Life Makes Art
Have you ever noticed how your art-making is so often driven by your own life-journey – what you’re working on somehow gets tainted by who you are or where you’re at right “now”?
we encounter the Infinite Creator,
through whom we live and view life,
and to whom we respond.
Life as Influence
I don’t think any truly original, highly creative artists set out to recreate some kind of preconceived work. Sure, we all sketch out our ideas, or gather influences, but something external (life-experience), informs, colors, flavors the work being done.
Take a play for example, I’d be willing to bet that Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is produced uniquely almost every time it’s done. I’d also be willing to bet that each performance is unique in many ways, and I’m not talking about missed cues. Time moves on, people change, and our art is a reflection of these.
Gleaners & Gatherers
I’ve found that, as artists, regardless of what media we work in, we’re all gleaners of some sort. We move through life with our very souls open and we encounter meaning which, in turn, seasons what we create; performance, visual, literary – it doesn’t matter. Life, our own and those around us, all drive the meaning we make.
We’re gathering all the time; we sketch, draw, clip, scribble, doodle, dictate, save, collect, file, and glean. And this is not just physically either, we also gather mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes experiencing life’s power is like trying to take a sip from a fire-hose.
To an artist, the personal journey seems to be a very powerful force. We’re not like 9-to-5’ers. We fight, even shun routine, not allowing it to dull and numb us. Originality and creativity aren’t found in routine, it’s not our natural milieu. We seem to crave the rush of discovery; to be creative and original, is something of a terrifying adventure. Of writing, one author remarked, “You know the work is good when it scares you half to death.”
These days I’m reading a lot about creative motivation, how to generate ideas, how to stay emotionally “up”, and make worthwhile meaning. I find my mood swings deeply affect what I do, or don’t create. My Morning Pages, a la Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way help a great deal – but that’s another post.
Vincent Van Gogh faced similar challenges, except that his life was a pursuit of joy buried in self-doubt and deep melancholy. Jackson Pollock also struggled fiercely against his own pantheon of inner demons, and it shows in his work.
Jump to the flip-side, and we find an artist filled with joy and wonder; Madeleine L’Engle was boundless in her excitement of this awesome universe God had placed her in. She loved science, God’s word, and writing. In her literature she captured countless possibilities of wonder and discovery.
In conversations about why artists are so “weird” I tell people that we seem to go through life with all of our receptors full-on. We live life turned inside-out, unafraid of whatever truths we may discover.
Presence or Absence
Do you know one way to tell good, high quality art from a weak ill conceived work? Poor work is merely a contrived construct, devoid of purpose or meaning. It has no soul, no life in it. Technically it may be excellent, but it lacks any humanity. The artist is absent.
Good art, effective art, is a meaning-filled encounter to which the artist responds. The artist is present, revealing themselves. It’s a deeply personal vulnerability we’re willing share with others.
Art as Witness
This is why I believe artists of faith have so much more than mere-religion to draw upon. Consider the source; like L’Engle, we encounter the Infinite Creator, through whom we live and view life, and to whom we respond. As we struggle, as we celebrate, as we question, He is present in it all. We share that response in our art, and in so doing offer a witness of the power and presence of God in our lives.