Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Turning Corners: Creating Excellence

Copyright 2010 - Lewis M. Curtiss jrI’ve made a deeply personal discovery.

Who we are, what we believe, where we’re at in life all intensely affects our art-making at that moment. That’s really a no-brainer isn’t it?  Instinctively all creatives know this: our art is a direct expression of who and what we are at the time we’re creating the work.

I lied though – that’s not really the discovery I made, but almost.  Let me tell you a little story.

Suddenly Uninspired

The other night I was out in my “studio” (the garage) putting together the collage quilt-blocks I make.  I’ve got an arts faire coming up.  As I was working, I began to think of what I was making as a sort of product; the result of a mere manufacturing process.  Using the same dozen-plus traditional quilt-block designs, I make and re-make this same group of blocks.  Oh, I select different hand-painted papers for each one and combine them in unique ways, but still, I felt a bit like a mere machine.

My Search

The next day I took off for the library to find some new inspiration.  I went straight over to shelf 746.46, the shelf of beautiful quilt design books and filled my arms.  I returned to our table where my son Levi was busy writing on his laptop, and plopped down a large stack of huge picture books.  Most were from quilt shows or museum collections and they ranged from antique works, right up to full-on abstract expressionism.

Pawing through them, I soon realized that I was slip-marking pages of quilts that were only in the modern/contemporary categories.  The traditional quilts did very little for my creative interests.  Remembering my “mission” to come here and find new traditional designs for my collage-blocks, I forced myself to re-consider the traditional designs.

Realizations

That’s when it struck me, a question lodged in my creative consciousness and begged an answer: Was I done making collage quilt-blocks based on traditional designs?  Now, while this may not seem earth shattering to you, for me this was cosmic.  Had I actually moved on in my creative pursuits?

I had explored traditional geometrics in long established designs.  Their beautifully ordered patterns had served their purpose and gotten me this far in my visual art-making.  However, while using my own hand-painted papers, had the safety of relying on established designs given me the the courage and the confidence, to consider creating my own collage works?

Self-Limitation

You see where I’m going with this don’t you?  All of us, in our creative lives, face the fear that our work isn’t good enough, that we’re not good enough, that we don’t have any ideas, etc., etc., etc.  Some call it “Writer’s Block”, others call it being creatively blocked; whatever name we give it, at some point(s) or other, we all stall-out creatively.  We simply stop making meaning.

Maybe we lack the self-confidence, the faith, or the courage to just get on with it.  Maybe we’ve been raised not to “waste” time, paper, paint, or clay.  Maybe the freedom to play or experiment has been drummed out of us by “Mrs. Freebish” in “art-time”.  Whatever the reason, we all pause, and many of us do so for the rest of our lives, layering our disappointment with justifications and excuses.

Self-Justification

How to Avoid Making Art - Cameron

I’ve done so.  I’ve laid on nice thick, comfy layers of excuse-laden justification as to why I couldn’t make / create / design / paint / collage / think-up / whatever.  Julia and Elizabeth Cameron created a hilarious romp into excuses with their small book, How to Avoid Making Art.  Read it – you’ll be giggling in seconds.

There are deep life-parallels for me here.  My upbringing was very rough and I quickly learned not to take risks, to play life safe.  I was taught not to take chances because I might “fail”.  But my work  homeschooling our children, working with a Christian theatre company, and now in my own visual art have all shown me that to grow I must listen to who and what I am today.  To grow creatively, I must to let go of past excuses, fears, or insecurities.

Choices

Once I embraced the fact, the truth, that I can make works beyond what I’ve done before, I found I was suddenly brimming with ideas, and I didn’t listen to my “inner-critic”.  The truth of what I discovered is that to grow and move forward creatively I have to gather my courage, take a leap of faith, and simply make what’s trying to be born.

The late Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking on Water, puts it this way;

Walking On Water - L'EngleThe artist is a servant who is willing to be a birthgiver.  In a very real sense the artist (male or female) should be like Mary who, when the angel told her that was to bear the Messiah, was obedient to the command.

Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story of a small child.  …the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses.  pg 18

In matters of art, I choose to obey.  I choose to gather what courage God gives me, and in faith, accept His commission to move to higher creativity.

Your Experiences

Have you ever been held back creatively by your life’s experiences, your doubts or insecurities?  What did you do to break free and move on?  What resources do you find most encouraging, nourishing, and nurturing in your pursuit of creative excellence?  I’d love to hear from you!

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