Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Posts tagged “balance

That’s Why I Make Art

WBible & Laptophile I am fast approaching my 60th birthday, I still feel as though I am as naive as ever; that I just don’t get it, and that I really don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I must try however. I must still struggle, though I may look the old fool.  I must still share the good, share the right, and share the solid things I actually do know about. Pastor John Piper once said, “The older I get the less I trust myself to know the answers.” While that’s a paraphrase, it conveys what he meant.  It conveys my own sense of self. I too trust my own answers far less and God’s own wisdom far, far more than in the days of my youth.

Who am I that I have answers for others? At best I can only point toward the truth of a matter realizing that anything I convey may be accepted or not. It’s a free-will thing, as it ought to be. Who am I that I have answers for others? That’s God’s job. At best I am merely a devoted messenger, who, even then, may not fully comprehend the message I carry to whomever it is to be given.

That’s why I make art. That’s why I cling incessantly to the presence of the living God, for if I have no real answers for others, where are my own answers for me? It’s a matter of realizing that I’m a servant of God, and not God Himself. It’s a matter of letting go of the belief that anything I could do might remedy the need(s) in the life of another. It’s the realization that the Earth and all its people are God’s project, not mine. It’s a matter of fully surrendering to the task of dealing with the beam in my own eye, instead of the dust in another’s.

That is why I make art. That is why I cling to God in my inmost being, that I might grow into someone whose use, value, purpose, and worth rest in living out God’s divine plan for my life; surrendered, yet ever alert for His instruction(s), counsel, and guidance. He is the one and only reason I swing my feet out of bed in the morning, and in an act of faith and serendipity, rising to meet the purpose(s) of the day.

Who am I that I should have plans or schemes for “success”, or ambitions for “advancement”, when my Lord has already laid these out for me before the world was even made? I’ve come to accept that the best laid plans, plans to prosper, to fulfill my best purpose(s), to become all He has designed me to be in His service, come not from me and my own mind, but from Him who made me. That is why I write (pray) in my journals.

I have considered my ways,” it says in Psalm 119, “and have turned my steps to Your statutes. I am a friend to all who fear You, to all who follow Your precepts. The Earth if filled with Your love, O Lord; teach me Your decrees.”

Thank you for listening.


Prayer & Worship in the Studio

Lew's Art TableI’ve read a lot of blog posts, essays, and a few books which talk about art as worship and art as prayer.  Personally I find the subject fascinating, and it brings with it as many variations (which I love) as it does commentators.

Last Thursday evening I’d been invited to a gathering of faith-driven creatives and after a good meal together, catching up with one another, and some Show ‘n’ Tell, we got down to the discussion; (and I paraphrase here), Does prayer and worship show up in your work (if it does at all), and how does prayer and worship affect your art practice?  Juicy question, huhhh?

I want to share a few notes I took, which are reactions to comments made by others, and then I’ll talk about my own reaction to the question(s).

We talked about whether or not our artwork is prayer and if the act of making is an act of worship.  Some folks saw quite specific distinctions between prayer and worship, saying that for them prayer is a deliberate, intentional conversation with God.  Others felt absolutely no distinction between prayer and worship, feeling that they were so closely related as to be almost one experience.

What about following a formal structure or formula in prayer and can we offer prayer in any context?  To the latter half, we shared a resounding “Yes, we can pray any time, any where.”  But for some there is a need for some kind of structure to prayer, while others saw prayer differently, informally; perhaps more immediate and responsive.

One person said that for her prayer was intentional, serving a deliberate purpose, while worship is more responsive (perhaps more emotional). And, yes, she felt worshipful in the act of creativity.

For me, at this time, most of my prayer life, in any context, is done through my journal writing.  Sure, I do pray elsewhere at other times.  But my processing of the life-stuff that’s the “bread and butter” of my arts practice is done in my journal.  I learned this from author Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way.  I unload my spirit and listen to God in my journal writing.  It’s a  luscious outpouring of often random bits and pieces which He and I look at and make sense of.  A whole lot of self-discovery has happened in our “sessions” together.

Often, in my writing time, I will break into worship, usually because He’s given me a discovery or revelation.  I may stop right then and there, raise my hands and pray the doxology, or simply proclaim His awesomeness in the form of a Psalm, just how great and wondrous He really, truly is.

For me, worship is part and parcel of my art-making process and experience.  Sometimes I’ll be so overwhelmed at what we’re making together I’ll start crying with release and joy – our time together is that intimate.  All-ways though, the making is an alchemy of an intimate faith relationship and is my worship of Him.  I mean, the very idea that I get to share in one of His most awesome attributes, creativity; I’m often overwhelmed by the privilege.

Let me close with this thought; To my mind we Faith-Driven artists are (or should be) powered by the ever-deepening intimacy and the ever-growing maturity of our relation with God through Christ.  That’s what Faith-Driven means – literally driven to action by our faith (relationship) in God.

My Artist’s Journal

"Esther" - Mixed-Media  / 8.5 x 11 / Acrilycs, Color Pencil on Cardstock / (c)2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

“Esther” – Mixed-Media / 8.5 x 11
Acrylics & Color Pencil on Cardstock
(c)2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

As most of my friends will tell you, I am not a man of few words. Nope, I ruminate through ideas with thorough discussion. I’m getting better though. I work very hard at speaking less and listening more. I think it’s my global thinking and my philomathy that usually get me into trouble. When I get excited about something I could discuss it all day long. Discovery and learning are passions with me.

My art however, is visual, not verbal or written. I’m a visual storyteller. I got my start in theatre way, way back in the late (19)60’s (Middle School). I went on in college to add film and video work to that. Telling stories in linear, visual media is my background. Today, however I’m a static story-teller, similar to a photographer, and the Artist’s Journal has now become my new lab.

I no longer keep an Artist’s Journal simply to capture and store ideas. In the Artist’s Journal I hone my ability to visually portray what I’m ticked off about, what I’m passionate about, or what I’m excited about. Step by step, I’m leaving planning and preconception behind.

These days I’m simply trying to begin to make art with little or no notion of what I’m even going to say, and I’ve got to tell you, that takes a great deal of courage. My training in theatre and film both required a ton of preproduction planning. Most visual art doesn’t. It’s not like I’m Michaelangelo doing the David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Sure, if I had a public commission, I’d thoroughly plan it out, but I don’t do public commissions.

These days my Artist’s Journal is a lab or a playground where I can experiment, and “waste” materials to learn what I can do with them. Working in my Artist’s Journal allows me to develop and hone a deepening connection with life, story, and visual expression.

When it comes to self-expression, most of us don’t think a lot about what’s on our minds. We simply put it into words and speak our minds. That’s exactly what an Artist’s Journal is helping me to get better at; to portray with few words and very meaning-filled picture(s) what’s on my heart and mind.

For inspiration I’ve been visiting loads of other artist’s websites who work in Collage, Mixed-Media, Assemblage, Altered Books, Art Books, and Artist’s Journals (I love these media!). What I’ve found, especially among the Artist’s Journals, is the cathartic, therapeutic, release of laying out what’s on the artist’s mind in pictures and words. Much of it is really wonderful because it speaks clearly and powerfully, “I’m hurting,” or “I’m totally filled with joy,” or “That really ticks me off!”

My left-brain has been the root source of the disconnection. I’ve been better able to talk about what’s on my mind rather than to simply portray it visually. If I did beautiful compositions only, then I’d be producing a great deal of work without story; for me, nice but devoid of meaning.

My storytelling arts practice demands the presence of the human condition. I don’t care if it’s a gently smoking pipe in an ashtray, or a footprint in the sand. Someone passed this way. Someone with a life has been here. In fact I really love artifacts; the merest suggestion of human presence. I love the mystery of who they were, why they were “here”. That’s probably why I love Archaeology so much – but I digress.

This idea is similar to what I’d tell my casts when I directed theatre productions; out there, backstage, beyond the set is the rest of the story-world. It’s called back-story. It’s our responsibility to give our audience a sense of a full-scale world beyond the walls of the set. They need that full-scale context beyond the scenes of our play, right here on-stage. I want the same sense of back-story in my work; the art is merely a window into a larger world “beyond the looking glass”.

It’s what we, as viewers/readers bring to the theatre when we watch a good play, read a good novel, or see a good film; we see something of ourselves in these story-telling media. I want my art to suggest something larger, a back-story that the viewer brings with them to their own personal engagement of the work.

It doesn’t matter what they bring to the experience, because in reality, it’s their story. They hopefully see/experience something for and of themselves. And I’m finding that the best place to hone my skills to express story in my artworks, is through the safe, never a mistake, don’t think, don’t “fix it” sheets of my Artist’s Journal.

Mother’s Day 2013

Curtiss Kids

“Don’t mess with our Mom!”

Mother’s Day is a kind of broad experience for me because in effect I have had three mothers bring me into the world and raise me. My “mother” is a person of collaboration; three people who have done their part and handed me off to the next to continue the process. This went on from my birthday right up to mere days before my 18th-birthday.

For eighteen years these three women, my birth-mother, her sister (a maternal aunt), and their mother (my maternal grandmother) all worked hand in hand to provide a home, protection, and life-guidance. All three of them have passed on now; my mother when I was 7-years old, my grandmother when I was 17, and my aunt when I was an adult and married to the love of my life, and a father to our three children. Only my aunt got to see her “grandchildren”.

It’s on mother’s day that I miss them most because I know that my mother and grandmother would have fallen in love with my bride, Emily. If there was ever any truth to the saying that a man marries his mother(s), it’s right on the money for me. I married a wonderful woman who characterizes much of what I valued in both my aunt and my grandmother. It’s uncanny, but Em will often make gestures, stand, or make facial expressions just like my aunt. Em’s sense of generosity, hospitality and elegance all remind me of my dear grandmother. They’d have gotten along like family.

The best way I can repay them all is to heed their counsel well, deeply honor my own covenant of marriage, and to raise our children the very best way we can. These three mothers have all invested their lives into mine, as do all good mothers into the well-being of their own children.

I hope that in some way this will be a special day of gratitude from you toward your mother(s). Mums everywhere, I hope you will be blessed by the families, yours or surrogate, in whom you’ve invested so much of your own lives.

Thank you and bless you all.

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?


ReOrdered Loss?

Lew's Art TableA few weeks ago (Feb 17) my laptop crashed, and it did so pretty hard.  That’s why I’ve been rather scarce in the social media conversations. For the last month I’ve been popping onto the internet to check FB and Gmail, and that’s about it.  No more searches for articles involving the conversation of Faith & Art.  No more researching reference images for projects I’m developing.  Just FaceBook and Gmail, and that’s all, period.
This experience has been far less difficult a digital downsize than I ever imagined.  I mean, this laptop is a very important tool to my arts practice.  I use it, in addition to Gmail and FB, to manage my blog, manage my ETSY site “Fingerprints”, and need I so I can develop my own website this year.  But it can also become a brain-sucking monster for me, especially when I’m fresh out of ideas and should be taking a refreshing walk, sketching, or taking photographs rather than trolling the internet.

However, this experience has been a great example for me of less truly becoming more.  In the last few weeks I’ve come to an enlarged understanding of the mixed-media/collage art I’ve been making.  I’ve turned a few creative corners and am incredibly excited about what’s cooking.

This choice has opened an entire universe of creative possibilities to me; new materials, new methods, and how I can use them.  Why I didn’t make this decision to explore assemblage before now, I’ll never know.  I even put out a call for unwanted/free cigar boxes.  Sure enough, an artist friend was looking for a new home for her abundant collection and graciously supplied me with a wonderful variety.  Thrift Store searches have changed because I’m looking at the materials available to me in a whole new light.  Collage/mixed-media is usually 2-dimensional.  Assemblage incorporates a broad variety of found objects and 3-dimensional elements.

I am sincerely hoping that new habits, productive habits, continue to develop and stick even as I repair the damage to my laptop.  Oh, by the way, it appears that I wasn’t the victim of a virus getting past my Norton 360.  It’s seems to be a matter of a failed hard-drive instead.

Right now I’m running my laptop on a CD loaded with Ubuntu, a “flavor” of Linux.  All’s well except that I cannot upload Ubuntu (nowhere to put it without a C:/ drive) nor can I regain any of the other software I use; LibreOffice, Gimp, NitroPDF, etc.  But that’ll all return when I get a new hard-drive installed and formatted.  Right now I’m grateful for my Google Drive and being able to post and store everything on the web.

In the meantime I am actually enjoying these “limitations” by getting a boatload of new journals made, and developing new works in collage/mixed-media.  I’ll keep you posted as best I can, but right now, I’m really very (happily) busy!

Connecting Some Dots

Stone CairnEvery couple of weeks I attend an artist’s gathering. We discuss faith, art, faith & art. We have no other agenda except to cross-pollinate one another as brothers & sisters in Christ, and in creativity. We work in all different media; dance & movement, film & video, photography & painting, collage/mixed-media, literature & poetry, theatre & music. Because our gatherings aren’t about how, but about what & why, a lot of good stuff rubs off on one another.

Recently we were talking about a 3-minute video by Parker Palmer; The Tragic Gap. He talks about the extremes of what he calls corrosive cynicism and irrelevant idealism and what it takes to walk in balance between them. I’ve bumped into various forms of the same idea from other sources. As a global thinker, what I am seeing is an emerging larger picture. Here I’m simply trying to connect some dots.

Palmer says this, “So we have to stand in this place between what is and what could and should be. But we have to stand there without flipping out on one side or the other. To flip out on the side of too much reality is to be drawn into corrosive cynicism… To flip out on the other side toward what could and should be is to fall into… irrelevant idealism. …they [both] take us to the same place – which is out of action. They disengage us from this place in the gap where we need to stand in order to move things forward.”

Most of the time when I hear a call for balance, I am usually reminded of the life of Christ. It’s a walk that doesn’t get sucked into either the agendas of the world, or the Church, for example. It’s a life willing to suffer the slings and arrows of those who one minute call the artist friend and the next minute, foe. It’s not a life for the fainthearted. This is the creative life, the life of the artist of faith, full of risks, patronizing compliments, and biting criticism, but it is the life to which many of us are called.

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer

Palmer goes on to remind us that by living in our own heads we can easily slip into one or the other; corrosive cynicism or irrelevant idealism. He offers this advice, “It is only in communities that we’re going to have a balance to check and correct our own self-perceptions.” This is one of the many reasons we faith-driven artists get together every couple of weeks, not to sit around and agree on everything, but to be respectfully honest with one another.

Author and lecturer Calvin Seerveld adds; “…truly God-praising artistry can flourish only when the artist is deeply embedded both in an artistic community and in the wider, societal communion of sinner saints.” Rainbows for the Fallen World pg 26-28.

To my mind, the Lord is calling us to walk as living sacrifices in tension or balance between many extremes, any one of which does not, by itself, guide culture toward any common good. He is calling us to walk, as Christ did, seeking first His face, and then simply giving Him whatever creative meaning we make without worrying about who it will affect, or how it will affect them. That’s the business of the Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that, our “job” is simply to live intimately with Him and give our work as an offering which He will do with as he wishes.

I am not saying that artists should forgo compensation; that’s not what I mean. We have financial needs just like everybody else. But I am saying, as do many others, that the “fame & fortune” however great or small is simply not the point.

The point resides in our own faith-filled walk with Him and in the art we make as a result of that walk.