Living at the convergence of faith and art.

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When Heaven Invades Art

My Old FriendsI’m experiencing something of a grand transformation in these last weeks. Ever since my friend Sue Beckman introduced me to a book by Pastor Bill Johnson, When Heaven Invades Earth I’ve had a completely different outlook on my relationship with God.

Then, in one of his blog posts (Feb-12), Dick Staub shares some thoughts on the Christian life of meditation and contemplation via AW Tozer. The book he mentions is Of God and Men (I’m going to have to get a copy). I ran out and bought Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. I don’t know if that was an “accident” or a God-thing (I’ll take the latter), but Tozer, like Johnson, just blew me away.

This year God has been leading me away from the shore out into deeper spiritual waters. I’ve come to understand that my theologically heavy Christianity has taught me many really good and important things, but it’s a Christianity in which we talk about God. It’s a head-filled Christianity, and I’ve been looking for more… much more. I’ve been looking for an experiential relationship with God. Tozer and Johnson have helped me to begin that transformation.

I no longer talk about God, I talk to/with God. I’m experiencing Him deeply, intimately, and personally. What I’ve come to conclude is that this deep, personal, intimate, experiential relationship has been His plan all along. I’ve concluded that while theology is vital, it’s not the main thing. Theology is only about 20 to 30 percent of my relationship with my God. Deep, intimate, experiential relationship is the other 70 to 80 percent. To quote Tozer; “Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of the term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.(The Pursuit of God / pg 9 – my underline)

So in this and other ways I’ve let go of the dock post, and swam away from the shallows, out into deeper waters with my Lord God. It’s changing everything in one way or another. The most awesome change has to do with my hearing Him, often suddenly and out of the blue. I no longer stop and go find Him, because His Presence is 24/7.

I feel like a little kid again who’s walking along with his Grandpa. I’ve got His finger as we walk. He points out something to me and together we giggle and ooo and aahh together in utter delight. He loves to show me things, insights of His Word both written and living, His universe, His love and guidance of me. I love my Lord God more deeply, more intensely, and more intimately than I ever have in all of my 60-years of life here on Earth.

In as much as God has invaded my life as personal, intimate, and experiential this new “walk” can’t help but permeate my art practice. He gives me new work at the mere mention of a relational thought, usually from someone I’m chatting with. Or I’ll be reading The Word and suddenly, as the words pass my eyes, precious bells of pure gold will “ting” and my heart quickens… there’s a new insight, a new work He’s giving me to make for Him.

My faith is literally driving my life and my art. It’s as L’Engle says in Walking On Water; “I learn that my feelings about art and my feelings about the Creator of the Universe are inseparable. To try to talk about art and about Christianity is for me one and the same thing.” (pg 16). With each passing day, a new deeper layer of meaning of those words comes to light. I don’t shut off my Christianity at night. I don’t shut off my being an artist. They’re “on” all the time and they’re inextricably interwoven; part of the self-same fabric of His Great Cosmos.

Holistic Creative Readiness

Four Gospels

Four Gospels in process; acrylic on paper

Recently I was re-reading my notes from the Kindling’s Hearth I attended (Oct 2012). I came across something Dick Staub, our host brought up – Holistic Readiness. We were asked; What does it mean to be holistically ready creatively? How do we remain ready? What happens when we don’t remain ready?

I’m reminded of a story from a now famous TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). She was talking about a poet friend who could feel the approach of a poem from far away over the landscape. Her friend, because she was hanging laundry that day, had to run to the house to get paper and pencil so she could write down the poem as it passed by. For me however, it’s that word holistic (emphasizing the whole and all of its parts and their interdependence) that implies something larger than having paper and pencil at hand.

As an artist whose art-making is literally driven by my relationship with God, holistic readiness begins with the health and depth of that relationship. For me, that relationship is far more than just going to church, doing daily devo’s, and attending a weekly Bible study. Holistic readiness, in terms of faith, has everything to do with remaining fully surrendered to God, with constant prayer, daily journaling, and literally seeking His presence. It’s a 24/7 kind of relationship, not a, “Let’s see when I can carve out 15-minutes for God.” kind of thing

In the studio I know He’s there partially because I invite Him in. He’s directly involved, often in a dialogue, as I’m in the process of making. He’s always reminding me that there’s no such thing as a mistake, and that I’m not bold enough in the creative risks I take. He’s my comforter, my counselor, and my Lord. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the wonder of what we’re making that I just have to raise my hands, and looking up, pray the Doxology; Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below / Praise Him above the Heavenly host / Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost / Amen. My holistic readiness is founded upon my walk with God, without which I have nothing creatively to say.

Holistic also implies other life areas as well; diet, exercise, leisure, rest, and ArtJournaling. Like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from her groundbreaking book The Artist’s Way, art journaling has become something akin to scrapbooking or doodling. It’s an artform all by itself. For more on the value and power of doodling, look up Sunni Brown on TED. But my art journaling (Lessons From My Art Journal) has become a vital tool in remaining holistically ready.

In that journal I make messes and “waste” time and materials. I find out what various media* are able to do. I discover, play, and experiment. I take creative risks, and develop my skills with various media to use them well when making art. Mostly I find ideas that work and develop them toward becoming finished works.

I’ve learned that when I neglect my relationship with God, my health, or my exploration time, I’m not ready; I’m not creatively primed to work on making art.

Oh… and one last thing. I also need my coffee, and great music so we have an espresso machine and a boombox in the studio as inspiration.

Thanks for listening.

*Please help stamp out the misuse of the word mediums. I’m serious. This misuse has become an embarrassing epidemic in the art community. It’s bad enough how few people take us seriously anyway that we don’t need to empower their disdain by this simple mistake. Medium = single art medium (paint or ink or etc.) Media = many art media (paint and ink and etc.) BTW: Mediums are not art supplies, they’re people who predict the future or tell fortunes. Thanks!

That’s Why I Make Art

WBible & Laptophile I am fast approaching my 60th birthday, I still feel as though I am as naive as ever; that I just don’t get it, and that I really don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I must try however. I must still struggle, though I may look the old fool.  I must still share the good, share the right, and share the solid things I actually do know about. Pastor John Piper once said, “The older I get the less I trust myself to know the answers.” While that’s a paraphrase, it conveys what he meant.  It conveys my own sense of self. I too trust my own answers far less and God’s own wisdom far, far more than in the days of my youth.

Who am I that I have answers for others? At best I can only point toward the truth of a matter realizing that anything I convey may be accepted or not. It’s a free-will thing, as it ought to be. Who am I that I have answers for others? That’s God’s job. At best I am merely a devoted messenger, who, even then, may not fully comprehend the message I carry to whomever it is to be given.

That’s why I make art. That’s why I cling incessantly to the presence of the living God, for if I have no real answers for others, where are my own answers for me? It’s a matter of realizing that I’m a servant of God, and not God Himself. It’s a matter of letting go of the belief that anything I could do might remedy the need(s) in the life of another. It’s the realization that the Earth and all its people are God’s project, not mine. It’s a matter of fully surrendering to the task of dealing with the beam in my own eye, instead of the dust in another’s.

That is why I make art. That is why I cling to God in my inmost being, that I might grow into someone whose use, value, purpose, and worth rest in living out God’s divine plan for my life; surrendered, yet ever alert for His instruction(s), counsel, and guidance. He is the one and only reason I swing my feet out of bed in the morning, and in an act of faith and serendipity, rising to meet the purpose(s) of the day.

Who am I that I should have plans or schemes for “success”, or ambitions for “advancement”, when my Lord has already laid these out for me before the world was even made? I’ve come to accept that the best laid plans, plans to prosper, to fulfill my best purpose(s), to become all He has designed me to be in His service, come not from me and my own mind, but from Him who made me. That is why I write (pray) in my journals.

I have considered my ways,” it says in Psalm 119, “and have turned my steps to Your statutes. I am a friend to all who fear You, to all who follow Your precepts. The Earth if filled with Your love, O Lord; teach me Your decrees.”

Thank you for listening.

Prayer & Worship in the Studio

Lew's Art TableI’ve read a lot of blog posts, essays, and a few books which talk about art as worship and art as prayer.  Personally I find the subject fascinating, and it brings with it as many variations (which I love) as it does commentators.

Last Thursday evening I’d been invited to a gathering of faith-driven creatives and after a good meal together, catching up with one another, and some Show ‘n’ Tell, we got down to the discussion; (and I paraphrase here), Does prayer and worship show up in your work (if it does at all), and how does prayer and worship affect your art practice?  Juicy question, huhhh?

I want to share a few notes I took, which are reactions to comments made by others, and then I’ll talk about my own reaction to the question(s).

We talked about whether or not our artwork is prayer and if the act of making is an act of worship.  Some folks saw quite specific distinctions between prayer and worship, saying that for them prayer is a deliberate, intentional conversation with God.  Others felt absolutely no distinction between prayer and worship, feeling that they were so closely related as to be almost one experience.

What about following a formal structure or formula in prayer and can we offer prayer in any context?  To the latter half, we shared a resounding “Yes, we can pray any time, any where.”  But for some there is a need for some kind of structure to prayer, while others saw prayer differently, informally; perhaps more immediate and responsive.

One person said that for her prayer was intentional, serving a deliberate purpose, while worship is more responsive (perhaps more emotional). And, yes, she felt worshipful in the act of creativity.

For me, at this time, most of my prayer life, in any context, is done through my journal writing.  Sure, I do pray elsewhere at other times.  But my processing of the life-stuff that’s the “bread and butter” of my arts practice is done in my journal.  I learned this from author Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way.  I unload my spirit and listen to God in my journal writing.  It’s a  luscious outpouring of often random bits and pieces which He and I look at and make sense of.  A whole lot of self-discovery has happened in our “sessions” together.

Often, in my writing time, I will break into worship, usually because He’s given me a discovery or revelation.  I may stop right then and there, raise my hands and pray the doxology, or simply proclaim His awesomeness in the form of a Psalm, just how great and wondrous He really, truly is.

For me, worship is part and parcel of my art-making process and experience.  Sometimes I’ll be so overwhelmed at what we’re making together I’ll start crying with release and joy – our time together is that intimate.  All-ways though, the making is an alchemy of an intimate faith relationship and is my worship of Him.  I mean, the very idea that I get to share in one of His most awesome attributes, creativity; I’m often overwhelmed by the privilege.

Let me close with this thought; To my mind we Faith-Driven artists are (or should be) powered by the ever-deepening intimacy and the ever-growing maturity of our relation with God through Christ.  That’s what Faith-Driven means – literally driven to action by our faith (relationship) in God.

Our Talents and The Good Life ReImagined

Rowboat

Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been to Orcas Island. I’ve walked and talked, and broken bread with other thoughtful creatives. I’ve been loved back to my senses and out of my own self-inflicted doldrums. I’ve been quickened among other friends at KindlingsFest 2013. Last night, I listened to a podcast and took notes from Dick Staub’s talk on day one, The Good Life as the Godward Life. Let me share a particularly powerful gift I was given while there.

Matthew 25:14-30

The “terrible” parable of the talents… it pierces me through the heart time and time again. I drift away in some form of self-inflicted confusion or misery like a skiff that has somehow come untied from the cleat on the pier. With the slightest breeze, the briefest lapping of the waves, I slowly and inexplicably drift away from my purposeful place at the dock where I await my next commission.

I say terrible not because it’s a bad story, or because it’s a tale of retribution. I say terrible in the sense that Madeleine L’Engle calls human freewill a terrible gift. Like fire that warms and feeds, human freewill can also destroy the very thing it was meant to nourish and support. One’s home can be either warmed and brightened, or burned to the ground by that self-same power.

Talent is like that. Oh, I know the parable is dealing with a measure of material wealth, but that’s just a metaphor for any gift God, in His infinite wisdom, has designed us to bear; and they’re terrible gifts too. These same gifts woven into the very fibre and nature of our being can either bring great abundance and prosperity, and glory to God, or they can reveal what we’re made of through our cowardice of their neglect.

God doesn’t “gift” us just so we can run away in fear and trepidation and bury that thing He’s graciously made us to be. He’s not a malicious God of tricks, but a God of love, and yes, even of tough love; the kind of love that kicks us in the butt when we really need it. His is the love that restores our self-respect, gets us out of the ditches of our own digging, re-equips us, and sends us on our way, refreshed, restored, and a little wiser.

Love is restorative; we the prodigal child and He the Divine Father, embrace with the sudden realization that we’re off course and the brutality of some aspect of life was needed to bring us back to our senses. All He waits for is our own realization that we’ve somehow gone astray and need His help. He awaits our return with open arms, a ring for our finger, and yet another cloak to cover our nakedness. And with these gifts of restoration, He embraces us, kisses us on the cheek and says, “All is well now. What have you learned? Let’s go celebrate the new depth of our relationship together.”

Inconsistencies

I’ve neglected to regularly post on my blog, to show up every single work day in my studio, and to get an artist’s website up showing what I’ve been doing.

KindlingFest-Day One: I was at lunch and got to talking with some friends about our creative lives in general, and that embarrassing question came up again, “Do you have a website?” My friend asked in genuine curiosity. She wanted to see my latest work, and in the context of our conversation, I wanted to show her and the other friends round the table what I’d been working on. I couldn’t though.

Then it hit me; How long have I been asked that question? How many years have I been asked about a website of my own? How much longer am I going to keep my talents buried in mere conversation? I mean how tough is FREE for Pete’s sake?

“I don’t have one yet, but I promise you here and now, that I will before the year is out.”, and I shook hands with everyone at the table.  I was “safe”, it was late July and that gave me about 4-months to undertake the huge, complex, website project.

Well, it’s been just two weeks since KindlingsFest, and like so many other attendees, I’ve been processing the tremendous wisdom and counsel we received. I’ve also been getting my website together. And today I can tell you that I kept my promise to my friends; more importantly I’ve finally done what I ought to have done years ago. Now I can share the work that God and I do together in the home studio we have. Now I can deposit the talents my Lord has given me and return them unto Him with interest. Now I don’t have to stand around trying to describe with words what I ought to be sharing with pictures. Oh, and one more thing, I now keep a portfolio of my work on my Smartphone as well. I don’t ever want to be asked again, with enthusiasm and interest “if” I have a website, what my work is like, what kind of art I make. I want to show and share the gifts God has built into my very being on my way to becoming fully human and living the good life to His glory.

Here’s the link: http://lcurtiss.weebly.com/index.html

“Why”: A work in progress

"Why" Collage Artwork

“Why” / (c) 2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~
Mixed-Media Collage on masonite panel.
11×14 approx.

I don’t usually write much about what I’m making, but with this work I’m venturing into some new territory.  I’ve been on a journey lately to discover and develop a visual storytelling vocabulary I can use in these kinds of art pieces.  I’ve made some good progress, which is why I’m rather excited about sharing it with you.

I’m inspired by stained glass, quilts, and mosaic artworks.  They’re all segmented art-forms and offer a great deal of creative ground for all sorts of collage work.  I’m also gaining experience with copper wire; using it as line and physical divider.

The stained glass window is made of segments of my hand-painted papers.  The window frame and structure is being done in hammered copper wire.

The “stone” wall is made of handmade paper my daughter created years ago in our homeschool.  It’s heavily textured and highly absorbent, so it has a great look of stone and takes all kinds of water-based pigmentation.  The work is mounted on masonite temperboard,

The working title is “Why”.  For me it’s that eternal question we ask grown-ups when we’re little.  When we become adults, believers or no, most of us ask this same question to God.  I dislike artworks which tell a viewer what they’re about, or what the story is.  I like it better when you, the viewer, bring yourself and your story to the experience of reading the piece.  So it’s up to you what’s on his mind.

I’ll be finished with this in the next few days and will make either a floating frame or some sort of shadow-box for it.  Then I catalogue it and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Lessons From My Art Journal

ArtJournal Bishop - Sm

The Bishop / (c) 2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~
Acrylics & Color Pencil on Paper, 8.5×11 approx.

If you’ve been reading any of my blogs, you’ll soon come to know what a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way I am. Several of her books are permanent additions to my Artist’s Bookshelf.

I mention her because of journals, and the process of journaling. One of the three basics (you’re going to have to read the book) of the practice she advocates is journaling, specifically what she calls Morning Pages. This is the first-thing, daily-habit, of handwriting 3-full pages in a journal of your choice to clear the creative baffles, prime the creative pump, and get the creative blood flowing. Words help us to externalize and objectify personal issues and to move on.

As I previously posted (My Artist’s Journal), words are often a priceless means for me to do all of the above, but I am developing a visual vocabulary in my collage / mixed-media art-making and I need to be using a visual journal, an Artist’s Journal. This journaling experience has been teaching me a few things I wanted to share with you.

First, I’ve come to understand just how much of a mechanical designer I currently am. That translates into a left-brain, function-oriented creative (and we need them too) I really am at present. What I’m striving to break out into is much more of a right-brain, heartfelt, emotional creative.

Why? Simply because faith in God and life on earth is all about relationships. It’s all about risking one’s heart in the investment of human relationships. Besides, it is the landscape of the human condition which most interests me in my art-making. I may be influenced and inspired by stained-glass, quilts, and mosaics, but those are physical, material, and stylistic influences. They’re simply a means to an end, and not the end itself.

It’s vital that I breakout into the emotional, relational, and human side of storytelling if I am going to succeed, and the journaling is showing the way.

The second lesson I’m grasping is that I’m far too timid in my creative choices. An Artist’s Journal is a safe, creative laboratory. Messes are de rigueur. I didn’t realize just how deeply in-grained this “fear of failure” really runs in me but apparently it’s going to take a lot of mess making to erode it away. I want the creative liberation afforded by the constant – don’t think about it – non-planned creativity of the Artist’s Journal.

So, it’s working. I’m being released, empowered, liberated, enlarged, and enabled to freely and fully express what’s on my heart and discarding much of what’s merely in my head. The tool; my ArtJournals.

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