In this Holy Day season of Christmas, I am reminded by a Brother, Christ (like wrist) Otto, author of Mary: When God Shares His Glory, of the many parallels that we artists share with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The late Madeleine L’Engle, author of the master work, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, also drew on these parallels by reminding artists of the need to be available to the work Father asks of us. In submission and surrender Mary said, “Let it be unto me according to Your will.” In this way the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, Immanuel.
If we artists will adopt Mary’s submission to the work, we too can participate in this act of incarnation of His Word. Through us, in the cause of Father God, our art is also a form of His Word becoming flesh.
We might want to ask what our inspirational source is for the art we make. Is it our own mind, our own intellect? Or is our source, in relational-faith, none other than the Beloved Father Himself? And when the angel of invitation appears in our hearts, do we choose to accept Father’s invitation to make the work? Will we venture, with Him, into the invisible spiritual realm and render our experience as artwork to share with God’s people? If our relational-faith with Father God is indeed the sole source of our work, then can it not be said that we too participate in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us?
We artists, as the Charashim of God (His creative artisans), are we not Spirit filled? Do we not posses the closest of intimate relationships with Father God? Do we not participate in our own Mystic Union, that He is in us and we are in Him?
The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and she conceived. In our own spiritual union with Father God we too can experience the conception of works of art that Father desires to share with the world. In this way we participate in the incarnation of His Word. But, are we willing to surrender our own agendas and yield to Him for the benefit of our fellow human kind? What is Father God asking each one of us to “enflesh,” as L’Engle says?
The choice is ours, dear artists. It’s always been ours.
Personally, I am still working to figure out what art is, what the purpose of art is, and why some human beings even bother to make art. When I go back to the beginnings, the earliest expressions of what we now call art – cave paintings & carvings – I am captured by the thought that those primordial people had something other than making art in mind. I don’t think for an instant that our primordial ancestors asked about what they were doing. It’s almost as if an urge needed expression and carvings and cave paintings were simply the necessary outlet.
I believe as well that expressions through singing, chanting, dancing, drumming and the like all came into being and developed because of a rising need for the release of celebration and expression that could not be suppressed. They could not simply sit on their hands and ignore these creative urges that were rising up within them.
Today – and I promise to be very brief – art is treated as are all human products as an economic commodity. Those who buy and sell art, after stealing it from the artist – that is all but the motion picture artists – run off with the many objects of art in the world to buy and sell them with vigorous abandon. Success is often measured by the auction block price tag. And while the artist never sees a dime of those later transactions, that artist is deemed a great success because some of their work sold for thousands, even millions, of dollars. These are transactions which completely exclude the artists.
How did we get from our ancestral heritage of mark-making to today’s “art market”? It’s a question that has interested me for the past decade. Before that time I was all too willing to sell whatever artwork it was that I had made in order to become a “success”. No longer though. I’ve absolutely no interest in playing the art world game with all of its sham, glitter, and goo. I know why I make the art I do and the source from whence it comes. I even know the purpose of my art, and it isn’t to garner personal fame or fortune. In fact, since there’s little or nothing that I want to do to change that condition, is the question even worth my asking?
I think it may be of some value on a personal level because I am still trying to grasp my role as an artist in this world.
As I’m “talking” here, perhaps the question that I’m after is indeed deeply personal and can best be shaped by asking, how I can reconnect with those primordial ancestors who made such innocent and selfless marks? How best do I draw from their drive because I believe that, for them, it was a spiritual drive. So is mine.
In those primordial days, I don’t see someone sitting around thinking in terms of bison anatomy and landscape beauty that they wish to capture visually. I see someone whose entire world was spiritual. This is one of the marks of the emergence of humanity, the acknowledgment of connection with the spiritual realm(s).
I see a duality of vision – harmonious to be sure – wherein those early peoples could see both the living animals as well as their spirits at the same time. I neither know nor care what that looks like in literal terms. What I do care about is the fact of this dual vision they experienced and carried within themselves.
Somewhere, somehow, a person chose to celebrate and express that dual vision in imagery. Carving – even desiring to carve – and painting developed into a means of that celebratory expression. I want to know this selfsame celebration and expression – the primordial essence of what it means to be human and to make marks of meaning.
In my own parallel experience, my life has been deeply touched by Father God. He and I developed a relationship and to this day we live in that relationship. Because Father created me as an artist, something of our spiritual relationship rises up in me and will not be silenced or ignored. I must express and, yes, even celebrate, this relationship through my artmaking with Father. It is this celebration of relationship that leads me to see our artmaking together as an act of worship. If I’d been born as I am, millennia ago, I would have experienced this selfsame life, not of creativity, but of artistic expression.
As it is, I do chant and play drums as worship. I do paint and write as worship. The writing I am doing right here, right now, is an active celebration of my relationship with my Beloved Father God. In a way, I suppose I am that so-called caveman who has dire need to share, celebrate, and express his dual vision of the physical and the spiritual with the others of his tribal clan.
As I sit reading my new book, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro, I’m thinking about my own level of craft in Father’s and my artmaking. I’m thinking about the creative journey we set out on 10-years ago. I’m thinking how Father and I go at some aspect of the art we make and how much I need to grow and learn in order to achieve the skills needed to make what we’re after.
One reason I have minimal respect for over educated creative people is because what they’re thrusting in my direction is their intimate knowledge of mere craft. They don’t compose. They’re not artists who compose. They may not even be artists at all. They’re interpreters and collaborators who are largely incapable of an original action of their own. They rely upon their knowledge of mere technique and method and have little or no inkling of personal expression.
Am I comparing myself to these artless technicians? Not at all. I am simply stating that method and technique, without a heart for deeply original creative expression, is no substitute – that’s all.
My wife and I were once gifted with tickets to a concert in which an arrogant little nitwit with thousands of hours of training stepped out to play Gershwin’s American in Paris. I love George Gershwin’s work and was very excited at this rare opportunity to hear this performance. I didn’t give a wit about this self absorbed kid who was going to play for us. I loved the music itself, and in the hands of an artist, the interpretation had all of the emotion of a hustling, bustling metropolis in sound. In the hands of an artist, Gershwin’s city had life and it can be palpable.
What I heard was absolutely nothing of what Gershwin had written on the page. The performance had nothing of what flowed from Gershwin’s artist heart. This kid beat all of the life out of this magnificent work of original music because he was only interested in showing off his technique. He was an insipid robot sitting there at the keyboard obediently hammering out each and every note with perfect technique and nothing more. I was actually somewhat depressed, certainly disappointed, at what I had been offered. In fact, I hoped that this person would either get over himself and play from his heart, or be drummed out of music altogether. I didn’t care which, but please don’t let this kid ever again butcher another great composer’s work of art.
Making art is far too precious a thing to be lorded over by mere craftsmen. It is a deep and abiding connection to the unseen, invisible universe where the artist draws something really special to bring back and share with the rest of humanity. Craft, while vitally important, is but a nest or foundation into which a new creative piece of expression is born.
This is one reason why I’m so proud of Father’s and my being self-taught. Yes, I certainly do need to develop a great deal more method and technique. I expect to be at this growth all of my life and beyond. What I don’t do however is hide behind a wall of method and technique as my credentials, nor do any of the many artists whom I admire so deeply.
I once thought that it would have been wondrous to be born in the Italian Renaissance, but no longer. One reason I’ve lost much of my awe and wonder regarding the Renaissance is simply because it was largely peopled by competitive show offs. These were people possessing celestial gifts, and certainly they created many celestial works, but much of it was created in a world of mere arrogant show and competition between the artists and their patrons. What was seen as “great art” was often a measure of how many perfectly rendered figures could be crammed onto a wall, or how large the work was. Like so much of today’s modern film acting, much of the work is about how popular the actor is through the films they make. Whatever art there is in the work is often buried beneath the veneer of the various self-centric personae of the so called stars. At times it seems that deep creative expression shows up by mere accident.
Whatever is left of my once deep admiration for the Italian Renaissance remains in the works themselves, not the composer artists who created them. I receive the expression which is so often evident and available to me for engagement, but I could care less about the name at the bottom right of the work.
I deeply admire composers in any media who are self-discovering adventurers on a journey into the invisible realms of creative expression. I am in even deeper admiration of self-taught artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jack Vettriano. If you need to know of whom I speak, I invite you to look them up. And these are just two of a host of creative composers who buckled down and conquered whatever it took to become excellent at what they did and do.
In short, what I admire in the arts – all of them – is gumption, self-directed gumption. I admire those artists who collect their craft along the way, who don’t brag about whatever schooling they endured, or how much practice they put in. Show me. Show me what it is that you’ve nurtured in yourself. Show me your work, because in the end that’s all that really matters.
My son and I met a new friend at The Gathering Conference this Summer. Last night we all got to talking and the subject of story as reality came up. Now I don’t actually know fully what they mean by that. But my son has a better grasp than the three of us combined. Trying my best, let me say that it has something to do with the idea that, for example, the reader of a book is very often carried away into the world of the story when they read.
I know that this effect happens to me. When I read a visually stimulating novel, I often feel that I am almost in two places at once. I am marginally aware of the place I am sitting when reading and, as well, I can see into the world of the story I am engaging. For me that world is both alive and real, never mind the psychologist’s demand that it’s just in my mind. I’m not interested in what psychologists say about much of anything. For me the experience is real.
A similar thing happens when I engage in the spirit and see, hear, or travel in the realms of Heaven. Once it was entirely necessary for me to close my eyes in order to engage. Now I can often experience spiritual realities with my eyes open as well.
The difference between reading a book to experience another world, and simply engaging the spirit is that the book is giving me a context of story. The text of the book is feeding the experience and in fact often seems to disappear when I’m engaged in reading. I don’t see the book in my hands.
Engaging the spirit, on the other hand, is provided by the Heavenly realms – in fact by Father God Himself. For me these experiences are real, and I won’t waste my time trying to explain some monkey headed philosophy of what reality is. What I’m after here is whatever Beloved has for me in this idea of story as reality. Because if true, the idea that story is reality is an element of my experiences at the Table of Making.
Faith-driven artists commonly journey into the spiritual realm(s) as their source of inspiration. The Charashim of Father God venture into His Presence in the Heavenly realms, experience something significant, and return to create their best expression of that experience. In essence, through our art, story becomes reality.
In my case, Father and I work together to bring something back that will become a painting or a book. We spend time together in the Creative Slipstream searching, and at the Table of Making discussing. Together we search out a thing through experience wherein we apprehend something worth sharing. Father in His wisdom, and I in my craft and artistry, make something together in art, either in painting or in writing. In this way what Father and I do together is to make real something of story.
I suppose what intrigues me most is that when Father speaks, things come into existence. His very word, whatever and however, becomes the true reality of His Cosmos. In Genesis, for example, all of Creation came into existence through His living word. Never mind the wondrous forces and processes He employed to make it happen. He spoke all into being.
In a way I see a similarity with us as His Charashim. We take an experience from the unseen and by craft and art make a new reality. Father made us creative, in His image. We’re creative because He is creative and He is sharing that gift with one species on this Earth, human beings. It’s possibly the most powerful aspect of our being human. Through Father God we’ve all been endowed with some aspect of creativity, though not all of us are artists. We are all highly creative in what we do and make.
For artists this is the height of our mystic union with Father, the ability through His gift(s), to make story into reality and to share that story with others in this world.
In my recent two-way journaling with Father, we discussed the idea that all art is spiritually born. All art comes from a person’s relationship with whatever it is they place their faith in and worship. It may be the world’s values of ego, fame, and fortune. It may be in one’s political inklings, or socially meaningful pursuits. It may be one’s religion. Whatever it is we value and worship, there too is the dwelling place of our heart/art.
Father showed me that, in the same way that our tongue (what comes out of our mouths) reveals what’s in our hearts, so too does the art we make. No matter the medium, the art itself reveals what and where our treasure is. He has shown me that all art is born out of how we use the gift of creation and creativity, which He has endowed into the spiritual DNA of every human being from before His laying the foundations of this World. It is this sharing of the creative gift what makes human beings unique among all of His creatures. He went on to say that, in the arts, the use of the creative gifts has far reaching effects on history, on societies, on cultures.
Back in 2012, I was invited to a wonderful gathering of faith-driven artists. Some worked in music as a composer and a singer/songwriter. One was a recording studio producer. Several of us were visual artists. One created movement inspired works, and another shared views of the Earth and the Cosmos in breathtaking beauty. One was a director / producer of theatre. A few days before this wondrous gathering, we were all was asked to prepare a 15-minute presentation about where we had come from creatively, where we were at now, and where we saw ourselves going in the future of our art practices. The most startling thing for me was the process of preparing that presentation.
Father and I worked together to gather what I really believed about making art as a faith-driven artist. The single point I want to focus on here is that Father God revealed to me that faith-driven artists are sanctified in Christ, consecrated to His work, and are of the priestly tribe of Levi. Why the tribe of Levi? Because art is the second voice of the Church. We artists, through what we create and express, are able to connect and communicate in ways that no tract, no preacher, no teacher can. Through personal permission, the works are invited into the lives of those who choose to engage them. In that engagement, it is hoped that they find something special and of personal significance.
In these ways; the creative design of our spiritual DNA, the sanctification of our life’s work, and the consecration of our Destiny, all come together in the realization that all art is spiritually born.
I’m going to begin a new series of posts relating to my creative journey, From the Table of Making. These last few years have seen huge breakthroughs in my art practice as I’ve been growing ever closer to Father God. That closeness has come as a direct result of my relationship with Father, of getting to know Him, and of falling ever more deeply in love with Him.
Some time back, maybe two years ago now, I was in my silent time with Him, I was meditating in His Presence, and suddenly I found myself standing in a huge room way out in the Cosmos. The floor and walls were clear and I beheld the stars and galaxies of His Creation. There in the middle of “the room” was a very large, clear, boardroom table. Jesus sat at the other end.
“Welcome … this is the place from which you and I will commune in the process of your making art. This is The Table of Making.”
I was jaw dropped, and I remember having a few questions, not many, because my spirit trusted in whatever was going to develop in our creative relationship from this place.
These days I go there often, and after just a few visits, when I showed up, there sat Michelangelo, VanGogh, Rembrandt, DaVinci, and many others. I then understood that I was among some very creative company, not because they’re famous in this world, but because, in some way, at some point, their own art-making was faith-driven. What they made, what they “saw” in the midst of their creativity, was driven by the relational faith they had with Father God, and now here I was, enjoying close, intimate, creative pursuits in the Presence of my Creator.
This creative relationship with Father and the journey we share is the stuff of this series of posts.
I don’t seem, as yet to share that hope, although I do / am / will produce works which point to the foot of the Cross. That’s certainly hope-filled. But what is hope anyway? Is it a deep spiritual straining? Is it a kind of, sort of wishing that something would happen in the midst of our prayers, whatever those may be?
I’d like to believe that this hopeful (hope-filled) act is like faith; “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I want to focus on those two words substance and evidence.
Substance means the being or nature of a thing; the essential nature of something hoped for; it’s essence. Evidence means the proof, being obvious or apparent. Hoped for … is to wait for something in full faith and confidence; in essence waiting in full joy and confidence for the manifestation of what is hoped for. This hoped for is not a mere wishing. It’s a fully confident “done deal”, kind of new reality that has yet to become a manifest reality.
In the manner Fujimura uses hopeful, as in hopeful act, it seems to me to mean that the making of art is an act filled with hope; filled with the full confidence of a new manifestation of a positive, creative reality. “Art is an inherently hope[filled] act, one that echoes the creativity of the Creator.” I see this act of making as filled with hope (waiting in confidence for a manifestation), which does, indeed, echo the creativity of the Creator. Our God is in His very essence positive, loving, and certainly creative. We artists are privileged to “imitate” Him through the use of the gift of creativity which He gave us at our Genesis (birth / conception). Being made by Him in His image, we’re the one and only species on the planet to be so endowed.
We most often use the word hope to mean awaiting the manifestation of a better tomorrow. We so often merely wish for a better tomorrow. But both the passage in Hebrews 11, and the statement from Fujimura indicate a confident waiting for the manifestation of that better tomorrow. Art, Mako says, has that inherent power in its DNA as it were, and it is the privilege of the artist to point the way, to suggest what that better tomorrow might look like.