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.
NOTE: I apologize for the lack of open space between the paragraphs. WordPress is having problems just now. Thank you for your patience.
The new goals I’ve set for myself this year is to [try and] read a new book every two-weeks; so far so good. The latest I’ve finished is by musician, worship leader, and author Manuel Luz called Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (2009/Moody). This is not a book review but more of a sharing of a couple of his most nourishing points.
I love how Luz reminds us that the life of an artist, and the daily act of art-making has a transformative effect on those artists for whom Christ is Lord. “In my own life, I have found that my music – and art in general – is a means by which I am drawn more closely in communion with God. God has formed me through the discipline of music. The discipline of worshiping while rehearsing… the discipline of songwriting and song journaling.
“And this should make sense if one understands that to grow as artists is, in part, to increase in our Christlikeness.” Luz / 127
To my mind this is another example of the purest essence of the convergence of faith and art; it not only affects those who engage the work but the artist as well. I love the Presence of God wherever I am. I love knowing that He’s not far off, up on heaven listening at a distance, but through His Spirit is literally with me 24/7. I love our discoveries in the process of making art, at whatever stage of the work. I love those discoveries which enrich my relationship with my Lord God.
I don’t usually talk about art work that I’ve not finished, let alone haven’t even begun. A powerful thing happened to me a while back as I was reading Matthew 9:20 / Mark 5:25, the story of Mary Magdalene being healed by merely touching the edge of Christ’s shawl.
There I was in the middle of my daily Bible readings and up came this story, with it’s beginning, its middle, and end; complete in every way. Heck, it even fits the 5-sentence story structure of a good Western world tale.
So, there I was reading and as I savored each word, something built up in my heart. Here was a woman who’d made mistakes (don’t we all) and who was seeking full healing. Mark’s verse 27 tells us that she’d heard Jesus was near. She resolved to merely touch His shawl or tunic – that’s all, just touch his clothing. That’s all, the merest gesture, and she knew that she’d be healed. To my mind she got more than she hoped for. She got salvation, redemption, a whole new life in that single experience. What a powerful story. Then I heard it, I call it the silver bell. “Dinggggggg”; there it was, that resonance of recognition that this was an important story. My heart quickened, as itProcess as Transformation always does when that “bell” rings. I know I’m in the Presence of His Spirit and being offered a gift if I’ll just listen and receive it.
As I began journaling about the encounter, something I often do in preparation of making a work, God was right there, revealing one level of meaning after another; a simple story, a single, brief encounter but layer upon layer of relational / spiritual significance. The practice of even preparing to make art was transforming me. I was growing and being nourished in the experience. I was savoring the Divine Presence of the living God whom I follow and serve. I was enjoying a deeply personal, intimate, private relationship with Him.
It’s this self same experience Manuel Luz was on about in his book. Art making, for the artist who is a follower of Christ, can (if we’re willing, open, and receptive) have a transformative effect on us – it ought to. Then the work itself goes on to affect the lives of those who engage it elsewhere, as long as they too are willing, open, and receptive. And I know I’m repeating myself, but I assure you that it’s deliberate repetition – process is an art-maker’s transformative journey. There is no destination, only journey, ever changing, ever growing.
Recently I was re-reading my notes from the Kindling’s Hearth I attended (Oct 2012). I came across something Dick Staub, our host brought up – Holistic Readiness. We were asked; What does it mean to be holistically ready creatively? How do we remain ready? What happens when we don’t remain ready?
I’m reminded of a story from a now famous TED Talk given by author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). She was talking about a poet friend who could feel the approach of a poem from far away over the landscape. Her friend, because she was hanging laundry that day, had to run to the house to get paper and pencil so she could write down the poem as it passed by. For me however, it’s that word holistic (emphasizing the whole and all of its parts and their interdependence) that implies something larger than having paper and pencil at hand.
As an artist whose art-making is literally driven by my relationship with God, holistic readiness begins with the health and depth of that relationship. For me, that relationship is far more than just going to church, doing daily devo’s, and attending a weekly Bible study. Holistic readiness, in terms of faith, has everything to do with remaining fully surrendered to God, with constant prayer, daily journaling, and literally seeking His presence. It’s a 24/7 kind of relationship, not a, “Let’s see when I can carve out 15-minutes for God.” kind of thing
In the studio I know He’s there partially because I invite Him in. He’s directly involved, often in a dialogue, as I’m in the process of making. He’s always reminding me that there’s no such thing as a mistake, and that I’m not bold enough in the creative risks I take. He’s my comforter, my counselor, and my Lord. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the wonder of what we’re making that I just have to raise my hands, and looking up, pray the Doxology; Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise Him all creatures here below / Praise Him above the Heavenly host / Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost / Amen. My holistic readiness is founded upon my walk with God, without which I have nothing creatively to say.
Holistic also implies other life areas as well; diet, exercise, leisure, rest, and ArtJournaling. Like Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages from her groundbreaking book The Artist’s Way, art journaling has become something akin to scrapbooking or doodling. It’s an artform all by itself. For more on the value and power of doodling, look up Sunni Brown on TED. But my art journaling (Lessons From My Art Journal) has become a vital tool in remaining holistically ready.
In that journal I make messes and “waste” time and materials. I find out what various media* are able to do. I discover, play, and experiment. I take creative risks, and develop my skills with various media to use them well when making art. Mostly I find ideas that work and develop them toward becoming finished works.
I’ve learned that when I neglect my relationship with God, my health, or my exploration time, I’m not ready; I’m not creatively primed to work on making art.
Oh… and one last thing. I also need my coffee, and great music so we have an espresso machine and a boombox in the studio as inspiration.
Thanks for listening.
*Please help stamp out the misuse of the word mediums. I’m serious. This misuse has become an embarrassing epidemic in the art community. It’s bad enough how few people take us seriously anyway that we don’t need to empower their disdain by this simple mistake. Medium = single art medium (paint or ink or etc.) Media = many art media (paint and ink and etc.) BTW: Mediums are not art supplies, they’re people who predict the future or tell fortunes. Thanks!