nature, connecting to another human being through another human being. So yeah, that's what moves me. Connecting on a very deep level and having these profound moments, having the beautiful, rare occasion of these moments of sort of connectedness or, even I would go so far as to say, the sublime experience. Those are powerful experiences. I sort of am after those. I search for those. And, you know, occasionally you get one. 

Why I teach... it's a complicated history and story of how I got into teaching. I started teaching really young - in my early 20's. What drove me to teach is a totally different conversation for another time, but what keeps me doing it? Because it's difficult. Teaching is hard. Very difficult. To teach positively, to teach correctly. To do it correctly, I think, it takes literally a lifetime of study. It takes a lifetime of commitment and practice and study and self-reflection. Too many teachers out there who are just like, Oh, I teach 'cause I got to make a living. That's bullshit. You shouldn't be teaching then. You should be doing something else. Because you're dealing with other human beings. Not only dealing with them, you're influencing them on some very, very, very, incredibly deep and everlasting way. Some of the most profound experiences I've ever had as a human being - life-changing experiences, good and bad - have been with teachers. And those things resonate. They last your whole life. They shape who you are for the rest of your life. I think that's a huge responsibility. It's really difficult. A lot of teachers don't really understand or they don't realize the severity of that. It's a hell of a lot of responsibility. And I've always been one to just make things really difficult for myself (laughs). I always choose the difficult path because it's a challenge. If you do the easy stuff all the time, then what are you gonna learn? It's nice to relax every once in a while and just have an easy time, an easy day, because you need to relax. The pursuits that I've followed and been driven to and drawn to my whole life are the challenging ones and teaching is really challenging. On the occasion where you have this breakthrough, it's just amazing. It gives me a sense of intense purpose of being here. It makes up for all the really difficult times in teaching. But it's that reward. In a moment I saw somebody shift in front of my eyes. It's really rewarding. That's what drives me to teach and to continue to make art. It's personally fulfilling. It gives me a sense of purpose and meaning in the moment of making, but also having the opportunity to be alive still and see people respond and react to my work in a positive way. That's really, incredibly fulfilling. 

What do we do about the seemingly endless list of negative human behavior?

It goes back to what I said earlier - one has to work on themselves first. We need to really meditate on this. Maybe I'm naive or maybe I don't get it, but working on the self, we try to live a healthy life and then we try to bring that towards others. We try to teach - influence in a positive way - other people to maybe live a healthy life and a happy life. It's a tough call. It's to be done not heavy-handedly, not in a forceful sort of dogmatic, standing on the street corner, evangelizing about Believe this or you'll fucking burn in hell. That's awful. I think that's the wrong way to do it. That's gonna drive people away. That type of approach will run the risk of becoming the opposite of what you're preaching about. I think that's the nature of the extremes. If you preach so heavily in one area, fanaticism, inevitably you will flip to the opposite. You will manifest as the opposite. That's nature. Night turns to day. Extreme hard becomes soft. That's Eastern philosophy, but that's a principle I believe in. That's a principle of nature. Things in their extreme turn to the opposite. That's the danger of these extremists. And then it turns into this whole idea of control. One of my thoughts is to let go of control, to let go of the idea that you think you can control other people or you think you should have to control. 

That's a different conversation, too, but that's a core challenge of being a teacher. At a beginning level, I always have this conversation with a young teacher. How do I control my class? Don't try to control them so much. Understand their natures and work with that. And then helping them find their nature, helping them realize their nature. Allowing them the freedom and encouraging them to pursue what their nature is. That's healthy. As an individual, you need to be able to let go of your own desires to control other people, your own desires to manipulate other people because you're insecure. This goes back to the whole sexual harassment thing - it's weakness. It's total weakness. It's insecurity. It's individuals who feel like they're so insecure in their lives that they have to manipulate other people. And they're gonna manipulate the weaker people or the people who are, in their eyes, easier to manipulate for whatever reason. Through money or physical power or religious dogma or political position. All of that crap. It's all manipulating. It's all trying to control somebody else. The things that I see as the most unhealthy attributes in individual, one-on-one relationships - husband and wife or intimate lovers with each other, even friends - where it starts to go really bad is where you're trying to control that other person. It's the beginning - right there. Tell you what to do and tell you how to be. I would love you more if you would just be like this. Or that craziness. 

I think everything has to fit into that realm of yes, there's an objective set of core principles that if you want to learn this, then you really must study that. How to have a more peaceful community and how do we cope with all this craziness that's going on? Understand these principles of communication and love and compassion for another human being. I don't know, some people may just not be born with that. Maybe they're just born with parts missing. They just don't have the wiring. When I was young and I was totally idealistic as a beginning instructor. I thought everybody could reach a certain level. If you practice hard enough, if you work hard enough, everybody can reach that certain level of whatever it is: painting, drawing, connection, movement, anything. There's the idea that it's five percent talent and ninety-five percent hard work. Maybe. And I believe in that because talent goes nowhere without the hard work, but you still have to have at least two or three or four or five percent of that core ability. I don't know what the answer is. You can learn a certain level of better understanding and deeper connection, but I think it comes from a deep desire for that. I think one needs to have the desire to improve. 

What do you wish for the future?

It's such a funny question. Because there's the cliché answer, Health, love, and happiness, and world peace. Right? Well, what's wrong with that? So, yeah (laughs). I would love to see a major shift. I don't know what it's going to take, probably some kind of alien invasion - like some massive shift in the fabric, the matrix of the human mind, the universal mind. I think there needs to be a massive shift in the matrix of the human consciousness. I don't know what that would take. I think it's beyond us. I think we can inspire it and maybe initiate it on some level. The level of intolerance and hate and violence is endlessly disturbing. It doesn't seem to be getting any better. Is it getting worse? I don't think so. I think it's just there are more people on the planet and different forms of communication to spread the stuff out there. Has it gotten much worse? No, we just have televisions and internet now and weapons of mass destruction, you know, not just swords. I think it's the same mentality. I think we haven't evolved at all. We've evolved on some level, maybe. Because we're able to communicate wirelessly, which blows my mind. It's technologically crazy if you think about what the cell phone does, it's out of control. But does it make us better human beings? No. So my wish would be that some massive shift in the sort of fabric of what's happening right now happens and there can be a little bit more harmony in communicating on more of a peaceful, compassionate, loving way. That'd be beautiful. So, I guess that would be my wish. Not too much to ask. And faster internet reception - (laughs) I want that, too!

On one hand, maybe it's going to take something much, much, much larger as individuals - what that is, I don't know. It's frightening to think about, right? It's completely terrifying to think about what's bigger? Some psychic, cosmic shift. A meteor strike that energetically shifts the entire mindset of the human race - (snaps) like that.  An alien intervention (laughs). I don't know. Some religious folks think of it as some kind of rebirth of whatever. Who knows? But, there's that on that massive scale. But the contradiction is what I was talking about earlier - it has to happen from the individual. Maybe all of this life is an illusion, right? If you think of it in terms of that side of the philosophical argument, it's illusionary. It's my mind. It's your mind. It's an image of our mind, so maybe it does start from the individual consciousness. The shift of your mind. Shift your consciousness and then everything else will shift. Everything else is nature - that's negative/positive. There's always gonna be shit and there's always gonna be roses. There's always gonna be beautiful things and awful things. I think that's just nature. I'm not hoping for perfect peace - that's illusionary, too. That's not a realistic wish. But we can just do what we can do. And hopefully get through it without too much pain (laughs).