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.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 4:11
I was reading from Galatians this morning and while I do grasp what Paul is on about, Father’s Spirit struck me with a contemporary parallel. In the second half of Galatians, Paul is dealing with those who preach a need for physical circumcision, a return to the burdensome slavery of the law. He’s working to separate the Jewish past of Mosaic Law from the Christian future of the new covenant in Christ. You ought to read it. You might find it interesting on its own merits.
What filled my heart is the powerful movement and need to move away from the spirit of mere religion and out into the liberation that Christ bought for all who believe in Him. Christ bought that liberty with His broken body and His shed blood – blood-bought as Joyce Meyers likes to put it.
I am so in love with Father God and am so deeply grateful for His restoration of relationship with Him through Christ. Words fail to fully express my gratitude and joy at this liberation and new relationship in which I now dwell.
The “yoke of slavery” which Paul speaks of is a yoke of law, of works, of burdensome ritual now rendered obsolete and moot in our lives as believers. I find, in the community I dwell in, that all of us still retain vestiges of the habitual influence of the spirit of religion. Having left that old world behind and been made new in Christ through relationship, not religion, I find that I still fall into very subtle habits of thought and action which reflect my own toxic past.
Some of my transformation that Father has lead me through has been hard won. It didn’t come about easily, nor in a flash. I confess that I had pains of the soul and spirit which had become very comfortable. They hurt, but I was both comfortable and familiar with them. Some of them were very difficult to release into Jesus’ hands.
My Beloved Father, by washing me in His love 24/7, shows me something different. He promises me something far better if I will but choose His gift over that with which I am familiar. It’s what my son, Levi, calls the genuine article versus the Liar’s fake. In this, Beloved Father has proved, time and again, that He is indeed faithful. He has proved His ongoing, undying, forever and ever love for me. When I release to Him something I no longer want, I receive a gift of immeasurable worth. That which He has for me does far more than merely replace what I’ve given up. Father’s gifts are many times greater, in every way, than what little toxic filth I’ve given up. Over time, it has become easier to recognize and release more and more vestiges of my old self, my old dead self.
As Father and I spend time together, situations and circumstances reveal old, tiny, bits and pieces of my old dead self and we deal with them. This process is somewhat like wounded soldiers who return from battle and are filled with shards of shrapnel. Over time their bodies push the fragments to the surface where they are washed away in the shower, or simply fall off. My vestiges are being brought to the surface, not by mental revelation, but by experiential relationship with my Father. And with a little minor surgery of His Divine Love, they’re removed one by one. My shrapnel is replaced with more and more of Him and I love Him for it – Amen.
When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.
Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both. It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous. But alas, I digress.
Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story. A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly. So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.
In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.
The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production. For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.
As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.
Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.
The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product. I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.
It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged. It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten. As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks. I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both. I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric. What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making. I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.
How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset? What is it that I temporarily let go of? What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?
I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place. I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making. I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.
I’m drawn to art that contains story. At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings. I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it. Someone’s been there. This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making. I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making. I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work. I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.
For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation. That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more. I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.
To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”. Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious. God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process. Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world. It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.
It’s all in the process.
I have no idea whatsoever to write this week. I write this blog to participate and fulfill God’s mission for me in the conversation of Faith & Art: To help faith-driven creatives to discover, develop, and use their gifts to God’s glory. But maybe a specific mission for the conversation is unnecessary.
Maybe all I need do is share what I discover, or how I am growing, and leave it at that.
I also have a specific, and very relevant, mission for my art practice: That my art-making results in lives changed for God’s glory. In other words that it produces invitations to the foot of the cross of Christ. And maybe this is enough.
Perhaps I’ve found any transition away from the first mission statement difficult, as if it was a betrayal or an abandonment of some important call from the Lord. Perhaps it’s taken these five years to realize that I’ve been given a new mission and that it is enough. That it’s all I need focus on.
My transition from problem-solver / helper-guide to producing artist has been, not difficult, but rather unclear. Maybe this year, 2013, is the year I get all of that cleared up and simply focus on doing the main thing really well – making art, showing art, and selling art. And as it may be wanted or needed, the help to others will happen along the way all by itself.
In other words, my former role as creative problem-solver / pied-piper is past; done. It’s not God’s mission for me anymore. Oh, I’m still deeply passionate about faith, art, and faith & art. I’m still deeply passionate about adding value to the lives of those with whom I come in contact. I’m still deeply interested in being encouraging, but that’s no longer my primary role. God has other plans for me this year, and I need to follow them.
These last two or three years I’ve bumped into, stumbled across, or just plain become aware of many subtle movements and transitions which God has drawn me toward. They hadn’t coalesced into a new life chapter until just now, as I’m writing this post. The Lord is definitely calling me out into far deeper waters of creativity and faith. Perhaps I’ve been running on inertia for five years and didn’t really realize it. Maybe that’s why I’ve felt a little lost, because a number of my life-roles have closed recently, simply because they’re finished.
In the last three years my final Homeschool student graduated. Both my father and father-in-law have passed away. We played major roles in their elder care (a gift I wouldn’t trade for anything). We moved to our present domicile. We’ve had one of our kids move out on her own and put herself through an arts college. We have two others on the threshold of making lives for themselves. In that time, I’ve been able to cement myself into a career of visual art-making. Lots of things have happened and have come to closure, and it’s only now, at the top of this year, that I have just enough distance to sense those roles finally winding down. The turbines of effort have stopped.
These changes are having a powerful effect on my art practice, which is why I’m thinking out loud here in my blog. That must also be why 2013 feels like a major course change for me, and I like it. In the last three years I’ve met more friends in the arts community than ever. I’ve found what I believe to be my medium, even though I’m still searching for my own voice in it. I’ve moved from an art table set up in the dining room to occupying the entire basement with all the amenities needed to really be productive year round; studio, workshop, washroom.
These are all gifts. They’re all blessings. They bring tears of gratitude to my eyes. Instead of feeling useless or confused, God has given me vital, vibrant, new roles in faith-driven creativity, and for that I am eternally grateful.
This must be why 2013 feels so expansive, and filled with great potential and possibilities. It’s as if I’ve stepped out into an open meadow surrounded by forest. Now I can look up and finally see the stars. This must also be why I feel so much focused purpose and joy. I’m not lost at all because, while I don’t know my next destination, God has made my course crystal clear. In childlike faith, all I have to do is follow His spiritual compass.
I don’t have to run on the inertia of former roles anymore. They’re all done. It’s time to embrace new life-roles and for God and I to see what wonders we can make of them.
New Year’s is just around the corner. This year didn’t see the completion of most of my goals, but I’ve been blessed in many other, often unexpected ways.
The On-Going Conversation
I’ve made my way into the conversation of Faith & Art here in the northwest, and am very glad of it too. I’ve met more new faith-driven creatives in this one year than I have in the last ten. I am really excited to find such a vibrant community of faith-driven creatives who share common needs, challenges, and aspirations.
Seattle Art & Coffee – We meet approximately every 2-weeks and discuss a broad range of topics. It’s one of the most nourishing bi-weekly feasts in my creative life. Look us up on FaceBook.
IMAGE Journal – I was very recently invited to participate in a vision casting conversation regarding the Journal’s on-going role here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a wonderful glimpse into the offerings of IMAGE Journal as a focal point in the Faith & Arts community.
Kindling’s – Top of the charts; highlight of my year – Last October I was given a life-changing invitation to attend a Kindling’s Hearth. It’s an intimate gathering of thoughtful creatives in a beautiful lodge above Cle Elum, Washington. We shared where we’re at, what we’re doing, and where we’re going as faith-driven creatives.
We were a gathering of performance artists, singer/song-writers, album producers, movement artists, and visual artists. What joined us all was our deep and abiding faith in God, and the common challenges we all face regardless of the medium in which we thrive. I came away from that experience a very different creative person.
Breaking New Creative Ground
Creatively I’ve broken through -again- into new territory. As much as I’ve enjoyed making them, I’ve grown well past the single panel Collage Quilt-blocks I began with and now am making works 2-foot square. These pieces have opened me up to many new ways of working with the 9-patch collage squares and has lead to an understanding of my inspirational media; quilts, stained-glass, and mosaics.
These 4-panel works continue to present new and exciting visual beauty as I work with the infinite arrangements of visual and physical textures, geometric arrangements, and myriad colors.
The brand new body of work I’m starting this next year will be influenced by these media all in the context of Collage/Mixed-Media works. I’m moving into story narratives. There’s going to be lots of new processes and new work as a result.
Personal Website – I am often asked, and rightly so; do I have a website? I mean, I am a visual artist after all and I ought to have work up for people to see. So I’m doing my homework to find out what I need to make this happen. It’s vitally important to the work I’m doing and it’s about time I just bite the bullet and get it up and running.
New Show Bookings – You know, when you make visual art, and especially if it’s for sale, it ought to be out there on public view so potential buyers can have a good look at the work. This is another area of my arts practice that I’m going to develop by working to stay way ahead of the curve.
New Studio Space & Work Practices – Now that we have a new in-home studio space that’s 2.5-times larger, complete with small workshop, restroom, and wash-sink facilities, I’m going to be able to produce more work far more easily.
My Artist’s Journal is full of new ideas for works this year, so there’s no shortage of new pieces to create.
And most importantly; All of what I do in my Arts Practice is faith-driven – period. God has revealed to me that the entire purpose of my life is to bring Him glory by becoming all that He has created me to become. That person is an artist, making meaning everyday and offering it to Him to do with as He will.
I hope you’re as excited about the New Year as I am.
I’ll show my hand here at the outset; I’m not against planning. I’m against my former anal-retentive, hyper-controlling methods of getting creative things done. Can you imagine how much of my own art-making I’ve stifled simply because I’ve “planned” what I’m going to make down to the n-th degree?
At the gallery (ArtFx) last Friday evening I got to speak with people about my work. Many were engaged by the power of the colors. Others were taken by the impression of movement. Some of them moved in closer and mentally dissected the work wondering how it was made.
“How’d you do this?,” they’d ask. Do you sit down and plan what you’re going to do?”
“No,” I’d tell them. “It’s all an act of faith. I trust my instincts and feel my way forward not knowing what I’m going to get.”
That’s a really big change for me in the last few years because it hasn’t always been like this. Up until recently I’d plan everything trusting entirely in the plan and the planning process itself. What I was doing was completely left-braining a right-brain process. I was rationalizing, naming, labeling, and categorizing the work, all the while thinking that something creative would emerge from the process. I was a really tight person. You would not have wanted to spend much time around me. Heck, I didn’t even like being around me back then.
For me it was a control issue. Brought about by the way I was raised, my hot-button was having control of my life taken from me. How I was raised; who I had become through that horrid process had imposed itself upon my art-making. It was killing me.
What I’ve recently discovered in the growth out of that tight, closed thinking is another dimension to the convergence of faith and art. It’s one thing to be a faith-driven artist; making art in the company of the Lord. It’s another to believe not only in God the Father through His Son, Jesus, but to believe in the creative process from within that milieu.
In the nourishing and nurturing environment of faith in God, I am asked to trust, to surrender, and to really believe in what I do not yet see on the panel. I am asked to simply choose colors, forms, and movement as He and I “dance” in the studio. And, I say it again, every single time I open the gluing press the next morning, it’s all-ways a surprise. I am always amazed at what was made even though I was present for every moment of the making.
I don’t plan anymore. These days I simply gather, ruminate, and respond. My blood pressure is almost ten-points lower. My joy is high and growing daily. And my faith and confidence in this additional convergence of faith and art is an endless exploration of discovery.
In the end that’s what I told folks at the gallery about the art I make; that it’s all-ways an act of faith, and a process of discovery. And you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the studio, what does faith look like for you? Where do you find convergences of faith & art? How does that work for you and your own art practice?
It’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.
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?