Wisdom & Counsel At Hand
On my desk, beyond my Bible, I’ve assembled a small library of classic inspiration and counsel. Each volume has been carefully chosen on the basis of the nourishment I derive, and how frequently I read and re-read from them in pursuit of an ever-deepening faith in God, and an ever-growing art-practice.
I keep these works at-hand because I refer to them frequently and at a moment’s notice. They’re my faithful friends upon whom I rely to re-ground me in the basics, and open me to future possibilities. These friends are all dog-eared, highlighted, annotated, and bookmarked. I’ve even taught lead discussions from several of them. Always spreading the good news of the convergence of faith & art, I collect extra copies from used book stores to give away to others who might benefit from them.
The Desk-Top Library
I’ve most recently added Steal Like An Artist, by Austin Kleon. It’s a light read with medium-weight advice. Kleon unveils the mystery, if there ever was any, about the DNA of ideas, and gives creatives everywhere permission to be inspired by the works of others.
However, the first in my collection came to hand in 2001 when I attended a Church Drama Conference here in Seattle. That’s when I was introduced to the masterwork of Madeleine L’Engle; Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Even before I knew there was a Faith & Arts movement, here was L’Engle guiding me toward understanding how one feeds the other, and how one is the other.
My next significant addition was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. While Cameron is rather New Age in her spirituality, there’s absolutely no difficulty seeing her firm and generous counsel from a Judeo-Christian worldview. I find it very nourishing.
In the Cameron canon, I’ve also added Walking in this World. This book is a journey of discoveries and creative self-defense, a kind of part II. What I admire about her writing is that she’s tough on creatives, not suffering any whining, but she’s also very protective – teaching her readers to defend themselves against ignorant critics.
Another staple, and an early addition is the landmark work of Betty Edwards. Her Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain introduced me to my first real understanding of the right-brain, left-brain thing and how to stay in creative mode at will. Edwards has taught me more about how to “see” than any instructor I’ve ever learned from.
An anchor-work to my desk-top library is Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. I see this book is an essential tool for every faith-driven creative. Warren guides us back to the beginning of our life plans asking, What on Earth am I here for?
This is the quintessential question every faith-driven creative needs to begin the life they believe they’re chosen to lead. Without God, and in total, complete submission, nothing whatsoever makes any sense – at least not to me. Without God at the helm of my life and art-making, I have nothing to say creatively – nothing.
I’m also a tremendous fan of Philip Yancey. He teaches through stories, guiding me along wondrous lines of good clear, if not difficult, thinking. I admire him because he has no other agenda than to speak the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. Two of his books made it into the desk-top library; The Jesus I Never Knew, and What’s So Amazing About Grace? I refer to Grace most often because grace is as essential to my faith-life as the air I breathe, and the most difficult gift to deal with.
Art is about truth, and for me at least, faith-driven art is about truth via God. Yancey drills into us an awesome truth; grace is the most unnatural response in the human repertoire. I keep this volume close at hand because Yancey helps me to understand what grace looks like in daily creative life.
I’ll close with perhaps the most foundational little book on the desk-top, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. He doesn’t even get around to mentioning Christianity until well into the book. He opens with a very simple, and very human question; Why do I become upset and feel wronged when someone takes something that belongs to me? The spiritual nourishment and re-grounding I get from this tiny little book is why it remains under my elbow, on my desk, ready to be read and re-read.
Your Thoughts . . .
There they are, seven titles I find essential to the nurture and nourishment of my journey through faith and art. Without them at hand, well marked up and annotated, I’d be lost. I wouldn’t know for whom I make meaning or why, and I certainly wouldn’t be growing in either my faith or my art.
How about you, what books keep you grounded in your faith-driven art practice?