Living at the convergence of faith and art.


My Favorite TED Speakers

Artist's BookshelfLike my Artist’s Bookshelf sitting on my desk, I though I’d share my own list of personal favorite TED Talk speakers. I got this idea by jumping onto the bandwagon along with the likes of Bill Gates, Peter Gabriel, Barbara Streisand, Glenn Close, etc. Like the books on my Artist’s Bookshelf, I view and re-view these videos gleaning them for the uplifting wisdom and change being shared.

Never having put this list together per se, other than my Firefox Bookmarks for Inspiration & Creativity, I came to realize that my list is entirely about creativity and the contexts and environments in which it flourishes. It really shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. For me there is something about positive, selfless human potential which is exciting. In a world of “the self as everything” these liberating ideas shared for the common good are often life changing.

For almost 15 years now, I’ve been deeply concerned about and involved with creativity in the arts. More especially, with artistic creativity driven by the Judeo-Christian worldview. I call it faith-driven art, not Christian art – something I won’t go into right now.

I have also personally experienced the deliberate suppression of my own creativity by often well meaning persons concerned with my future well-being; “You’ll never make any money. You’ll be broke all your life. You can’t make it on art alone.”, etc. And like many, many other faith-driven artists I know, even fellow Christians and the Church have, at times, been personal adversaries. So my own lusty thirst for the nurture and nourishment of artistic creativity has grown into a powerful force in my life. I glean log-jam breakthroughs whenever, and wherever I can find them.

So, here’s my own list of 9 people whose ideas and work are a constant on-going nourishment and nurture to me in my own faith-driven arts practice. I’ve provided a link to the Profile Page of each speaker because many have appeared on TED more than once, and there are links to additional resources, and lastly you don’t want to miss anything they have to offer.

Here they are in alphabetical order;

Brene’ Brown / Shame & Vulnerability

Sunni Brown / The Power of Doodling

Susan Cain / The Power of Introversion

Tracy Chevalier / Finding the Story in the Painting

Elizabeth Gilbert / The Burden of Creative Genius

Malcolm Gladwell / Spaghetti Sauce & Bombsights

Seth Godin / The Obsolescence of Gatekeepers

Amy Tan / Elusive Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson / Education & Creativity

I’d love to hear from you. What are some of your thoughts? What are your personal favorites?



Art Making and Social Media

Yellow Leaf - DetailSorry, I’ve been absent for the entire month of March.  A lot’s been going on. Which brings me to the need for balance, and the need for balanced communication.  What’s awesome about the on-going communication is that it’s two-way and relational.

I’ve just recently began the process, very new to me, of linking my blog (Creative harmonies) to my Facebook page (Lew Curtiss/Visual Artist); and to my ETSY store (Fingerprints); my Facebook page to the blog and to the store; the store to the blog and to my Facebook page.  In time I may “evolve” into consolidating the store and the blog into my own domain / website / gallery (Lew Curtiss (dot) com.  But for now it’s first things first.

In promoting and selling my art, I have several options:  1) I can make a “body of work” and run around seeking galleries to represent me;  2) I can create inventory and post it to ESTY/Fingerprints; 3) I can hoof it as a booth vendor to art-shows and offer my work through direct sales.  Or I can do some sort of a mixture of any two or three of these options.

I’m not an art marketing guru, but visionaries like Seth Godin all tell me that these days a viable, well-followed, online presence either enhances my opportunities for art sales, or it flat-out becomes the single most powerful vehicle for the sale of my work.  It’s all about building a good, open, transparent reputation; about making and offering quality work; about minimizing impediments of purchase to the buyer.  The internet allows me to host my own gallery instead of running around trying to get my work into brick & mortar venues.  It also makes my work available world-wide with one effort.  All of this happens only when I link my digital assets so that one thing logically leads to another.

I need to say here that I’m not against galleries or art shows.  I’m in favor of them and will use them, but they’re not my only access to exposure.  Today, because of digital-media tools, I can go around the gatekeepers and get to market on my own.

I repeat; I’m rapidly learning this stuff and am not a marketing guru.  I’m an artist, and if I want my work to “show & sell” I’ve got to make it known through any means I can, hence the reading and research.  You need to understand, I’m nearly 60, nearly, but not quite.  And what I mean is that  I’m “old school marketing”.  I’m telling you this because my generation, the last of the so-called “Baby Boomers” has had to learn and re-learn to invent and re-invent themselves.  This is something our parents and grand-parents told us would never happen.

In college, part of my communications degree centered on media-driven marketing.  The internet was still a big secret.  DOS had just been created.  Computers were the size of semi-trucks.  And the Jobs / Wozniak partnership that would become Apple was just getting started.  What I learned in old-school marketing is what Seth Godin calls marketing “at” people.

“Marketing by interrupting people isn’t cost-effective anymore.  You can’t afford to seek out people and send them unwanted marketing messages, in large groups, and hope that some will send you money.  Instead, the future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other.  Ignite consumer networks and then get out ot the way and let them talk.”

pg 6 / Idea-Virus Read & Share / Seth Godin

My kid’s generation is so lucky, and I am so jealous.  Why?, because the digital tools I’m learning to use to promote me, my art, and I, transform my reach into global-reach, and it didn’t cost me a penny!  That’s just plain alchemy, and I’m totally excited.

What Godin and others are writing about is the cultivation of relationships.  Buyers want to know something about the artist whose work they’re buying.  They want to see the artist in studio creating their work.  They want to know how the piece was made, why it was made, and why the process is significant.  They’re a generation in search of meaning and significance wherever they can find it.

Developing relationships is the basis of offering who I am and what I create to the world, hence the on-going need to learn how to employ these tools.  Social Media is promotional, relational, marketing media.  It is, if not complete transparency, at least translucence.  My “business” is not just my business, but yours as well.  That’s part of the reason you’re here, reading my blog.  We’re developing a rapport, a relationship, and while we may have never met face to face, we’re getting to know one another, one link, one post, one aspect at a time.

Process and the Journey

Water Garden - Quilt Block Collage - (c) LM Curtiss jr~

Water Garden - Latex paint & Wallpaper on Masonite - 18"x18" - (c) Lewis M Curtiss jr~

I’ve turned yet another corner in how I make what I make.  Every time I turn a corner of innovation (making something “better”) it gives me pause.  I tend to turn back and, for just a moment, enjoy just how far I’ve come on this particular journey.

With each new “generation”, perhaps iteration is a better word, of the work I make; with each simpler, more powerful, process of making, I am liberated.  I am also exhilarated, because each new step I take in the journey represents new creative possibilities I hadn’t encountered before.  It’s almost as if the art itself is alive and maturing, which it is in a way.

I am, of course, a living-breathing artist.  I get into the studio 6-days a week and joyfully tackle the practical process of making meaning from the mountain of materials I have at hand.  But I am, as all artists ought to be, endowing the work with a small part of me.  I mean, you can’t help it.  Give three sax players the same tune to embellish with their solos and you’re going to get something that is distinctly “them”.  In that way our art is alive.

Being a “living” thing, process becomes journey, and journey is process.  The work seems to mature as does this artist.  And that’s part of what I love about being an artist; I am always growing because I am always being challenged to make meaning more powerfully, more concisely, and more succinctly.  It’s what theoretical mathematicians call “elegance”.  It’s like enjoying a good glass of Port.  Time has removed much of the water and concentrated the essences, bringing forth a powerful bouquet of aromas and flavors to be enjoyed.

Perhaps that’s why artists who’ve been working at their art for a good many years make it look easy.  Well applied experience brings out a confidence and an ease when working.  Experience also teaches that to remain open to new innovations of expression deeply enriches the work.  Again, process is journey, and journey is process.

I began these Collage Quilt Blocks I make back in 2007/08.  I was seeking a new personal visual art that I could create that was original.  My first works are overdone in many ways; heavy handed, if you will.  But each generation has become lighter, more balanced, and now is taking on entirely new forms of expression.  As I streamline the process of making, there is more room in the work for meaning.

I don’t know if I’m making any sense to you.  But it seems that as I loosen my grip on what I’m doing, and how it gets done, the work itself has more room to breathe and to speak to me.  As I become less heavy-handed, using less brute force to make what I have intended, and instead simply “dance” with the materials, I find the work takes on a life of its own.  Together we become something more than when we began the process.

Journey as process.  Process as journey.  This whole thing; this dance I’m so privileged to take up every working day involves my relationship with God, my attitude toward myself, and a humility in the presence of the creative process Himself.  In the end, it seems, that not only is a work of meaning made, but we are as well.

What have been, or currently are your experiences with the on-going maturation of process and journey in your art practice?

Crankin’ Up

Lew CurtissIt’s been the better part of three years since I have been able to really develop some momentum in my art-making.  In those three years I have worked in the service of our family, caring for our fathers.  Both are gone now and those responsibilities are past.  It’s time to move into the new future of producing a new body of work, and of producing new types of work.

I am enjoying the blessings of various breakthroughs.  I am enjoying a deeper, more profound focus; something that’s difficult for a global thinker.  I am enjoying a closer, more meaning-filled walk with my Lord & Inspiration.  It’s a time of being released to go make meaning in the middle of whatever is happening around me.  It’s a time of realizing the hidden blessings of inspiration buried in the simplest acts of life.

I have discovered that I am deeply drawn to storytelling in Collage/Mixed Media.  This visual vocabulary has been with me in several forms for sometime now, and I have only recently connected all the dots.  I am no longer searching for my “how”.  I am now free to discover my “what”, and that too has driven a number of wonderful breakthroughs.

The basis of all of my art-making over the years, has always been grounded in storytelling.  The human enterprise is vast, and stories are to be found everywhere.  In fact, it was storytelling which drew me to art-making in the first place.  In the revisitation of those memories, I have come full circle.

As a kid in elementary school, an orphan living with my Aunt and Uncle, I was intensely engaged by the tiny, incredibly detailed world on the stage of a professional marionette troupe.  Riveted to that little stage, I realized that I too could make worlds of my own choosing; I too could tell stories others might wish to escape into.  In all of the art-making media in which I am trained, storytelling has been the connecting factor.

I have also reconnected with that little boy, of so long ago, in another important way.  I am completely free to awaken that young, courageous, unlimited imagination.  I am free to imagine foolish things again because survival is no longer an issue for me.  I am free to wander through the cosmos seeking stories and interpreting, translating, and communicating them to others.  There is nothing like adversity and challenge to give us struggles we wish to share as stories.

That is the alchemy of art which both Ellen Dissanayake and Julia Cameron write, each in their own way; that willingness to intercept life’s ups and downs, and to make some sense of them.  Making meaning, interpreting the significance of an aspect of life; that’s what the artist does.  It’s not that we have all the answers – most of the time we haven’t a clue even what we’re making.  But we’re willing to listen to the work, to the materials, to the process, and from that intimacy is born a piece of art.

Ramping up, developing momentum, takes time.  I’m finding it’s a little like a steam train as it begins toHarlequin Art move.  The chug, chug, chug of the engine begins slowly and then develops a regular rhythm.  That rhythm picks up a steady pace as the engine, pulling its cars, develops momentum.  I am finding my own daily rituals, and habits.  I am finding that showing up everyday and making meaning, in some way, contributes to the works at hand, or is an investment in some piece in the future – nothing’s wasted.

It feels good to be moving again.  It feels really good to be making again, and to have found a specific medium at which I can develop my skills by myself.  Oh, I’m no hermit, I just mean that my art-making is both personal and portable.  It no longer disappears into memory when the projector is turned off, or the last curtain is closed.  What I do now will certainly have its collaborations, but the process is infinitely simpler; more direct; perhaps even, for me at least, more meaning-filled.

How I Manage My Three R’s

BRONX-001C-TNY - Copyright 2010 - Lewis M. Curtiss jrIt’s nothing new, we’re all buried in information of sorts.  I’m up to my armpits in my own set of three-r’s; reading, writin’, and research.  The internet is my haven for wading through mountains of information and knowledge in search of  wisdom and meaning for my arts practice.

Current Projects

Currently, I’ve got three book concepts I’m researching to see if they’re worth doing, and what approach I want to take.  I’ve got three art-making projects in the works.  I’m swimming through books and blogs about minimalism, simplicity, culture, and faith & art.  I’m learning to manage how I gather so it serves my process and I don’t drown.

Finding My Own System

Among the many blogs I read are several which offer good advice about how to “manage” these often divergent resources.  Some of the advice works for me and much does not.  I’m a gleaner, and a searcher.  I gather tips and tidbits which actually work for me and discard the rest. I’m not one of those who thinks, “Oh maybe, someday it’ll come in handy.”  No, it’s either valuable now or it’s gone.

I used to force myself to conform to the “systems” of popular organizational gurus until I realized that unless it helps me make meaning, I’m not going to bother.  That doesn’t mean they’re offering bad advice, it’s just not good advice for me.  I mean, you’ve got to love on yourself a little bit, get real, and do for yourself what actually works.


Like many philomaths (major love of learning) I’m an information hoarder.   I go searching for one thing, and end up sideways looking at something related to the original, but definitely not the original. I get it from my dear Grandmother who raised me to enjoy (and I really do) trawling through dictionaries and encyclodepiae.  I’d begin with one word, and while reading the definition, if there was another word  I didn’t understand, I’d go look that up too.  Soon I had a growing relational chain of thought(s).  It taught me nuance.

Realizing that I need to get back on track, I now “file” the blog/website URL in my “favorites”.  Now, I’m not going to give you a precise count, but I’d guess I’ve got some two-hundred website/blog URLs in dozens of folders because I don’t need a cloud, I need to actually find meaningful resources.

I house-clean about every two or three months.  I may use something in a folder and see the loads of other “favorites” in there.  I go through each and in a flash, without thinking about it, I look at the website homepage and make an immediate decision – keep it or ditch it.  Most I ditch because I don’t really need then anymore.  Their project is done, and I’ve moved on.

God Bless Blog Aggregates

The same goes for blogs, and I read (using Google Reader) a load of blogs.  I’ve become really picky about their quality too.  When I began reading blogs regularly, I created a folder, one for each day of the week, and browsed each of them on their day.  Then I learned about aggregate readers and how they’ll show you what’s new and what’s not.  It saves me going through each and every blog just to see if there’s anything new.  It also shows me when a blog’s gone dead (no new posts for weeks/months) – bye-bye!

Eventually, I had built up a list of about 80-blogs.  If they were highlighted by the reader, I’d browse them for new material.  If they were not, if they didn’t have something new, I’d skip them.  That worked fine right up until I got to this full-on list and the the daily “reading” was two or three-hundred new posts.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve got other things to do.  I need to move on.

So, to use the oft abused and misused word, I “evolved” to a simpler system.  First, I renewed the folder per day discipline, and though I am tempted to “peek” at say, Wednesday with its one-hundred new posts (LifeHacker is excellent, but they post a bundle of new stuff each day), I don’t look.  I restrain my self and I really, actually read the new posts from that day’s blog folder.  Instead of merely glancing and feeling like I must move on, I actually get something out of it.

My Digital File Cabinets

I’m the same way with “notes” (my current favorite clipper is EverNote).  Today, my file cabinets are digital and they hold gigabytes of stuff.  I gather, and pile, and accumulate until eventually the original idea hiding in there reveals itself and I can make meaning.  Like most creatives, I gather, incubate, and create, giving birth, as it were, to something meaningful and new.  And the only way that process continues is if I keep tweaking how I manage my three-r’s.

Leave a Comment: I’d love to hear from you.

What’s your system for remaining sane in the sea of creative influences?  What creative sorting or piling do you use?  What does your creativity demand, and how do you fulfill that need?

Where’s the Wonder in It?

These days, I don’t wonder much about life, it’s purpose and meaning. The way we humans behave; the way we greedily grab, use, and discard everything has dissolved much of my wonder about who we really are and what we’re doing with our lives.

In a pair of documentaries on China; Up the Yangtze and Beijing, I saw the virus of Western culture enveloping that great huge expanse of ancient genius with modern industry. The Chinese are rapidly adopting the Western world’s consumer-throw-away values in a transformation which eclipses the Industrial Revolution of nineteenth century Europe. There is a tidal wave of change pouring into China and it is drowning many of her people.

We humans are, at our core, Havers; we want this and that and when we’re bored with it we throw what we wanted so badly away. Our advertising driven consumer culture transcends borders, races, and ethnic cultures. We seem to think that having more, having it now, and getting the next newest thing tomorrow is the most valuable attribute of our lives. And we seem to invest our very beings into this futile pursuit. For example, we Americans have adopted a great national pride in “being busy” – whatever that means.

As evidence I offer up the preoccupations of governments – the stimulation, development, and preservation of monetary economies. Economies are driven by people buying and selling goods and services. Jobs and the economy are at the heart of the workaday lives of every human. Governments rely on this focused preoccupation to remain in power; for money, and to have someone to rule. Without economies, governments, as we know them, would evaporate.

The culture of Havers races across the globe far faster, far more powerfully, with far more implications even than the Gospel of Jesus Christ – which is of infinite significance. It’s almost as if, being infected with our man-made virus of having, we humans have become a parasite to this Earth as we rape her for everything she’s got to give us, and doing little to return or sustain her.

Becomers – the people who advance slowly, treasure those advancements, and live within the natural cycles of nature – are rapidly vanishing.  Here in America – and I do love my country very much – the Western migrations of settlers trampled and destroyed entire cultures of Becomers.   These are people who are content with enough, and who work and live in a way which enriches, nourishes, and sustains the Earth. The heart of their lives resides in being, and becoming more, not in the material sense, but in the spiritual sense. A bit like monks in a monastery; a bit like, because true Becomers aren’t stuck in a time warp. No, I believe great Becomers have learned what Gleaners have known all along, that you will find bits and pieces of progressive answers in many places, from many sources, and it’s your task to creatively assemble them into something useful without violating your core values of living in sustainable harmony with Creation.

This Becomers mentality has haunted me for almost three decades, and has taken on many forms. At first I thought romantically, as many generations have, that it would be great to live on the land, earning a living by raising food and becoming largely self-reliant. I’m a city-kid though, and don’t know a thing about living off the land, and besides there’s always the tax collector demanding his share of your labors in the name of the law. God save us all from the law; but enough of my sarcasm.

Today Becomers of all stripes are appearing in the form of ecologists, architects, designers, engineers, and spiritual leaders who encourage us to live in harmony with this Earth or suffer our own demise. These are the new Becomers who put their money where their mouths are, instead of wasting their time carrying protest signs.  They combine the talents of the Gleaners and Becomers into a fusion of technologies both new and old. These aren’t fools who cast off something just because it’s been done, or is from yesterday. These are brilliant minds driven by curiosity who ask, “How can we use this long-term, sustain our values, and not harm the Earth?”

Where many Becomers are religiously driven and seem quaintly frozen in the past, the new Becomers realize that landfills aren’t garbage dumps, they’re resource wells. They see materials as something which needs to be constantly remade, and reworked as one generation after another uses, and reuses them. It may be somewhat idealistic, but it sure beats more landfills.

Certainly there are spiritual Becomers, perhaps the greatest of all, who thank God for the very power of creativity to solve the problems we have made ourselves. I may lose confidence in where we’re going, and why, but as long as there are Becomers in this world I have modest hope that we can live lives of meaning and purpose beyond the fast-track, have it now, throw it away culture we’re so terribly proud of.

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff

Our youngest son attended an overnight youth-fast event at our church and when I went to pick him up the next morning he was all a chatter.  He is normally when he’s really excited about something, but on this morning he couldn’t wait to tell me about a program he’d seen at the retreat.

Last evening the youth group sat down and watched a couple of really informative presentations.  The one I want to share with you, the one which excites me as much as it does my son, is The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard.

From the website…

What is the Story of Stuff?

From its extraction, through sale, use, and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

I have long lamented – very long – that much of our “modern life” seems predicated upon the idea that we’re here to make money for the IRS and the GNP.  I love our great nation, but there’s just got to be more to life than ripping resources out of the ground, to make stuff we think we want until we don’t want it anymore, instead we want the next one.  Then we throw away what we already have, or worse, we actually pay someone to store what we don’t use.

It reminds me of films like George Lucas’ 1971 feature motion picture, THX-1138.  The concept there was very much the same; make more, sell more, buy more.  By the way this is not a film for children.

That’s enough of that…

I encourage you to have a good look at The Story of Stuff.  It’s informative, not a ranting ecologist with an axe to grind.  This is real information creatively presented.

Watch it several times and see if there aren’t some things which make sense to you.  It’s a really fun presentation.  It’s only a short 20 minutes, and it is very suitable for kids.  Enjoy!

Engage.  Enlarge.  Respond.